Last Updated on April 27, 2023
When one thinks of typical desert house plants, cacti and succulents immediately come to mind. In reality, there are multiple varieties of drought-resistant plants that can survive the large temperature changes, lack of water, and extreme weather conditions typical of desert areas.
There are a number of fruits and vegetables you can grow in the desert, but these can be very high-maintainance and require a lot of water. Desert house plants, on the other hand, are so hardy that you can keep them indoors pretty much anywhere, regardless of climate and without having to worry about constantly watering them.
What are desert house plants?
Desert plants (also known as xerophiles) have an incredible ability to adapt to the most treacherous weather conditions and soils. This has enabled them to survive in arid and hostile environments where other types of plants could not thrive: in some deserts, rain can be so scarce they receive water only once every couple of years.
Plants that learn to survive in the desert are better able to conserve water; they often develop small leaves or spines that can screen the surface, providing partial shade and shelter from the wind, minimizing water loss.
Therefore, when adopting a desert houseplant for your garden you won’t need to water it as often as with regular plants. For instance, you only need to water cacti and succulents about once every 2-3 weeks generally, or even less often depending on the temperature.
Types of Desert House Plants
Desert plants can be grouped into three primary categories: Cacti and Succulents, Wildflowers, and Trees, Shrubs, and Grasses.
Cacti and Succulents
Cacti are known for their unique shapes and spiky texture, adding a touch of character to any room. They are drought-tolerant and low-maintenance, making them perfect for busy individuals or those new to plant care. Some popular cacti houseplants include the Saguaro, Barrel Cactus, Christmas Cactus and the Prickly Pear Cactus.
Succulents are similar to cacti, but with a wider variety of shapes and sizes. They are also known for their ability to store water, making them ideal for infrequent watering. These plants come in a wide variety of colors and textures, and they’re perfect for adding a touch of greenery to your home. Some popular succulent houseplants include the Snake Plant, Zebra Plant, and the String of Pearls.
Wildflowers are a colorful and diverse group of plants that are well-suited to indoor conditions. Those that adapted to life in the desert are known for their ability to survive in harsh conditions and require minimal maintenance. Some popular types of desert wildflowers that can be kept indoors include the Desert Rose, Desert Marigold, Desert Lupine, and the Desert Poppy.
Trees, Shrubs and Grasses
Trees and shrubs are tall and woody plants, they are perfect to create an oasis in the living room or bedroom. They are known for providing shade and protection for other desert plants, and they can live for over 100 years. Popular desert trees and shrubs include the Palo Verde tree, and the flowering ocotillo shrub.
Desert grasses are plants that are well-suited to indoor conditions, they are known for their ability to survive in harsh conditions and require minimal maintenance. Some popular types of desert grasses that can be kept indoors include the Blue Fescue, and the Blue Oat Grass.
Desert House Plants
Below, a list of some of the best desert houseplants to turn your garden into a little piece of Sahara:
Desert Rose (Adenium obesum)
The desert rose is a succulent, evergreen plant native to East Africa capable of reaching up to 3 meters in height, although it has a rather slow growth rate of around 2-5 centimeters per year.
The special feature of the desert rose is its flowering: in fact, in spring, flowers characterized by a shade of pink or bright red large up to 6 centimeters in diameter peep from the plant’s leaves.
It should also be remembered that desert roses are toxic and should be kept away from children and animals. Because of this characteristic and also because of its appearance in bloom, the desert rose is very reminiscent of oleanders.
Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus platyacanthus)
Also known as Biznaga Cactus, it is one of the most distinctive desert cacti, native to central Mexico in the Chihuahuan Desert and is characterized by a very rounded body covered with long red spines, which are actually its leaves.
The name barrel cactus comes from its characteristic rounded shape and has flowers of different colors, although the most common are those that take on yellow, pink, or orange hues, which grow directly on the surface of the cactus.
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)
The Christmas Cactus is a succulent of Brazilian origin with showy and very unique flowers.
It is one of the succulents with the greatest decorative power. In winter, rather large, brightly colored pendulous flowers grow on the flattened stems of beautiful green.
It is called Christmas Cactus precisely because flowering occurs during the Christmas season, between December and January.
Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)
Cycas revoluta is an evergreen plant suitable for a garden or as indoors houseplant, native to Asia; it is one of the oldest plants on earth, and in ancient times it was spread all over the globe.
This dwarf palm develops a short, stocky, woody stem covered with brown scales; at the apex of the stem develops a broad crown consisting of long, pinnate, stiff, dark green leaves.
Aloe Vera (Aloe vera)
Aloe Vera needs no introduction; it is one of the most famous and popular household plants in the world, and also valued nutritionally and cosmetically for its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties.
Because of its thick, fleshy, toothed leaves, Aloe Vera is somewhat reminiscent of a cactus, but it is a lily, much like asphodel. Interestingly, there is not just one aloe vera, there are in fact over 400 different types of this amazing desert plant!
Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)
You can most likely recognize the Saguaro cactus as one of those iconic, huge cacti that characterize the landscape of the Sonoran desert. But despite growing up to 40 feet tall “in the wild”, because of their slow growth indoors saguaro cacti make an excellent desert houseplant.
To take care of a saguaro cactus you just need to make sure you provide it with as much light as possible, apart from that, it is pretty easy to upset this plant which does not require much water at all.
If you want to see it flower you are gonna need a lot of patience – for it may take up to 40 years for the saguaro cactus to bloom!
Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)
The ponytail palm is a succulent that is native to Mexico. It is characterized by its thick, bulbous base, which can store water for long periods of time, and its long, slender, green leaves that form a tuft at the top of the stem.
The ponytail palm is a slow grower, but it can reach up to 10 feet in height when grown indoors. It is known for its unique appearance and its ability to survive in low light conditions.
Jade Plant (Crassula ovata)
Also known as the money plant or the friendship tree, the jade plant is a succulent that is native to South Africa. It is characterized by its thick, glossy, green leaves, which are arranged in pairs along the stem.
The jade plant is a slow grower, but it can reach up to 3 feet in height when grown indoors. The jade plant is known for its ability to bring good luck and prosperity to its owner.
Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
Also known as the mother-in-law’s tongue or the viper’s bowstring hemp, the snake plant is a succulent that is native to West Africa. It is characterized by its long, strappy, green leaves that are variegated with yellow or white.
The snake plant is one of the most tolerant houseplants and can survive in low light conditions. It is also known for its ability to purify the air by absorbing toxins.
How to take care of a desert houseplant
Taking care of a desert houseplant is relatively easy, as these plants are well-suited to indoor conditions and require minimal maintenance. However, there are a few key things to keep in mind to ensure that your plant thrives.
Lighting and Temperature
First and foremost, desert houseplants need bright, indirect light to thrive. Place your plant near a window that receives plenty of natural light, but avoid direct sunlight, as this can scorch the leaves. If you don’t have a sunny window, you can also use a grow light to provide the necessary light.
Desert houseplants are well-suited to indoor temperatures and don’t require any special cooling or heating. Keep them away from drafts and extreme temperatures, such as near a radiator or air conditioning unit.
Desert houseplants prefer well-draining soil, as they are adapted to arid conditions where precipitation is scarce and mostly occurs in the form to sporadic flash floods, they don’t like to be waterlogged. Use a cactus or succulent potting mix, or mix your own using equal parts potting soil, coarse sand, and perlite.
The best soil for desert plants is one that is well-draining and allows for good air circulation, while also retaining moisture. A good option is a sandy loam soil mixed with perlite and coarse sand. Here are some specific soil products on Amazon that would be suitable for desert plants:
- Hoffman 10404 Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix – This is a specially formulated blend of organic materials and sand that is designed to promote healthy growth for cacti and succulents in arid environments.
- Bonsai Jack Succulent and Cactus Soil Gritty Mix #111 – This mix is made from 100% pure, fast-draining mineral substrates that are ideal for desert plants. It is pH balanced and contains no additives or fillers.
- Superfly Bonsai Succulent and Cactus Soil Mix – This mix contains a blend of organic and inorganic materials, including volcanic pumice, turface, and coarse sand, that provide excellent drainage and aeration for desert plants.
- Miracle-Gro Cactus, Palm, and Citrus Potting Mix – This mix is specifically formulated for arid plants and contains a blend of sand, perlite, and peat moss that provides good drainage and moisture retention.
Desert houseplants don’t require much fertilizer, but if you want to give them a boost, you can use a cactus or succulent fertilizer once a month during the growing season. Desert plants require a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and potassium.
For organic options, Jobe’s Organics Azomite Rock Dust Fertilizer can provide essential minerals and trace elements to improve soil quality. Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food is a liquid fertilizer with a balanced mix of nutrients to promote flowering and fruiting. EarthPods Premium Cactus & Succulent Plant Food is a slow-release option that includes organic nutrients, minerals, and beneficial microbes to enhance soil health. However, it’s crucial not to over-fertilize and to follow the instructions on the fertilizer packaging as desert plants typically thrive in nutrient-poor soils.
How often do you need to water cacti and succulents
Cacti and succulents are known for their ability to store water, making them ideal for infrequent watering. These plants can typically go up to 2-3 weeks without water, but it’s important to keep an eye on the soil to make sure it’s not completely dry.
A good rule of thumb is to wait until the soil is completely dry before watering again. Wait for the soil to dry out completely before watering, and avoid over-watering, as this can lead to root rot.
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