Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Wonderful Dilemma....

I am faced with a wonderful dilemma......

My last post dealt with the loss of one of our beautiful 'Desert Museum' Palo Verde trees.  So now we are faced with the question of which type of tree should we choose to replace the one that I lost?  We worked hard the past couple of days to remove the fallen tree and now have a bare space to fill.  

I have lived in my home (and garden) for over 10 years.  As our home was being built, we designed the surrounding garden.  I enjoyed deciding which trees I would choose to grace our desert garden with not only beauty but shade in the summer months.  *I honestly do not understand people who do not plant trees in the garden - especially in desert climates.  They not only provide wonderful shade in the summer months, but also add a lot of value to your property.  Okay, I am getting off of my high horse now ;-)


 Desert Museum Palo Verde (Parkinsonia hybrid 'Desert Museum')

I loved my Palo Verde tree that fell.....I have two others just like it, including the one pictured above.  There is much to like about these trees besides the beautiful green trunks......fast growing, thornless, evergreen and yellow flowers in the spring.  The only drawbacks are that there is litter from the fallen flowers in spring, which means that it should not be planted by a pool.  The fallen flowers do not bother me at all - I rather enjoy the carpet of yellow.

But, even with all of the wonderful attributes of this tree, I have decided to select another type of tree as it's replacement.  Why, you may ask?  Well, because they grow so quickly, I do have to prune them quite a bit.  I do not mind pruning, but pruning three of these trees each year was becoming much more of a chore.

Another reason is that I do love trees and have grown many different kinds in the landscapes that I managed.  Right now, I have 14 trees (8 different types) growing in my front, back and side gardens.  I would enjoy adding another kind of tree to my plant palette.

So, here comes the fun part......which one to choose?

Desert Fern
(Lysiloma thornberi, Lysiloma watsonii var. thornberi, Lysiloma microphylla var. thornberi)

One of my favorite things about the Desert Fern is the beautiful, fern-like leaves - hence it's common name.


Another plus is that is a native, desert tree and is thornless.  The leaves turn a slight maroon color in the winter in our zone 8b climate.  In cooler winters the leaves may drop altogether.  Although what I would call a medium sized tree, it typically grows from 15 - 45 ft. high and wide.

One drawback is that is does produce brown seed pods, which some people do not like, but I have no problem with them at all. 

*I do have a Desert Fern tree already and although another one would look great in my newly bare area, I think I will try to choose a different type of tree.


 Sweet Acacia
(Acacia farnesiana, Acacia smallii)

In the springtime, air is perfumed with the fragrance of the bright yellow puffball flowers of the Sweet Acacia.  When not in flower, the tiny, dark green leaves are easier to see.  




Although found in other areas of the United States, it is also native to the southwestern areas of the US.  The mature size is approximately 25 ft. high and wide.  In areas with mild winters, the leaves will remain on the tree.  Dark brown seedpods are also produced once flowering is finished.

Some drawbacks to consider are the thorns....being careful when pruning is necessary (like not only wearing gloves but also long sleeves).  Now, I am more of a "Do as I say" person rather than a "Do as I do" person.  I always wear gloves when I prune, but I rarely wear long sleeves in the summer months.  As a result I have some small scratch scars on my forearms from pruning Sweet Acacia in the past. 

Although I love the beauty, size and the springtime fragrance of this tree, I don't think I want to accrue any more scars on my arms ;-)


Southern Live Oak
(Quercus virginiana)

Believe it or not, Oak trees do very well in our desert climate.  Southern Live Oak, Cork Oak and Holly Oak are all found in the suburban landscape.  Southern Live Oak is the most prevalent however.

There is little not to love about these trees.....thornless, evergreen foliage, tolerant of full and reflected sun makes this tree very low-maintenance.  In non-desert climates they can reach heights of up to 40 - 60 ft., but will not grow that large in the desert.  In the landscape areas that I managed they were a favorite because there was so little maintenance required.

I may be crazy, but this tree seems a little boring to me.  I don't know why.  I spent my teenage years growing up in the town of Thousand Oaks, California and the hillsides were dotted with large, specimen oak trees.  The oak trees that I see growing in our area do not resemble the ones from my childhood, so maybe that is the reason that I do not have any in my garden.  But, I would wholeheartedly recommend this tree to anyone who wants a nice, low-maintenance tree.


Bottle Tree
(Brachychiton populneus)


Some of you may be surprised to know that many of our trees and shrubs grown in our arid climate are native to Australia.  The Bottle tree is one of them.  First of all, I love the shape of the leaves and how the sun reflects off of them in a gentle breeze.  I also like the slightly pendulous way that the branches hang down.  Evergreen in areas with mild winters and a smooth trunk make it an asset in the garden.  It's mature size of 30 - 45 ft. high and 30 ft. wide, make it suitable for narrower spaces.

As a child, growing up in Los Angeles, we had one in our front garden.  My sister and I used to pretend that the little flowers were 'fairy caps'.  The flowers were soon followed by large, brown seedpods.




The pods themselves are quite cool looking and my mother would use them in making wreaths out of seedpods.  But what I mpst remember about the seedpods is getting some of the 'fuzz' from the inside stuck on my bare feet and it hurt.  I think that is maybe why I do not have this tree in my garden.  But, many people I know who have a Bottle tree absolutely love them.

**One note of caution, this tree is quite susceptible to Texas Root Rot (a fungal disease that infects the roots).  So if you know of cases of Texas Root Rot in your neighborhood, I would advise growing another type of tree.


Palo Blanco
(Acacia willardiana)

If you have not already noticed already, I am somewhat biased about certain types of trees.  This one is one of my favorite smaller trees.  The word "Palo Blanco" means "white stick" in Spanish and refers to the white trunk of this tree - considered to be one of it's most attractive assets.



 The bark peels off in papery sheets.  Palo Blanco trees look great when grouped together in groups of 3 or 5 where their distinctive tree trunks can be shown off.

I also like the bright green foliage of the trees and their tiny leaflets.  In winter, the leaves do fall from the desert native, but they are so small and do not create much litter.


 When mature, it reaches a height of 15 - 20 ft. and spreads to 10 ft. wide which makes it suitable for a patio tree or other small area.  Maintenance is minimal, only requiring a small amount of pruning.




Tiny flowers grace the tree in spring, followed by decorative seed pods.


I like these trees so much that I have three of them.  They are growing against my west facing garden wall and do great in the reflected sun.  But, I will probably choose something else for my bare area since I would like a tree that is a little larger for that area.


 Indian Rosewood / Sissoo 
(Dalbergia sissoo)

It is hard to beat the Sissoo tree for fast growth and shade.  The photo of the tree above was taken 4 years after it was planted from a 15-gallon container.  This tree made it's debut in the Phoenix area about 15 years ago and has rapidly become quite popular.  Very easy to grow, semi-evergreen in winter, thornless, non-descript flowers and seedpods are all features of this beautiful, lush tree.  **It makes a great alternative for the Indian Fig tree (Ficus microcarpa nitida),  which is susceptible to frost damage in our area.

Native to India, it reaches a mature height of 30 - 50 ft. high and 30 ft. high in our desert climate.  Sissoo trees are seen planted along city streets, freeways, parking lots as well and in the residential landscape.  Other features of this tree include the fact that it is more resistant to wind damage then other trees as well as the fact that it's roots contain nitrogen fixing nodules, which enhances it's growth.

*The roots of Sissoo trees can be a problem when planted in the lawn because they do not get watered deeply enough.  However, those found in landscape areas (no grass) and have drip irrigation, the roots are seldom a problem.  Trees should be watered to a depth of 3 feet.  Click here for information on how to water your trees.

I already have a Sissoo tree and it is huge.  My bare area is not large enough for me to plant another one, so my search continues.....


Olive 
(Olea europaea)

Olive trees are also an option.  Most are multi-trunk with beautiful olive green leaves.  They are evergreen and thornless.  Regular fruiting olives are no longer sold in many cities due to their highly allergenic pollen.  Thankfully, there is a non-fruiting cultivar called 'Swan Hill', which is available.

Reaching a mature size of 20 - 30 ft. high and wide, Olive trees make great shade trees and are slow-growing.  Some Olive trees have fallen prey to some creative pruning.....




Not quite my taste and I would like a tree that will not take too long to grow, so let's press on to other trees.


 Texas Ebony
(Pithecellobium flexicaule)


Texas Ebony are a great choice for those who like a dense, dark green canopy of leaves.  Native to both Texas and Mexico, this tree does very well in the Arizona desert.  Everything about this tree is dark - the green leaves the dark brown trunk. 

This is an evergreen tree, has thorns and large brown seedpods.  Texas Ebony grows slowly to about 15 - 30 ft. high and 15 - 20 ft. wide. 

This is a popular tree with my clients, but again, I am looking for at tree that grows more quickly.


Chinese Pistache
(Pistacia chinensis)


This is a great tree for those who like lush, green trees that lose their leaves in winter.  Chinese Pistache grows to 25 - 25 ft. high and wide and has some welcome surprises.....



It is one of the few trees in our area that produces rich fall color.  Female trees produce clusters of little berries in the fall.

I like this tree, but I want to see more trees before I decide.....


 Cascalote
(Caesalpinia cacalaco)

Another tree that also provides beautiful color in fall and winter is the Cascalote.  Plumes of yellow flowers start to appear in November and stay through December.  At maturity, they reach approximately 15 ft. x 15 ft.


 

I love the clusters of small round leaves that are evergreen.


 Now I am not a huge fan of thorns, but the thorns on this tree are almost pretty.  But, you definitely want to plant this tree away from pedestrian areas.  You can remove the thorns if you like, which is what I have done in the past.  However, there is now a thornless variety, called 'Smoothie'.



The first flowers of the season begin to open.  I love this tree, and bought my first one on a field trip with my Plant Identification college class to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  I brought it home and planted it in a container because we were renting a house at the time, waiting for our new home to be built.  Later, I planted it in our front garden and I look forward to the beautiful yellow flowers in the fall.


Aleppo Pine
(Pinus halepensis)
  
Believe it or not, some pine trees also do well in the desert.  I love the sound of the wind as it blows through pine trees.  Aleppo, Canary Island (Pinus canariensis) and Mondel Pines (Pinus eldarica) are all found in suburban areas of the lower desert areas of the southwest.  

Depending on the species, they grow anywhere from 30 - 60 ft. tall and most should not be grown in a residential landscape unless there is ample room for growth. They can suffer from soils and water with high amounts of salts.

Pine trees offer heavy shade that will prevent most grasses from growing underneath.  Pine needles litter the ground as well.  But did you know that pine needles make a great mulch?  They do.....as they break down, they help to acidify our alkaline soils.  And so, if you have a neighbor with pine trees, offer to rake some pine needles up to put on your own garden.  Your neighbor will be so happy :-)

I am pretty sure that I will not plant a pine tree.  Mostly because I have memories of many hours spent nursing along many pine trees growing on golf courses that were watered with reclaimed water.  Most of the pine trees did not do well with the high level of salts in the effluent water.


Desert Willow
(Chilopsis linearis)

A summer favorite is the Desert Willow tree.  Beautiful, willow shaped leaves and flowers brighten up the summer garden.  It can grow anywhere from 8 - 30 ft. high and wide.  Available in both single and multi-trunk, I prefer the beauty of the multi-trunk shape.

You will find this tree growing in parks, roadside plantings as well as in residential landscapes.  It's small - medium shape makes it suitable for smaller areas.  It does lose it's leaves in winter and forms narrow seed capsules.  While not the prettiest tree in winter, the flowers produced spring through fall make it more than worth it.


That is probably why I have four currently growing in my garden.  

I would still like to find something different, that I do not currently have growing in my garden.  

I need to continue my search - check out my second post of possible tree selections, here :-)
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28 comments:

Kimberly said...

I can see why it's a difficult decision for you. There are numerous beautiful trees that thrive in your region. I really love the acacia and willow, although my absolute fave is the olive. It doesn't suit your needs, though as it's such a slow grower. Personally, I love them for their beauty, their hard wood, and their history. How fantastic it would be to have an olive tree...the tree you read about throughout the Bible. Very symbolic for me!! Good luck with your hunt!

Annelie said...

Totally love Desert Fern AND Palo Blanco. Totally my cup of tree.
My goodness, the pruning of that olive tree. Must be the same person that trim poodles.

Good luck in your search, Noelle!

One said...

Noelle, I can understand the dilemma. All the trees look good. Your Palo Blanco looks like my willow tree. If I can only choose one tree, I'll probably go for the Desert Fern. Err... maybe ...kind of tough...

Lancashire rose said...

Wow- you are really doing some impressive research for this one. How on earth will you make a choice, they all look so wonderful? We have several of those trees here in Texas and I have a particular fondness for the dessert willow.

Ami said...

Noelle: If you live in your neck of woods, this would be my reference post when coming to choose a tree! I love Palo Blanco, desert Fern and Desert Willow! I guess I really like any tree that has some kind of weeping effect ! Good luck to find your most favorite tree!

Lancashire rose said...

Wow- you are really doing some impressive research for this one. How on earth will you make a choice, they all look so wonderful? We have several of those trees here in Texas and I have a particular fondness for the dessert willow.

Ami said...

I meant "If I live in your neck of woods...". Pushed the button too fast!

Rebecca @ In The Garden said...

Amazing post Noelle!! The ones that stand out the most to me are the Bottle Tree and the Chinese Pistache. I don't know if this grows in your zone, but I have a small obsession going on with the Monkey Puzzle Tree at the moment, which I absolutely can NOT grow here. Good luck with your search!

Edith Hope said...

Dear Noelle, If ever one were spoilt for choice, then this must be it. So many wonderful trees to choose from, most of which, of course, are not to be seen in Britain and which most of which are completely unknown to me. For that reason alone I have enjoyed this posting for it has given me the opportunity to lean something new.

I shall look forward to more of your considerations.

James Missier said...

Surprised to see those puffballs look so much like a mimosa plant.
And funny though - that particular tree looked pruned all over like a poddle.

Patchwork said...

Hmmm...a hard decision. So many great choices. Good luck.

Have a great weekend.

Liza said...

Haha, tough life you have Noelle! I can't wait to hear what you chose!

Gail said...

I had no idea so many delightful trees could grow in your part of the world~Don't you love what blogging and the internet have give us! gail

debsgarden said...

As you featured each tree, I was sure it would be the one! You have some terrific trees to chose from. Good luck with your search! I have a Chinese Pistache, which I planted as a small sapling. It is finally turning into a beautiful tree. The slender leaves do have a nice fall color and seem to just disappear when they drop.

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

Noelle, what a great post rich with helpful information and great images! It will be interesting to see what's your choice. In your pictures, I like Desert fern and Chinese Pistache the most.

Kyna said...

Haha, those Poodle Trees, I mean pruned Olive trees must be the bane of your landscape designing existance :D


I love the Live Oaks, I had no idea that they could grow so well in desert conditions. I always thought they needed more humidity.

Good luck in your tree decision!

Floridagirl said...

Wow, that is a wonderful dilemma! I know it would be an exciting thing for me to go tree-shopping! I have to admit I like them all, though that yellow bloomer would rank high. I love flowering trees! And of course, the Southern live oak is wonderful for the wildlife it attracts, as well as the shedding oak leaves. And its shade can't be beat! I really had no clue you could grow that out there!

melanie large said...

What a wonderful Palo Verde tree you have! It is really big and it really loves the heat of the sun. I just want to plant that that kind of tree but don’t know how it will take time to grow like yours.

Melanie Schoenhut said...

The Sweet Acacia is really adorable! I used to see big acacia trees and small acacia tree is really new for me. Thanks for sharing these beautiful trees and plants.

forsmann said...

Wow. I need a tree to shade the west side of my home from the hot afternoon sun. There is only about 25 feet of space between the home and a very high western freeway wall. I don't want to damage the house or the wall. The tree should be as close the wall as possible. Does anyone have an idea for me?

azplantlady said...

Hello Forsmann,

How about trying a Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla)? They do well in the heat and are fairly skinny trees.

I hope this helps :-)

Noelle

sgs said...

We are snowbirds from Canada with a home in Mesa. I am trying to decide on a feature tree that we can enjoy during the winter in our Mesa yard. My choices are: blue leaf wattle, shoestring acacia, foothills palo verde, palo brea, and desert willow. I love the wide canopy but has to be low maintenance. Looking for some help. Thanks.

Noelle said...

Hello SGS,

Thank you for your question.

Desert Willow - I love this tree, but it is deciduous in winter, so I don't think it is the right one for you.

Foothills Palo Verde - A beautiful tree, but very slow growing.

Palo Brea - Beautiful trunk and yellow flowers in spring. But, is very thorny and requires quite a bit of pruning.

Shoestring Acacia - I like this one, especially when it is mature, but it can look a bit straggly when it is young.

Blue Leaf Wattle - Evergreen, thornless and stunning yellow flowers in spring.

If it were me, I would choose either the Shoestring Acacia or the Blue Leaf Wattle.

I hope this helps :-)

Noelle

Christie said...

I know this is an old post, but I found it while searching for pictures of the Sissoo tree. I was intrigued with the Sissoo. It seemed too good to be true! And that's when I found the negative comments on other sites about invasive/destructive roots and sucker growth. Have you had any of those problems??

Christie said...

Oh, and this post was soooo good! I hope you found another great tree for your yard. I am anxious to start following your blog now.

Noelle said...

Hi Christie,

Thank you for your comment. I have not had any problems with sissoo trees in my own landscape except for a few root suckers that are easily taken care of.

Throughout the Phoenix metro area, you will see sissoo trees widely used in parks and other green spaces. In downtown Phoenix, sissoo trees are used in street plantings along sidewalks.

In park areas, their roots can run along the surface due to shallow watering. With deep watering, this should not be a problem.

With any tree, care should be taken to not plant them too closely to structures such as a house or pool.

Good Luck!
Noelle

Trina Youso said...

I live in 29 palms CA its in the High Desert. I would love to plant a tree preferably a fast growing one to shade the back yard and house away from the hot sun especially in the summer ....what kind of soil prep do I need to do for planting in this dry desert. The back yard is very dry can u email me. TRIYOU@HOTMAIL.COM . thanks

Noelle Johnson said...

Hello Trina,

What a great question. The answer may surprise you - scientists have discovered that the best thing to add to the soil is....nothing.

The reason for this is that when you add amendments to a planting hole, the roots of the tree tends to stay where the 'rich' soil is and do not grow outward into the native soil.

Unfortunately, most nurseries and landscape companies do not follow this practice for the simple reason that they make $ on adding amendments to the soil.

*The most important thing that you can do when planting a tree (or any plant) is to make the hole 2 - 3X as wide as the root ball. Because most roots grow outward, it is easier for them to do this in soil that has been recently disturbed.

Here is a link from the International Society of Arborists that has great guidelines for planting trees: http://www.treesaregood.com/treecare/tree_planting.aspx

I hope this helps!

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