A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take another photo of a landscape I passed by in a neighborhood where I had just finished up a landscape consultation.


Sadly, I often see examples of truly ‘interesting’ or should I say ‘bad’ pruning.  I drove by this landscape and then made a U-turn so that I could take a quick photo…

 
I don’t know about you, but these Texas sage shrubs look like mushrooms, don’t you think?
 
Sadly, pruning these beautiful flowering shrubs this way, robs them of their flowers, increases maintenance, creates dead wood and shortens their life.
 
While there are quite a few shrubs that take well to repeated formal pruning – doing this to flowering shrubs should be avoided.  
 
I must admit that I have seen Texas sage and other flowering shrubs pruned into many different shapes…
 
But, let me be frank – shrubs aren’t meant to be cupcakes, frisbees or gumdrops.
 
How about you?  
 
What interesting shapes have you seen flowering shrubs pruned into?
If you are tired of the time and money it takes to maintain flowering shrubs the ‘wrong’ way. I invite you to join me in my online shrub pruning workshop where I will teach you the right way to prune. Imagine being able to prune with confidence and have a landscape filled with beautiful, flowering shrubs? It’s much easier than you think. 

Many of us are familiar with how over-pruning can take away much of the beauty of flowering shrubs, in addition to contributing to their early death.


But, have you ever wondered what they look on the inside?


I found this ‘ugly’ example alongside the drive-thru of Taco Bell.

 
It isn’t pretty, is it?
 
The side of the ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage was sheared away because it was growing over the curb.  
The result of planting the shrub too close.
 
You can see the thin layer of leaves that cover the shrub and the dark, interior where sunlight seldom reaches.  
 
If this resembles your shrub(s), the good news is that you can usually fix them.

Imagine going from the shrub on the left to the one on the right?
 
You can still do this in April for your Cassia (Senna species), Sage (Leucophyllum species), Ruellia, Fairy Duster (Calliandra species) and Lantana shrubs.
I teach you how in my popular online shrub pruning workshop where you’ll learn how to rejuvenate over-pruned shrubs and how to prune them the right way in the future.
Declare your landscape free of shrubs pruned into balls, cupcakes, and squares 🙂

My inbox has been filled lately with pruning questions.  Specifically, how to prune back overgrown flowering shrubs.

Chihuahuan Sage (Leucophyllum laevigatum)
You may be wondering why you need to severely prune back overgrown shrubs?
 
Well, as you can see from the photo, above – as a shrub’s branches age, they produce fewer leaves and flowers.  As time passes – these branches die, which leave ugly, bare areas.
 
Here are a few more examples of overgrown shrubs that need to be severely pruned back…
‘White Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘White Cloud’)
You may think the formally pruned sage shrubs in the photo above, look okay besides being a bit on the large side.  
But, what you don’t see is a large amount of dead branches inside.  In reality, these shrubs are covered in a very thin layer of growth.
 
Here is an example of old Cassia (Senna nemophila) shrubs that have only been pruned formally.  You can see that there are more dead areas than live growth.
 
So, how do you go about severely pruning old, overgrown shrubs back?
 
First of all – don’t do this during cooler months because it will take your shrubs a very long time to grow back. In addition, it can make frost-tender shrubs more susceptible to frost damage.  Wait until spring for pruning back summer-flowering shrubs such as bougainvillea, sage, oleanders, etc.
 
You need a good pair of loppers and sometimes a pruning saw and you are ready to go. Simply prune your shrub back until there is only about 1 – 2 ft left.
 
Hedge trimmers can help if you use them to remove the outer part of the shrub and then you can get your loppers inside to prune off larger branches toward the base.
 
Below, are photos of ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrubs that started out overgrown, were pruned back severely, and grew back.
 
Overgrown shrubs.
Pruned back to 1 ft.

This is the ugly stage.  But you need to go through this ‘awkward’ stage to achieve beautiful, healthy shrubs.

I promise that it doesn’t last long…

New growth appears 3 weeks later
8 weeks after pruning.
12 weeks after severe pruning.
 
You can see that the severe pruning caused the shrub to grow young, new branches that produce beautiful green growth and flowers.
 
 
**Although severe renewal pruning keeps your shrubs healthy and attractive – there are a few cases when an old, overgrown shrub won’t grow back. It is doubtful that the Cassia shrubs, above, will survive for long either with or without severe pruning). 
 
This usually indicates that the shrub has declined too much and would not have survived for long even without pruning.  If this happens, you are better off replacing your shrub.**
 
Hand pruners, pruning saw and loppers
A good guideline for severely pruning your shrubs is to do this every 3 years or so. Of course, you can do this every year if you like to help keep your shrubs from outgrowing their space.
 
I hope that this helps to answer some of your questions.
If you would like to learn more about how to prune shrubs the right way, I invite you to learn more about my popular online shrub pruning workshop
 
Every winter, we are the lucky recipients of a bounty of citrus from both family and neighbors.
 
 
My fruit bowls and pantry are full of blood oranges, grapefruit, and lemons.
 
Citrus generally ripens during the winter and the cold snap that we had last week had many people picking the citrus fruit from their trees so that the fruit wouldn’t be damaged by the frost.
 
The problem arises that either I have too many lemons in winter and none in the summer unless I want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on lemons.
 
So, what do you do?
 
Well, I juiced them a week ago and made “lemon ice-cubes.”
 
Then, I promptly forgot about them until I was searching in the freezer for the chicken to thaw out for dinner.
So, I took them out and put my lemon ice cubes into freezer bags.
 
 
I have three freezer bags full of lemon ice cubes, which will last me through the coming year.
 
What do I use them for?  Well, many of my favorite dinner recipes call for a tablespoon or two of lemon juice, and they are great for making ice tea.
 
You can also save the lemon zest, (just before you juice them), and freeze the zest too.
 
 
My kids love grapefruit (I don’t) and have been eating some for both breakfasts and a snack.  They have also been taking the blood oranges to school in their lunch boxes.


My friend, Becky, from Tucson, made ‘Orange Peel Vinegar’ which she uses as a cleaner with her extra oranges.
 
What do you do with an overabundance of citrus?

The cold weather has arrived in my neck of the woods with even colder temperatures on their way later this week.  

When temperatures dip below 32 degrees, you will find me wearing warm socks, slippers, a sweater, and cardigan when I’m indoors.  But, besides me – frost-tender plants are also affected by the cold temperatures.

Have you ever wondered why your plant’s leaves turn brown and crispy after a freeze?  Well, ice crystals form on the top of the leaves, which ‘sucks’ out the moisture from the leaf, leaving it brown and crispy.

 
Many plants handle cold weather just fine and have no problems with frost.  However, if you have frost-tender plants, such as bougainvillea, lantana, or yellow bells, you face a choice; Do you leave them unprotected from freezing temperatures and live with the unattractive frost-damaged growth?  Or do you protect them when temperatures dip below freezing?
 
Either choice is fine and is a matter of personal preference.  Frost-damaged growth can be pruned back once the last frost of the season has passed (early March where I live).  But, if you don’t want to live with brown, crispy plants for a few months, then protecting your plants when temps dip below freezing is necessary.  
 
In the daytime, the sun shines on soil, warming it.  At night, the soil releases the warmth from the ground.  When you cover your plants – the heat is captured keeping your plants warmer.
 
 
Plants aren’t fussy about what type of covering you use (with one exception); old sheets and towels are usually on hand and are easy to use.  Burlap and newspaper are also useful as coverings.  Cover your frost-tender plants in the evening, making sure that there aren’t any gaps where the heat can escape.  You can use large rocks or clothespins to secure them in place.  In the day, remove the covers once temperatures have risen above freezing, and allow the sun to warm the soil again.  
 
 
Don’t keep the coverings on your plants for more than two days in a row without removing them in the day since this can cause water to become trapped underneath, leading to fungal diseases and can cause plants to produce new growth that can be easily damaged by cold.
 
The best type of frost protection is frost cloth, which is a breathable fabric because it can ‘breathe,’ you can leave the frost cloth on your plants for a longer period.  But, use it only when there is a threat of frost.  After three days, uncover your plants during the day to allow the sun to reach your plants.
 
My neighbor made things worse by using plastic as a covering for his citrus trees.
One type of covering that you shouldn’t use is plastic, which transfers the cold to your plants and damages leaves when it touches the plant itself.
 
In my garden, I only protect my frost-tender trailing lantana which is in a high-profile area next to my entry.  The rest of my frost-tender plants, I leave alone until it is time to prune back their frost-damaged growth in spring.
 
So whether you cover your plants or not, the choice is yours 🙂
 
For more information on frost protection, check out the following link from the University of Arizona: Frost Protection

Lately, I have been collecting toilet paper rolls.  Now I know that may sound a bit weird to some of you, but I needed them for my garden.

So how on earth can toilet paper rolls help you in the garden?

Well, they are an inexpensive, environmentally friendly tool in which to start seeds indoors.

From upper right – bush beans, marigolds, Kentucky beans, cucumbers, sugar snap peas and spinach.
 
I thought this would be a good project to do with the kids, so we gathered our seeds.
 
 
We cut each toilet paper roll in half (you can use paper towel rolls and cut them into thirds for this too.)
 
 
We used a planting mix that had slow-release fertilizer already included and also had water-holding granules. I advise wetting the soil before adding it to your toilet paper rolls.
 
 
Now that we had everything, we were ready to start. The kids used tablespoons to ‘spoon’ the planting mix into each tube.
 
 
Then we lightly pressed down the planting mix and added more.
 
 
Now it was time to plant.
 
 
Then we used a spray bottle filled with water to thoroughly water each planted seed.
 
Now we had to create a ‘mini-greenhouse’ effect by covering our toilet paper rolls with clear plastic wrap with some holes in the top.  Then we placed them on top of the refrigerator, where it was warm enough to help them germinate.

Every day, we checked the moisture of each toilet paper roll and added more water if necessary.  

 
Once the seedlings germinated, we removed the plastic wrap permanently and placed our seedlings by our bright, sunny kitchen window.
 
We are keeping the soil moist, but not soggy.
 
Soon, we will be able to plant our seedlings (with their toilet paper rolls) in the vegetable garden.  The cardboard from the toilet paper rolls will disintegrate into the soil.
 
Of course, you can always use the ready-made plastic seeding trays, but I must admit that I like this method better 🙂

**Are you new to vegetable gardening in the desert?  We are fortunate that we can grow a large variety of vegetables, as well as fruit.  I invite you to click the ‘Shop’ tab where you’ll find some great information on growing vegetables.

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Many people tell me that they are tired of their boring, round green shrubs.  Often, they are surprised when I tell them that those ‘boring’ green balls would actually flower if given a chance.

So, how do you take those boring green balls and turn them into beautiful, flowering shrubs?  

‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage shrubs

 

The first step is to rejuvenate your green ‘balls’ by severely pruning them back.  
 
Now I warn you, this is an ugly stage.  Your shrubs will look like a bunch of sticks poking out of the ground.
Red Bird-of-Paradise shrubs, newly pruned.
This is best done at certain times of the year, depending on what type of flowering shrub you have.  For example, if you severely prune summer-flowering shrubs back in December, you will have to wait a long time for them to leaf out, once the weather warms.
 
I pruned the ‘Rio Bravo’ Sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae ‘Rio Bravo’) shrub below in March and by early April, it had already begun to produce new branches.
‘Rio Bravo’ Sage, 1 month after severely pruning.
So, when should you prune your shrubs?
 
Here is a list of some of the most common shrubs in the low desert and when they should be pruned.
(If you live in the high desert, you can adjust the timing by a month or so later.)
Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea species) – March
Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) – March
Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) – March
Cassia species (Senna species) – May (once flowering is finished)
Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) – June
Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) – May
Texas Sage (Leucophyllum species) – March
Oleander (Nerium oleander) – May or June
Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans) – March
Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) – March or April
 
If you look closely at the list above, you can see that in most cases these shrubs are either pruned once they have finished flowering OR just after the danger of frost is over in the spring.
 
The reward for your efforts is a beautiful, flowering shrub like the ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage, below.
‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage
 
If your shrub is getting a bit large later in the year, you can prune it using hand pruners and removing no more then 1/3 of the growth.  Just be careful not to use hedge-trimmers.
 
So, do you have to prune your flowering shrubs severely every year?  
Absolutely not.  
 
As long as your shrub is attractive and not outgrowing its space, you can save severe pruning for every 3 years or so, which will remove older branches and cause new ones to grow in their place.  This is what I do in my own garden.
Want to learn about pruning flowering shrubs the right way? I invite you to check out my popular online pruning workshop. I’ll teach you how to maintain beautiful flowering shrubs by pruning twice a year or less.
I think that there are few plants that gardeners get more excited about than growing tomatoes. There is just something so rewarding about biting into a juicy, flavorful tomato.
For those of you who have tasted a freshly grown tomato, you know that store-bought tomatoes do not even begin to compare in both taste and texture. There are a few reasons for this. First, the varieties grown commercially are bred to have tougher skins, so that they can make the trip to the grocery store with few blemishes. Another reason is that commercial tomatoes are picked when they are still green and then treated with ethylene gas to make them turn red.
 
So, maybe you have decided to try growing tomatoes this year. Or, perhaps you have tried and have not had a whole lot of success. Well, I would like to give you some helpful tips that may help you to grow beautiful tomatoes.

Now, most gardeners who grow tomatoes have their list of tips for producing the best tomatoes, and many have differing opinions on the best way. But like growing many things, there is often more than one right way to grow things.

Since I have only grown tomato transplants, that is what I will talk about. Although someday, I would like to start them from seed.

Decide where to plant your tomatoes. 

Tomatoes transplants can be planted once the threat of frost is over. Place them in an area that receives about 6 hours of sunlight a day. They will require shade once the fruit begins to form, which can be done by creating a portable shade structure. I use 30 – 50% shade cloth, putting it over my tomato support.

By the way, tomato plants can grow up to 6 ft. tall, so they do need a support system. Tomato cages or stakes are available. Because I plant my tomatoes next to the fence of my vegetable garden, I use a combination of a tomato cage and my fence for staking my tomato plants.

*Tomatoes really don’t do great when planted in containers, unless you decide to plant a determinate variety (bloom and produce tomatoes just once). Roma tomatoes are determinate and would be a good selection for pots. Other types of tomatoes are indeterminate, which means that they produce tomatoes over a long period and the tomato plants get too large to do well in a container, and their roots get quite hot as well.

Prepare your soil.

Add aged compost, bone meal (source of phosphorus), blood meal (source of nitrogen), and aged (composted) steer or chicken manure and mix with your existing soil. Read the labels of your blood & bone meal for how much to add. Compost should make up at least 2/3 of your planting mixture. Let your prepared soil rest for 1 week before planting.

Select your tomatoes – this is the fun part.

Decide what uses you will put your tomatoes too. Do you want tomatoes for slicing, salads, cooking, or cherry tomatoes?  

*You may also be wondering what all the fuss is about heirloom tomatoes and how are they different from hybrid tomatoes? Well, basically, heirloom tomatoes are non-hybrid tomatoes and can be open-pollinated. Heirloom tomatoes are said to possess the ‘old-fashioned’ flavor that many people love in tomatoes and are grown from seed.

As a gardener, you can grow either heirloom or regular hybrid tomatoes. It is your choice.

A good beginner tomato to start out with are cherry tomatoes. In my garden, I have used a variety that is great for making sauces – San Marzano (heirloom), although Roma (heirloom) tomatoes are good for cooking and preserving as well. 

Many people are very passionate about which type of tomato varieties that they like to grow. In addition to the cooking tomato varieties listed above, here are just a few suggestions for other types of tomatoes:
 
‘Celebrity’ (hybrid) and ‘Brandywine’ (heirloom), are good sliced tomato varieties.
‘Stupice’ (heirloom) and ‘Early Girl’ (hybrid) are great varieties for using in salads.
 
‘Gardener’s Delight’ (heirloom) and ‘Beam’s Yellow Pear’ (heirloom) are good cherry tomato varieties.
 

Dig a hole that is four times deeper and four times wider than the root ball of your tomato plant. 

Sprinkle about 1/2 a cup of bone meal in the bottom of the hole, which will aid in rooting (some tomato experts say you can add 1 cup of bone meal to each hole).

 

Take your tomato plant and remove the bottom three sets of leaves.  Believe it or not, your tomatoes will root out where you remove the leaves. More roots equal more water and nutrients that your tomato plant can take up.

 
Remove the little container and plant it. Cover with soil so that the soil level sits just beneath the lowest leaf.  
Build a small basin around your tomato plants and cover with mulch.  

Water in your newly-planted tomatoes. Fill the basin with water. Your tomatoes like for their soil to be moist, but not soggy. 

Many problems with tomatoes arise from improper or irregular watering. Water deeply (their roots grow 3 ft. deep), and regularly.  Because irrigation systems are so different and there are so many variables, there is no way to tell you exactly how much and how long to water. So, it is important to observe your tomatoes and monitor their soil moisture.
 
Drip irrigation works well and can hook up to your hose bib, with a battery-operated irrigation controller. Use at least two emitters for each tomato plant. Bubblers work very well for tomatoes. You can always use a watering can, but avoid getting dirt splashed upon the leaves.

Fertilize your tomatoes monthly.

Now you can use either organic fertilizers or inorganic. The choice is yours. Add fertilizer during the cool part of the day and water in well after you apply.   

Help to attract pollinators and keep damaging insects away by planting companion plants.

I have used both alyssum and marigolds this spring, although they will die off once summer comes.

Towards the end of July, tomatoes often stop producing fruit in many, hot desert climates.

The reason for this is that tomato pollen is most viable when nighttime temperatures are within 60 – 90 degrees F. So, don’t worry if your tomato plant stops producing in the summer. Keep the shade cloth on and water well. When temperatures begin to drop in the fall, you can often enjoy seeing tomatoes on the same plant.

Watch closely for pests.

Watch for caterpillars and pluck them off.  (I confess that I wear gloves for this job because I am a bit squeamish about handling a live caterpillar).

Aphids are generally not a huge problem and usually go away on their own.

Whitefiles and spider mites are treated using insecticidal soap or neem oil on the bottom of their leaves.

If birds are a problem, use bird netting.

I hope that you will find some of the information helpful in growing your own tomatoes.

For more information on growing tomatoes in the desert Southwest, check out the following link.

 

I am here to showcase a lesser-known plant for you to try in your garden.  

In winter, the garden can often look blah and colorless. But, it doesn’t have to be that way in the desert garden. There are many plants that bloom in winter.

And so, I am very excited to show you this lesser-known plant.  

Are you ready?  Drum roll please…

Isn’t it beautiful?
 
This Australian native is known by different common names with Purple Lilac Vine (Hardenbergia violacea) being commonly used in our area of the Southwest.  
 
It is not actually a lilac, but because we cannot grow lilacs in the low desert, this is a wonderful substitute.
 
 
My first experience in using Purple Lilac was over 20 years ago where I used it in a feature area on one of the golf courses I worked for.
Although traditionally, used as a vine, I used it as a ground cover and believe it or not, it did beautifully.  
One of the best attributes of this vine is that it blooms during the month of February in our zone 9 gardens.  
Now be honest, there is not much going on in your garden in winter, is there? Wouldn’t it be great to have gorgeous purple flowers blooming when little else is?
Here are more reasons to try out this vine in your garden:
  • It flowers in winter.
  • When not in flower, attractive leaves cover the vine year round.
  • Fairly low-maintenance.  Prune to control size if needed.  Supplemental fertilizer is usually not needed.
  • Requires a trellis or other support to grow upwards.
  • Hardy to zone 9.
Under normal winter temperatures, it doesn’t suffer frost damage.

It decorates a bare wall beautifully or can screen out an unattractive view.

   
When people ask me if I recommend a particular plant, I tell them that the highest recommendation that I can give is is if I have that plant growing in my garden.
You see, I do not have the patience to grow a plant that struggles and/or takes too much maintenance.  It also has to look beautiful most of the year.
So if you ask me if I truly like this vine, I answer by saying that I have four growing in my backyard 🙂
 
**One complaint that I have hear often is that it can be hard to find in your local nursery. Don’t worry, most nurseries normally have them in stock when they are in flower in winter.  

**It’s important to note that although the flowers look a bit like lilacs, they are not particularly fragrant. But, they are so beautiful, it’s hard not to care.

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 ten years. As our houseome 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 don’t 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.  

*This blog contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission with no additional cost to you.

 

 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 beside the beautiful green trunks – they are 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 the replacement. Why may you ask? Well, because they grow 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 in addition to being a horticulturist, I am also a certified arborist and 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 its 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 colder winters the leaves may drop altogether.  Although what I would call a medium sized tree, it typically grows from 15 – 45 feet high and wide.
 
One drawback is that it 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 southwest.  The mature size is approximately 25 feet high and wide.  In areas with mild winters, the leaves will remain on the tree.  Dark brown seedpods are produced once flowering has finished.
 
Some drawbacks to consider are the thorns having to be careful when pruning is necessary (requiring gloves and 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 – they are thornless, have evergreen foliage, are tolerant of full and reflected sun making 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.
online-class-desert-gardening-101

Tired of struggling in the desert garden? Sign up for my online course, DESERT GARDENING 101.

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 are 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 lovely, low-maintenance tree.

Bottle Tree
(Brachychiton populneus)
 
Some of you may be surprised to know that many of our trees and shrubs are 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.  Its mature size of 30 – 45 feet high and 30 feet wide, makes 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 and 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 most 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 love them.
 
**One note of caution, this tree is quite susceptible to Texas (Cotton) 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 its most attractive assets.

 
 
 The bark peels off in papery sheets.  Palo blanco trees look great when planted near each other 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 feet and spreads to 10 feet 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.
 

Excellent book about what to do in the garden and when

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’s hard to beat the sissoo tree for fast growth and shade. However, they ARENT recommended for average size residential landscapes. The photo of the tree above was taken four years after it was planted from a 15-gallon container and it rapidly grew even larger – soon, it had to be removed due to its invasive roots. This tree made its debut in the Phoenix area about 15 years ago and rapidly became quite popular for its lush green beauty. However, as sissoo trees have been grown in the southwest landscape for several years, problems have begun to crop up. They have invasive root systems that cause problems with sidewalks, patio decks, pools, and block walls. Also, their mature size is so big that they dwarf the landscapes they have been planted in. 
Shallow watering often causes the roots to grow along the surface. 
 
Sissoo trees are best used in large outdoor areas such as parks.

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 feet high and wide, olive trees make excellent 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 (Ebenopsis/Pithecellobium flexicaule)

 Texas ebony is an excellent 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 evergreen tree, has thorns and large brown seedpods.  Texas ebony grows slowly to about 15 – 30 feet high and 15 – 20 feet wide. 

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

Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis)

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An excellent tree for those who like lush, green trees that lose their leaves in winter. Chinese pistache grows to 25 – 25 feet high and wide and has some welcome surprises.


It is one of the few trees in our area that produces a 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 feet tall and wide.

 
I love the clusters of small round leaves that are evergreen.
 
 
 Now I am not a fan of thorns, but the thorns on this tree are almost pretty.  But, you 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 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 feet tall and most should not be planted 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 an excellent mulch?  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 in your garden.  Your neighbor will be so happy 🙂
I am pretty sure that I will not plant a pine tree because I have memories of many hours spent nursing along many pine trees growing on golf courses that were irrigated 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 feet 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. Its small-medium size makes it suitable for smaller areas. It does lose its 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 and there are new (almost seedless) varieties such as ‘Bubba’ and ‘Timeless Beauty’ that produce little to no seedpods.

That is 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 looking at possible tree choices. (You can check out my second post of possible tree selections, here 🙂
P.S. Do you have more questions about choosing a tree for your landscape? I share my experience as a horticulturist and certified arborist and profile my top 20 along with all of their characteristics in my mini-course “How to Select the Right Tree for Your Desert Garden”.