Some of you may recall me telling you about a young tree that had suffered terrible frost damage during the winter of 2011.

The tree was located at Double S Farms, which is where my mother, my sister and her family live.

terrible frost damage

This Sissoo (Dalbergia sissoo) tree had turned brown and ‘crispy’.  We waited until June to see if there would be any green growth to show us that it was alive.

The entire tree died, except for a little ‘sucker’ that started growing up from the base.

I wrote about this back then in, “Second Chance for a Frost-Damaged Tree”.

My brother-in-law and I cut off the dead tree (the entire part we are holding in our hands in the photo above) and staked up the tiny sucker, hoping that it would grow…

terrible frost damage

And now, just 14 months after we removed the frost-damaged tree, this is what the single sucker has grown up too…

Posing by the tree with my sister's new 3-legged dog, Johnny

Posing by the tree with my sister’s new 3-legged dog, Johnny.

It is hard to believe that just over a year ago, there was nothing but a single tiny branch growing from the base of the tree that had been killed by frost.

The majority of the time, people simply dig up their frost-damaged tree and start over with a new tree.

I recommend waiting a few months to see if there is any part of the tree that is still alive.  Often, they will grow a few small branches from the base, even if the rest of the tree is totally dead.

Select a single small branch and remove the dead tree and the other small branches – you want to concentrate your energy on a single branch (sucker) to grow into a new tree.

You may be wondering, isn’t it easier to just start over and plant a new tree?

The answer is “no” for a few reasons:

1. It is wasting your money buying a new tree that you may not need.

2. Save yourself the extra labor of having to dig up your old tree and plant a new one.

3. Your little branch (sucker) will grow faster then a new tree will.  The reason for this is that it already has a large established root system from the original tree. A new tree does not have a large root system and has to spend a lot of time to grow roots.  Until a tree has a good root system, the top will not grow as quickly as a tree that already has established roots.

**And so, next winter (I realize it is hard to think of winter in the middle of August), if your tree is unfortunate enough to suffer extensive frost damage – don’t remove it right away.

You may be able to save it and have a beautiful “new” tree in its place.

Last winter, we suffered a severe cold snap.  Okay, for those of you who live in more northerly climates, it wouldn’t seem all that cold to you perhaps.  But, we had temps that ranged in the low 20’s for three days in a row, which is definitely below normal for us.

As a result, many trees and plants that normally stay green in the winter, suffered severe frost damage.  That included my mother’s young Sissoo tree (Dalbergia sissoo).

frost damage

Frost damage

I wrote about her tree and how the top died back to the ground.  However, there were some new growth coming up from the bottom.  So instead of taking out the tree, we opted to cut off the dead portion and let one the new growth take over.

frost damage

We re-staked the little tree and waited to see how it would do.

That was in the beginning of June.

Now, just 4 1/2 months later, look at it now…

Sissoo tree

Doesn’t it look so much bigger?

That’s because it is.

Why has it grown so quickly?  Well, that is because it had a great root system – actually the root system of a grown tree, so it had many resources to help it to grow quickly.

Sissoo tree

It is still hard to believe how quickly it grew.  But, we are so happy with the decision to give it a chance instead of buying a new tree.

Sissoo tree

If we had planted a new tree, it would never have grown so quickly.

So, next time you have a frost-damaged tree, wait a few months to see if there is any re-growth – even if it is on the bottom.

You never know, it might end up with a fast-growing tree and save yourself some money at the same time ๐Ÿ™‚  

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5 days and counting until my daughter’s due date.  We had a ‘false alarm’ on Monday.  But, I guess our little granddaughter wasn’t ready to come yet ๐Ÿ˜‰

I must admit that I have been contemplating this post for quite some time. To be honest, I have been hesitant about it because of people’s overwhelming affection for ficus trees (Ficus nitida).

At first, the benefits of planting a ficus tree are obvious. They are lush, beautiful and provide dense shade, which is sometimes scarce in the desert.

So what’s the problem with having a ficus tree?

Well there are a couple of things that you should be aware of before you plant a ficus tree.

First, is the fact that they do suffer frost damage in the low desert when temperatures dip below freezing. It can be worse when consecutive days of freezing temperatures occur.

Frost-Damaged Ficus nitida

Photo: Frost-Damaged Ficus nitida

This past winter, we had temperatures in the low 20’s for three days in a row and the damage to the local ficus trees was noticeable. I could drive through any neighborhood street and tell from a distance who had Ficus trees and who didn’t by simply noting the ‘brown’ trees.

Once the warmer temperatures came back, there were quite a few ‘short’ ficus trees seen around the neighborhood due to the frost-damage branches being removed.

Ficus tree that had frost damaged branches removed.

Photo:Ficus tree that had frost damaged branches removed.

The second problem that sometimes occur when people don’t research how large ficus trees will become.

Young Ficus Tree

Photo: Young Ficus Tree

They are soon caught unprepared when the pretty, shade tree that they planted soon grows so large that it almost seems like it is ‘eating’ up the house….

Mature Ficus Tree

Photo: Mature Ficus Tree

So, what should you do if you absolutely love ficus trees and want one in your garden?

By all means, buy one. Just know that you will have some winters where it will suffer frost damage and will look unsightly until new branches grow in.

Grab my FREE guide for Fuss-Free Plants that thrive in a hot, dry climate!

Also, be careful where you plant it.  Allow enough room for it to grow so that it doesn’t ‘eat’ your house.  In addition, keep it away from patios and pools or its roots can become a problem with shallow watering.  It can grow 30 – 50 feet high and 40 feet wide.

Some people look to sissoo trees as an alternative to ficus – BUT, this isn’t advisable either.

Sissoo Tree

Photo: Sissoo Tree

The sissoo tree (Dalbergia sissoo) is similar in appearance to the ficus tree, but they do have greater tolerance to frost.

Like ficus trees, sissoo trees do grow quite large but I no longer recommend them forย 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.ย  This tree made it’s 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. In addition, their mature size is so big that they dwarf the landscapes they have been planted in. 

Sissoo Trees

Photo: 3 Sissoo Trees

Sissoo trees are a better choice than ficus trees when used in large outdoor areas such as parks as they have greater tolerance to frost.

Okay, I must begin this by admitting that I have no idea what to post about today….

Maybe I shouldn’t admit this to you, but there are times when I have nothing.  I think it may be because there is so much going on in my life. 

hot Southwest summer

– My three youngest kids start school on Monday (we have a modified year-round school calendar).  My daughter Ruthie, begins Jr. High and is understandably nervous.  We went shopping yesterday for some new clothes and shoes.

– We have guests arriving tomorrow from Kansas City who we will be entertaining for the weekend.  There is a very special story behind these people and my daughter Ruthie.  I can’t wait to share it with you later ๐Ÿ™‚

– I just finished writing 4 gardening articles and have one more left to go.

– We are busy helping my in-laws each week with miscellaneous tasks around their home.  My father-in-law is continuing to suffer more debilitating effects from ALS.

However, with all of this going on, my garden is thriving.  I thought that I would share with you some summer things that you should do in your garden.  

It is from an article that I wrote earlier this month for a local community newsletter.  I hope you enjoy it ๐Ÿ™‚

hot Southwest summer

Thankfully, there is not a lot of things to be done in the garden during the hot Southwest summer, but there are some tasks that are important this time of year.  

I recommend going out into your garden during the early morning hours to do these tasks, as I do, or at dusk, once the sun begins to set to avoid the extremely hot period of the day. So, put on your hat, sunscreen, gloves and sunglasses and letโ€™s get started.

hot Southwest summer

Hot Southwest summer

Succulents: Cacti, agave, yucca and other succulent plants can suffer from both the extreme heat and sun of summer, especially on the side of the plant that points toward the southwest. Signs of heat damage include a yellowing of your succulents. If your succulents are not connected to your irrigation, they need to be watered to a depth of one to two feet. Larger succulents such as saguaro, ocotillo and yuccas need to be watered to three feet deep. Do this once this month and again in August. 

This can be easily done by simply placing your hose next to the plant and barely turning the water on so that the water trickles out slowly. Leave the water on for at least an hour and then check to see if you need to leave the water on for longer.

Shrubs: Make sure that your shrubs are receiving enough water. They should be watered to a depth of 2 feet each time you water. Avoid fertilizing this time of year since this creates more stress for your plants, which are struggling to handle the heat of summer. You can deadhead spent flowers from your shrubs to promote additional bloom, but avoid pruning away any foliage at this time of year. Spider mites can become a problem this time of year. Look for any tiny webs, which are a sign of these tiny mites. Controlling them is easy since they like to hide in the dust, so spray your plants every few days with water to help keep the mites from becoming established.

hot Southwest summer

Hot Southwest summer

Trees: Avoid planting any trees this month, except for palms. Mature, established trees require deep watering this time of year, especially if they are not connected to your irrigation system. This should be done once a month in summer, watering to a depth of 3 feet. Using a hose, allow water to slowly trickle out around the drip line of the tree (where the branches end, not against the trunk) which is where the roots are located. You may need to move the hose so that you water around the entire tree. You can skip one watering if you receive 1 inch of rainfall, which replaces a single irrigation. 

As the increased humidity, (25 – 33% humidity is considered high in the desert), makes it more uncomfortable for us to go outside, it helps to keep in mind that plants just love the extra moisture even if it is only in the air around them.

**I hope you find this helpful.  I wanted to also tell you about a fabulous sight that I saw on our vacation.  I blogged about it on my Birds & Blooms blog.  

Earlier this week, we were enjoying our weekly dinner at Double S Farms, where my mother, sister and her family live.  I must admit that I always look forward to these nights.  I get to enjoy being with my family, plus I don’t have to cook dinner ๐Ÿ˜‰

Usually after dinner, we take a stroll out in the back garden and check out what is going on in the vegetable garden – cucumbers, corn and tomatoes this week.  The fruit trees are heavily laden with fruit – apple and plum trees will soon be ready pick.  

What drew my attention this week was the young Sissoo (Dalbergia sissoo) tree that had suffered frost-damage from our severe cold snap last winter.  The entire top of the tree had died.

Frost damage tree

Frost damage tree

For a few months, my brother-in-law and mother had waited to see if the tree was still alive and if any new growth would occur.

Well, the entire tree above the ground, was killed by the frost.

However, at the soil surface, by the tree trunk, there was new growth.  There was vibrant new growth occurring.

So, I recommended that they keep the tree and remove the dead part of the tree.  This was easily done using a pruning saw.

There were numerous new branches growing from the base and we selected the strongest one to keep and pruned off the others. 

Frost damage tree

We kept the stakes and simply readjusted downward to help hold up the new growth, which will help to train it upright.

young Sissoo

Of course, the other option was to remove the entire tree and start over with a new one.  However, there is a well-established root system already in place.  So why not take advantage of that?  When you first plant any type of plant, there is transplant shock and then it takes time for the roots to establish themselves.

By simply selecting the new growth, we have a huge head start.  Yes, it is short, but with an established root system, it will grow very quickly.

Plus, just think of the $ saved – I just love a good bargain ๐Ÿ™‚

Ficus Treesโ€ฆ.Too Much Hassle?

Suffered Frost Damage

Suffered Frost Damage

Here in the Southwest, we were hit with a deep freeze this past winter.  Temps in my garden fell to 20 degrees F.  Now we aren’t strangers to occasional freezes each winter.  But what made this one different was that we had 4 successive days of extreme cold.

As I drive down the streets in my neighborhood, I see trees that look much like the Lysiloma tree above.  Do you have trees that suffered frost damage too?  Ficus trees seem to have been most heavily affected by frost damage.  But I also see some Jacaranda trees that look much the same.

Why are the upper branches more affected then the lower?

Well, the upper branches were the most exposed to the cold and they protected the lower branches from the cold.

With the arrival of warm weather, some of the ugly, brown branches are beginning to be covered with green again.  The leaves start appearing towards the bottom of the tree canopy and work their way upward.

As a result, you see lush, green growth below and brown up above.  So the question that many people have is when do you prune back the brown branches?

I recommend waiting at least 3- 4 more weeks (mid-May) to see if any leaves begin to appear.  If they do not, then it is usually a sign that the upper branches are dead and can be pruned back.  You can also bend the smaller branches to see if they break off easily – this is a sign that the branch is dead.  If the branch is still flexible, then there is still live wood inside.

Suffered Frost Damage

Because your tree has lost much its leaves to frost, it often produces a huge flush of new growth like the Lysiloma tree, above.

Now you may be tempted to remove some of the excess growth because it looks ‘messy’.  But, please DON’T.

Leaves are what make ‘food’ for your tree and it needs all the leaves it can get right now until it has produced enough new growth to compensate for the leaves lost.  I would recommend waiting as long as possible before removing any excess leaves.

Suffered Frost Damage

Rest assured, before you know it, your tree will soon recover and look beautiful once again.

I would like to thank Becky who sent me these photos of her tree and suggested the topic for this post ๐Ÿ™‚

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So, I am spending the day starting to pack for my upcoming road trip.  It is so much easier when all you have to do is pack yourself and not 3 kids as well.

I am traveling with my mother.  It is very strange to be traveling without my husband and kids, but I know we will have a fabulous time.

So, where are we going?

I’ll tell you next time….

improper planting

 Some of you may be surprised to find that many trees are not planted correctly.  As a Certified Arborist, I have seen countless trees that are suffering from problems that are caused by improper planting.  The damage can actually take years to show up in some cases.

As a young horticulturist working for a 36-hole golf course, I had hundreds of trees that I was in charge of.  At that time, there was we were planting quite a few more trees around the golf courses. During I was fortunate to work with a Consulting Arborist whose company we would hire annually to prune the very tall trees that my crew could not reach.

I learned so much from him and he inspired me to obtain my Certified Arborist certification.

Growing beautiful and healthy trees is not very difficult, especially if you start them out right.  So over the next few posts, we will cover how to prepare the hole, how to plant trees, stake and water them.

Okay, so you have your tree all picked out and you are ready to plant.  Before you dig your hole, you need to do one thing first if your tree is a box tree or in a container.

Gently scrape the top layer of soil until you reach the part of the tree trunk where it begins to flare out.

Many trees from nurseries and even those that have been boxed, often have an extra layer of soil.  This layer can smother the roots if it is too thick.  Roots need oxygen and if there is too much soil, that decreases the amount of oxygen that is available to them.

Okay, now we are ready to dig ‘the hole’.

improper planting

Now if you are like me, I love it when someone else is digging the hole ๐Ÿ˜‰

So at this point, may you are just quickly reading through this post, which is fine with me. BUT, if you will only remember a little bit of this post, this is the most important piece of information:

Make a hole at least 3X as wide as the root ball of the tree and just as deep as the root ball (once you have scraped off any excess soil from the top).

There, that wasn’t so bad was it?

You want the hole wider then the root ball so that the roots can grow easily outwards.

The hole should be no deeper then the root ball because the roots can be easily smothered.

Now if you live in an area with poor drainage, you will need to check the drainage in your hole.  To do this, simply fill the hole with water and let it drain (this may take a while).  Then fill it up again and if it does not drain out within 24 hours – you have a drainage problem.

You can either locate your tree in an area with better drainage, or create a ‘chimney’ through the bottom of the hole to break through the impermeable layer, known as caliche.  This is back breaking work, but it will be worth it when your tree lives instead of dying.

improper planting

Look at the original soil level that this boxed tree had (where the shovel is) and where the trunk flare is at the bottom.  The workers actually had to dig their newly planted tree up and add more soil to the bottom of the hole so that the soil level would be where the trunk flare started.

Okay, we are almost done with preparing our hole.

Now many of you would probably think that this would be a good time to add organic matter such as compost and maybe a handful of fertilizer.

Well the answer is actually NO…..

Numerous studies have shown that when people add organic matter to enrich the soil for ornamental trees that something interesting happens…..

Imagine that you are a tree root and you have just been planted in a mixture of really rich soil.  So, you begin to grow outwards and then you reach an area where the soil is not rich…..in fact it is rather boring.  Well, at this point you decide to just stay where the soil is rich and you do not grow outwards any further.

So, just use the existing soil when planting ornamental trees, which will result in the roots growing outwards for greater distances.  

Okay, so now we have the perfect sized hole and our tree is ready.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on how to plant and stake your tree….

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Please check out my latest Birds & Blooms post

“A Hummingbird Takes a Bath”

Anyone who has spent any time with me in the garden, soon learns how much I dislike formal pruning of flowering shrubs and desert trees.  In the plant industry, we sometimes refer to this type of pruning as ‘poodle pruning’ because of the over abundance of round-shaped trees and shrubs.

I spend a lot of time with clients, teaching them how to properly prune their trees and shrubs and most of the time it does not involve the use of a hedge trimmer.  

I recommend throwing away your hedge trimmers if you are tempted to use them on your native, desert plants and use only loppers and hand pruners ๐Ÿ˜‰

Over ten years ago, the community where I was working asked me to do a consultation for the local church.  Part of the consultation involved going over the current maintenance practices.  This church had a Texas Ebony tree (Ebenopsis ebano) that had not been pruned correctly.  In fact, there were signs that the infamous hedge trimmers had been hard at work…..

Poodled or Natural

Now you may not think that this Texas Ebony tree looks all this bad.  There may even be some of you who think that most trees should be maintained this way.

Well the reasons for not pruning your trees this way are many:

– Repeated shearing blocks the sunlight from reaching the interior branches, causing their eventual death which leaves large dead areas which are unattractive.

– This same type of pruning actually increases the maintenance required, because each time you prune, the tree works hard to replace the leaves lost.  Remember, it is the leaves that make the food for the tree.

This extra growth also requires the tree to take more water, which is already a precious resource here in the Southwest.

Now if those reasons do not convince you, please look at the photo below of the same tree, which is now being maintained as I had recommended….

Poodled or Natural

You know what?  It is so incredibly rewarding to revisit a landscape when those in charge have implemented some of my suggestions.  Sadly, that doesn’t always happen ๐Ÿ˜‰

Doesn’t this Texas Ebony look beautiful?

Now, a yearly pruning using a lopper or pruning saw is all this tree requires instead of multiple visits using a hedge trimmer.

Prune any dead and/or crossing branches and any over-reaching side branches as desired.  Raise the tree canopy gradually until you reach the desired height above the ground.

Texas Ebony is a slow-growing tree with beautiful, dark green leaves.  It does have thorns, so be sure to wear gloves and keep away from high traffic areas.  Brown seed pods appear later in the year.

If the photos above have not convinced you not to prune your Texas Ebony into a ‘ball’, are some other examples of others that have been pruned to accentuate their natural shape…

Poodled or Natural
Poodled or Natural

So, which one would you rather have in your garden?

Poodled or Natural
Poodled or Natural

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I would like to thank you all for your nice comments about my new Southwest blog at BirdsandBloomsblog.com

Here is a related post about formal pruning that you can read if you like:

Flowering Shrubs Aren’t Meant to be Cupcakes, Poodles or Frisbees

I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I sometimes have trouble remembering what gifts I received a year ago for Christmas.  Does that happen to you too?  It’s not that I am not happy with the gifts……I am frequently amazed at the creativity and thoughtfulness of the giver.  But sometimes all I can handle is just trying to keep up with my 5 kids and my husband so many other things get pushed onto a back shelf inside my brain.

There have been extra special Christmas gifts that I have received that stick out in my mind.  Not because they were particularly expensive but because they were long lasting.  Each time I would use or look upon the gift, I would remember the thoughtfulness of the giver.

One of my favorite Christmas memories involve my dad and mother.  Each year my dad would give my mother something special for Christmas.  He would usually ask one of his daughters to wrap it for him and I can remember the happiness on his face when he would give my mother her gift.

After my father passed away a few years ago, my siblings and I started a new tradition – in addition to our individual gifts to our mother, we also joined together to give her a gift from all of us on behalf of my father, who is no longer here.

We have had a lot of fun thinking of ideas of what to give her each year.  This year we decided to give her two Apricot trees.  You see, my mother loves to can fruit.  Double S Farms, where she lives, has apple, peach, plum, kumquat, lemon, grapefruit, almond and pecan trees.  

how to make peach and plum jam

This past summer, my mother taught me how to make peach and plum jam as well as applesauce.  I am still using peach jam on my morning toast ๐Ÿ™‚

As many different kinds of fruit trees that my mother has, she does not have any apricot trees.  That was kind of sad really because apricots were among her favorite fruit.  So our decision was really quite easy.

We bought her two apricot trees and tied big red bows on each one and placed them on the side of the house.

peach tree

We placed the apricot trees in the same area that already had peach trees growing.  Little Farmer and Littlest Farmer were happy to help ๐Ÿ˜‰

make peach and plum jam

Now it was time for her surprise…..I think she was very happy with her gift.

Many people find it surprising that we can grow many different kinds of fruit trees.  Trees with low chill hour requirements do very well in our area.  (Chill hours occur when temperatures below 45 degrees F.  Fruit trees require a minimum number of chill hours to produce fruit.).  We selected two different varieties of apricot trees – ‘Katy’ and ‘Gold Kist’.  

make peach and plum jam

Apricot trees are self-pollinating (which means that they doesn’t need pollen from another apricot tree to produce fruit), so we really only needed one, but since we planted two, that means more apricot jam in our future.

The apricot trees will be ready for harvesting in late May / early June.

When planting fruit trees, it is important not to dig the hole deeper then the depth of the root ball.  What is a good thing to do is to dig the hole at least 3 times the width of the root ball, which helps the roots to grow out into the surrounding soil.  January is the month to plant your bare-root fruit trees in the Arizona deserts.

No fertilizer should be added to newly planted trees for the first year.  The reason is because fertilizer will trigger the growth of the upper part of the tree – you may be asking what is wrong with that?

Well, all trees need a good root system that can support the branches, leaves and fruit and that takes at least a year.  So please don’t add fertilizer unless you live in an area with sandy soils, which may require the addition of phosphorus and potassium when planted.

My mother was very happy with her gift, which will continue giving year after year.

Two Giving Trees.....

I can almost taste the apricot jam……but it will take a few years for the new trees to produce enough fruit ๐Ÿ™‚

For information on fruit varieties for the desert southwest, click here.

Here is a link for general fruit tree growing information for Arizona.

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

 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

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.

selecting desert tree

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

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.  

selecting desert tree

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

Southern Live Oak

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.

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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

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.

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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

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.

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 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.

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 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.

selecting desert tree

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

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

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.

selecting desert tree

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

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

Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis)

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.

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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

 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.

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

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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.’

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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

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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

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.

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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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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”.