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 🙂

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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 😉

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 😉

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 😉

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 🙂

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 😉

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 🙂

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

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

Desert Museum Palo Verde

I am faced with a wonderful dilemma of selecting a desert tree…

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 house 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.

Considering Options for Selecting a Desert Tree

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?

Selecting a Desert Tree Variety:

Desert Fern (Lysiloma thornberi)

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 (Acacia farnesiana, Acacia smallii)

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 😉

Southern Live Oak

Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)

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. Not sure exactly what it is. 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)

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.

selecting desert tree

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)

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.

selecting desert tree

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.

selecting desert tree

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.

 

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)

Indian Rosewood

Indian Rosewood / Sissoo  (Dalbergia sissoo)

It’s hard to beat the sissoo tree for fast growth and shade. However, they ARE NOT 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.

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

Olive  (Olea europaea)

As an option, olive trees work well. 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 (see photo below).

selecting desert tree

Definitely memorable, but not quite my taste. 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

Beautiful Texas Ebony (Ebenopsis/Pithecellobium flexicaule)

An excellent choice is Texas ebony. Particularly 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)

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. It is a deciduous tree known for its stunning fall foliage. Native to China, this tree has become popular in various regions due to its vibrant red, orange, and yellow leaves during autumn. Its small, round fruits are enjoyed by birds.

Chinese Pistache trees are also valued for their drought tolerance and adaptability to different soil types, making them a favored choice for landscaping and urban environments.

selecting desert tree

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)

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.

selecting desert tree

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

selecting desert tree

Now I am not a fan of thorns, but the thorns on this tree are almost pretty. You need to plant this tree away from pedestrian areas due to the thorns. 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.’

selecting desert tree

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)

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 🙂

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)

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.

selecting desert tree

That is why I have four currently growing in my garden. They are simply lovely.

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”.

Many of us have memories of school lunches and the little cup of fruit cocktail that sometimes came with it.  Little bits of assorted fruit, served in a light syrup with a cherry for color.

What if I told you that there is a fruit tree that can produce up to 5 different kinds of fruit.  Would you think I was crazy?  Well, there is such a tree and it is called a “Cocktail Citrus Tree”.

fruit cocktail

At first glance, a cocktail tree can look like any other citrus tree you may encounter.

But, if you look closely, you may find the following fruit, all on the same tree.

fruit cocktail

 Grapefruit…

fruit cocktail

Oranges…

Lemons

…and Lemons.

Warning – if you don’t want to read the scientific explanation, just skip down to the next picture :^)

Citrus trees, like most fruit trees consist of two parts.  The bottom part is called the ‘rootstock’, which in the case of citrus, is a hardy citrus plant that produces a healthy root system, but does not necessarily produce great tasting fruit.  Then a bud from a tree that produces delicious citrus fruit, but may have a weaker root system, is grafted onto the rootstock.  Over time, both of these parts will grow together into one tree.

A cocktail tree is created using this method, but instead of grafting only one type of fruit onto the root stock, up to 5 different fruits are grafted.  Most often, you will find cocktail trees with 3 types of fruit in the nursery.

fruit cocktail

A few months ago, my mother, (Pastor Farmer), asked me to look at one of their citrus trees at Double S Farms.  Some of the fruit on their grapefruit tree (above) looked smaller and was clustered more thickly on the branches.

It turns out that this was a cocktail tree and they had both lemons and grapefruit on the same tree.

If you have a cocktail tree, it is important to manage it correctly with pruning.  For example, grapefruit are more vigorous growers then oranges, so you need to prune the grapefruit portion of the tree to keep it from taking over the other types of citrus.

**There are other types of cocktail trees that have peach, plum, apricot and cherry grafted onto the same tree.

A cocktail tree is a great solution for those who have a small gardening area, but would like to have a nice variety of fruit.  You can have it all in one tree.

And, you can also use the fruit to create your own homemade fruit cocktail.

Large blooming palo verde an Iconic tree

  Iconic tree, Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)

When people think of the Sonoran desert, hillsides studded with saguaro cactus and cholla often come to mind.   But interspersed between the cactus, you will find the palo verde, an iconic tree with their beautiful green trunks and branches.

An Iconic Desert Tree; The Palo Verde

The word “Palo Verde” means “green stick” in Spanish, referring to their green trunk, which is a survival mechanism in response to drought.  

Palo verde trees are “drought deciduous,” which means that they will drop their leaves in response to a drought situation.  Their green trunks and branches can carry on photosynthesis, even in the absence of leaves. 

'Desert Museum' Palo Verde planted in groups along a walkway

 ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde (Parkinsonia hybrid ‘Desert Museum’)

Palo Verde Trees Are Nurse Plants to Saguaro Cacti

Palo verde trees act as a “nurse plant” to young saguaro cacti by protecting them from the cold in the winter and from the intense sun in the summer.  Beautiful, yellow flowers are the product in the spring.    

Desert Museum Palo Verde Flower

 Desert Museum’ Flower

There Are Several Species of Palo Verde

There are three species of palo verde that are native to the desert Southwest; blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida), formerly (Cercidium floridum), foothill palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla), formerly (Cercidium microphyllum) and ‘desert museum’ palo verde (Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’).

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Another species of palo verde that is prevalent in the landscape are called palo brea (Parkinsonia praecox), formerly (Cercidium praecox).  They have a dusty green trunk and branches that twist and turn.  Their cold hardiness range is around 15 to 20 degrees F.

Palo verde Iconic tree

 Iconic tree, Palo Brea

Palo Verde Landscape Uses

Palo verde trees serve as beautiful specimen trees where their green trunks, branch structure, and flowers serve as an attractive focal point in the landscape.  They are drought tolerant, once established and provide lovely filtered shade year-round.  

When deciding where to place your tree, be sure to take into account that they need a lot of room to grow, mature sizes are listed below.  

Palo Verdes don’t do well when planted in grass and will decline over time.  Locate away from swimming pools due to flower litter in the spring.

Because of their more massive thorns and branching tendency to point downwards, palo brea trees aren’t recommended in areas close to foot traffic.  

Mature Sizes:

  • Blue Palo Verde – 30 ft x 30 ft
  • ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde – 30 ft high x 40 ft wide
  • Palo Brea – 30 ft x 25 ft
  • Foothills Palo Verde – 20 ft x 20 ft

As with many desert trees, Palo Verde trees have thorns, except for the ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde.  

Palo verde in bloom Iconic tree

 Foothills Palo Verde

Basic Palo Verde Maintenance

Pruning for Canopy Elevation and Structural Integrity:

Pruning Palo Verde trees in your desert Southwest garden is a crucial aspect of maintaining their health, aesthetics, and structural integrity. One of the primary objectives of pruning is to elevate the canopy, ensuring it remains well-balanced and visually appealing. This practice involves selectively trimming the lower branches to create a more elevated and open canopy. By doing so, you allow for better air circulation and light penetration, which can promote overall tree health and reduce the risk of disease.

Steering Clear of Hedging and Topping:

While pruning is essential, it’s equally vital to understand what not to do. Avoid two harmful practices: hedging and topping.

  1. Hedging: Hedging involves indiscriminate shearing or cutting of branches to create a uniform, artificial shape. This practice is highly discouraged for Palo Verde trees, as it not only compromises the tree’s natural beauty but also disrupts its growth patterns. Hedging can lead to dense, bushy growth with weaker, more susceptible branches.
  2. Topping: Topping is the severe cutting of the uppermost branches, often leaving stubs or bare trunks. This practice is detrimental to the tree’s health and stability. When Palo Verde trees are topped, they respond with a vigorous burst of new growth that tends to be weak and prone to breakage. Topped trees are also more susceptible to pests and diseases.

The Proper Tree Pruning Approach:

Instead, adopt a thoughtful and strategic approach to pruning your Palo Verde trees. Start by identifying dead, diseased, or damaged branches, and promptly remove them. This eliminates potential entry points for pests and diseases, promoting tree health.

Next, focus on elevating the canopy by selectively pruning lower branches. When selecting branches for removal, prioritize those with narrow crotches or those that cross and rub against each other, as these can weaken the overall structure.

Consider hiring a certified arborist or a professional tree service to ensure that your Palo Verde trees receive the care they deserve. These experts have the knowledge and experience to prune your trees correctly, preserving their natural form and promoting robust, healthy growth.

By following proper pruning practices and avoiding hedging and topping, you can help your Palo Verde trees thrive in your desert Southwest garden. A well-maintained Palo Verde tree not only adds to the beauty of your landscape but also provides valuable shade and habitat for local wildlife while remaining resilient in the harsh desert environment.

Palo Verde is My Favorite Tree

As a landscape manager, horticulturist and arborist, I have grown and maintained all of the palo verde species mentioned, and I truly enjoy them all.  However, at home, I have 4 ‘Desert Museum’ trees. 

In comparison to the other species, their trunks are a deeper green; they produce larger flowers, are thornless and grow very quickly in the desert.  Also, they require little, if any, tree staking when planted. Simple amazing!

Blooming Flowers

The blooming of my desert willow tree (Chilopsis linearis), is beginning to slow down.  The leaves will fall in December.  However, there were a few lovely pink flowers left.

Blooming Flowers

Also, the recent monsoon storms have caused my ‘Rio Bravo’ sage, (Leucophyllum langmaniae), to burst out in flower.

Blooming Flowers

Beautiful, magenta brachts surrounding the tiny, cream-colored flowers on my single bougainvillea shrub.

Blooming Flowers

I also love the multi-colored blooms of my lantana ‘Patriot Desert Sunset.’  They will soon stop blooming for the winter.

 red bird-of-paradise

The vibrant colors of my red bird-of-paradise, (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) add vibrant color to my garden and nectar for hummingbirds.  

In another month, many of these flowers will no longer be flowering, but until then, I’ll enjoy the view.

Ficus nitida

Ficus Nitida simply the wrong plant, and usually in the wrong place.

I think this photo probably speaks for itself…..

But, I will add to it by saying that it is vital to realize that the little, spindly tree that you plant WILL GROW. Be sure to check the mature size of any tree, (or any plant for that matter), before you plant so you can be sure that there is ample room for growth.

By the way, the tree above is a Ficus nitida, which is a beautiful, dark green tree. But, it does grow enormous, as does its roots, making it unsuitable from most residential landscapes.