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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.

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…


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.
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 time we visited together, I was “talking” about having to plant shrubs around our church along with a boy scout who was working on his community hours for his next badge.

As I promised, here is ‘part two’ where we planted six 15-gallon trees together.

Before we planted the 15-gallon trees, I was asked to oversee the planting of a single 24″ box tree by the church office.  

I planned to have the tree to be planted in this area to protect the office from the hot, afternoon sun.  This Sissoo tree will grow quickly and provide lots of welcome shade.

The hole should be the same depth of the root ball (not the top of the container), or a little bit shallower.  It’s important not to plant too deeply.  Trees (& other plants) require oxygen, which is present in the soil, but it is more concentrated in the top couple of feet of soil.
Cut the metal bands surrounding the box container.
Once the metal bands have been removed, it is easy to remove the wooden sides.  You can remove the wooden bottom as well at this point.
Fill in with soil, but take care not to pile up soil on top of the root ball.  ** Before filling in the hole….check to make sure that the tree has not been planted too deeply in the box.  This often happens and problems don’t show up until later on.  Gently scrape away the top layer of soil until the root begins to flare out.
Once we had the boxed tree planted, my boy scout ‘assistant’ and I began working on the 15-gallon Sissoo trees.
Don’t pull out the tree, as this can damage the root ball.  Instead, make two cuts down the side of the container.  You can use box cutters, and exacto knife, hand pruners of loppers.
At this point, pull the side down and cut along the bottom of the section to completely remove this section.
Gently slide out the tree and guide it into the hole.  Try not to ‘drop’ it.  Although my assistant was bending over, it is safer for your back to squat down, using your legs or better yet – get on your knees.
Now we are ready to fill in the hole.  Once you have filled in the hole, tamp down gently with your feet to get rid of any air holes in the soil.  **At this point, you can create a ‘well’ around the tree.  Create a ring of soil about 1 – 2 feet beyond the root ball and fill with water.  Once your tree has been in the ground for a year, you can remove the well.  This step is especially important if you do not use drip-irrigation.
When you put in new trees and plants, they will initially require more water then your more established plants.  So, if your entire landscape is on an irrigation schedule, I recommend giving your new plants a little extra water.  You can do this by turning your hose on a slow trickle and letting it soak the soil around the new plants between scheduled waterings.
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Temperatures are dipping below freezing this week.  It is forecast dip below 26 degrees on Tuesday….I am getting my old towels, sheets and burlap ready to cover my frost-tender plants 🙂
I hope you all have a great week!

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).

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.
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…


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.


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.


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 🙂

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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 😉

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
 
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.

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


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.
 
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 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.  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. 

 
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.

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 😉

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.

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. 

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

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.
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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
(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”.