Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana)

Today’s post is written by guest blogger, Emily, who writes about sustainable gardening.

Getting to landscape your own yard is exciting, and it can prove to be really fun! You can decorate your yard with the plants you love in whatever way you want them to look. There’s no end to all the ways that plants can bring life and beauty to your backyard, but what types of plants you have to choose from can be narrowed down because of where you live.

Even beginner gardeners know that plants are affected by the amount of sunlight and kinds of temperatures they deal with on a regular basis. Some plants do better in warmer climates than others. If you live in the southwest, you know that hot, dry weather is something your plants are going to have to be prepared for. Check out some of the best trees you can pick from for your yard that will thrive in the rising temperatures of the southwest.

Your Best Options

This tree list is for those who want to look through a list of potential trees without having to do a bunch of research and get disappointed when they find out that the tree they like won’t work in their yard. Extreme heat doesn’t mean that you’re limited to only a few kinds of trees. You can have large, beautiful trees that have thick foliage and provide lots of shade. You can also have fruit trees if you’re interested in growing your own food. Read on to see which trees might fit with what you’re looking for.

Stately pine trees along a historic Phoenix street

  • Aleppo Pine – Choosing to grow the Aleppo pine might be right for you if you’re looking for an ornamental tree. It has a distinct trunk and can grow up to 80 feet tall. This tree is a great addition to a yard that looks like it’s missing some character.

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

Willow Acacia (Acacia salicina)

  • Acacia Tree – If you’re looking for a tree that’ll grow quickly, the Acacia might be for you. These trees are bright with green, yellow or white colors and live for around 20-30 years. They’re also known for stabilizing soil with their roots, which is perfect for erosion-prone areas.

Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora)

  • Texas Mountain Laurel: A shrub that disguises itself as a tree, the Texas Mountain Laurel is a beautiful plant that provides lots of shade. It can grow to 15 feet high and when in bloom, it’s covered in massive purple flowers. Take note that the seeds it produces are poisonous if ingested, so those with outdoor pets or small children should watch this tree carefully.

‘Santa Rosa’ Plum Tree

  • Santa Rosa Plum – Fruit lovers, rejoice! You can still plant a variety of fruit trees in desert climates. The Santa Rosa Plum tree does particularly well in full sun as long as it’s watered regularly. Expect delicious summer fruit after an average full growth cycle of four years.

Grapefruit Tree

  • Citrus Trees – Many homeowners choose to grow a variety of citrus trees in the southwest because they do so well. Lemons, oranges, grapefruit and lime trees are especially common in yards since they naturally take to the weather.

Give It Time

Whatever tree you choose will need time to grow to its full maturity. This will be a different length of time depending on what kind of tree you decide to go with. Always talk with local gardeners to make sure you know what you’re getting into. On the other hand, you should also be prepared to make some mistakes! You’ll learn how best to care for your tree with time, so don’t feel like you have to know everything about your type of tree before you plant.

Jump Right Into It

The more you research, the more you may feel overwhelmed. This is normal for beginner gardeners, but learning how to grow your own tree really isn’t that difficult. It’s just a new way of gardening! And don’t think you’re alone. Ask around in your community to see if there are any gardening groups you can join, and if not, you can look online too. There are people ready to help guide you with your gardening passions so you can grow the trees of your dreams, no matter which kind you settle on.


Emily is an avid gardener. She writes in the sustainability field and loves getting to try new composting methods to grow food with less waste. You can read more of her work on her blog, Conservation Folks.

**For more tree profiles that will add beauty to your desert garden, click here for earlier posts where I share some of my favorites.


Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)
Trees are a treasure to us that live in the Southwest where the sun can be relentless with its intensity.
We all know the delight of stepping into the cool shade of a tree during a hot summer’s day where their canopy provides blessed relief.
Honey Mesquite Bosque (Prosopis glandulosa) at the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden
In addition, to welcome shade, trees also add beauty to the landscape with their lovely shades of green leaves, flowers (in some cases), and the way the dappled shade dances along the ground.
Palo Blanco (Mariosousa willardiana) formerly Acacia willardiana

There are many trees native to this region that add both shade and beauty to the garden while thriving in our arid climate.

I recently shared a list of my ten favorite, native trees for the Southwest in my latest article for Houzz.

*Do you have a favorite tree?  Please share it with us!


In my last post “A Long Forgotten Area Ready for Transformation”, I told you that I would share what plants I was going to have put in this neglected area.

The plants I chose are based on the following:

– I have grown them myself in either my home garden and/or in landscapes I have managed.

– They are relatively low-maintenance.

– Drought-tolerant.

– The plant palette will also ensure year round color, with at least one or more plants being in bloom at a given time.

So are you ready to see what I chose?

Let’s start with the trees…

The area has two large Foothills Palo Verde trees along with a Wolfberry tree, so I chose one other type of tree to add.



Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is one of my favorite desert trees.  It is not a true willow, but is named for the fact that its leaves are willow-shaped.
Colorful flowers appear throughout the summer that add a vibrant punch of color to the landscape.
Hardy to zone 6, Desert Willow requires well-drained soil and full sun or filtered shade.
For more information on Desert Willow along with the different varieties available, check out my Houzz article about this lovely tree.
Now for the shrubs…
Valentine Bush (Eremophila maculata ‘Valentine’) is my favorite shrub of all time.
I will never forget the day when I was first introduced to this red-flowering shrub, by Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.  It was 1999 and I was a horticulturist fresh out of college.
I was given 2 Valentine shrubs from Mountain States to plant in the landscape area I managed.  Ever since then, I have been hooked.
Red flowers appear on this shrub, beginning in January and lasting until April.  If you haven’t noticed it before, there isn’t much blooming in winter, which is one of the reasons I love Valentine.
The foliage is evergreen and Valentine are hardy to zone 8.  Better yet, they only need to be pruned once a year – in spring after flowering.
Plant in full sun and well-drained soil.
For more information about Valentine, check out my post about this great plant.
My second choice for shrubs is Baja Ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis).  
Now, this isn’t its rather invasive cousin Ruellia (Ruellia brittoniana), pictured below…
Baja Ruellia is what I like to think of as a smaller version of Texas Sage species (Leucophyllum sp).  It doesn’t get as large and has a longer flowering season then Leucophyllum.


The flowers of Baja Ruellia are tubular and appear spring through fall, with the heaviest bloom occurring in spring.  
The foliage is light green and rarely suffers frost damage in our zone 9b climate.  Hardy to zone 9, Baja Ruellia should be planted in full sun and well-drained soil.
The third shrub for this area will be Silvery Cassia (Senna phyllodenia).  This Australian native does very well in arid landscapes.
The silvery foliage will provide contrast to the darker greens present in the landscape.  Evergreen to 20 degrees, this shrub flourishes in zone 9 landscapes.
Yellow flowers appear in late winter and into spring.  Pruning is needed after flowering, to remove seed pods in managed landscapes.
Like the other shrubs, Silvery Cassia enjoys full sun and well-drained soil.

The smallest shrub for this area will be Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii).  This plant is hard to zone 7, so remains evergreen during winter here.

Flowers appear fall through spring in the low desert.  The most common colors are red or pink, although there are other colors such as white, lavender and peach. 

I like to use Autumn Sage around trees like Palo Verde, where the filtered shade shelters it from the intense summer sun.  I first saw them planted around a tree at the Desert Botanical Garden and I really liked the way it looked, so I have repeated this design in many of my landscapes.
The Autumn Sage above, was planted by me around a Foothills Palo Verde about 12 years ago and they are still going strong.

I still have perennials and accent plants to show you that I have included in the design and I’ll share them with you next time.


Life around our household has been busy lately….

School is back in session (for which I am extremely grateful for 😉

My son Kai, has ditched his wheelchair for a walker and will soon be able to walk without it.


My daughter, will soon come home after leaving 5 months ago for the Navy.  She is graduating from her Equipment Operator School next week and will be an official ‘SeaBee’.  She will be on leave for 2 weeks before she reports for combat training in Mississippi, where she will be stationed for a month.

The BEST news is that her permanent base will be in Port Hueneme, which is where she wanted to be.  What is even better for us, is that it is in Southern California, just 7 hours from home!!!

We are getting ready to celebrate her homecoming, which I will share with all of you 🙂

 I love taking walks in the spring outdoors.  All too soon, summer will be here and walks will have to happen in the early morning hours before the heat of the day arrives.  I suppose that I could always take a walk inside of our local air-conditioned mall, but I think that would get expensive after a while, don’t you?

Besides, I would miss the natural beauty outdoors….

So, let us continue our walk with my husband and my two twin nephews – Danny and Dean….

My favorite trees are starting to bloom right now.  Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is a deciduous tree and from spring through fall, they are covered with beautiful pink flowers.
I have 4 of them in my garden.  They are thornless and are a small to medium sized tree.
We passed by another kind of my favorite plants, Angelita Daisies (Tetraneuris acaulis).  But, these definitely need a ‘haircut’.  Just grab a bunch of flowers in your hand and clip them back using hand pruners.  Soon, they will be covered with bright yellow flowers.
Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) is a wonderful succulent for the garden.  The bottom, looks grass but the leaves are actually succulent.  In spring, gorgeous coral-colored flowers are produced.
Maintenance is super easy.  Just clip back the flowers once they have died.
Here is a closer view of their gorgeous flowers….
Aren’t they beautiful?
Okay, here is another not so pretty photo.
You can see that this Evergreen Elm tree provides great shade, but the grass does not grow underneath it.  This is a very common problem for grassy areas underneath trees that provide heavy shade such as Pine trees, Carob, etc.
The most common warm-season grass grown in the desert Southwest is bermuda grass, which does not tolerate shade very well.  It need full sun to look its best.
So what can you do?
Unfortunately, there is not a warm-season grass that will grow in heavy shade.  But, you can plant shade-tolerant groundcovers, perennials or even succulents in the area instead such as Agave desmettiana, Autumn Sage, Yellow Bulbine, Santa Barbara Daisy, Justicia spicigera or Bat-faced Cuphea.

Okay, this looks like a whole post in and of itself that I will address sometime in the future in more detail 🙂
So, we were almost at the end of our walk and walking by my front garden and I saw one of my favorite perennial plants…
This Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata) partially hides our water meter, but does not obstruct the meter reader’s ability to look inside.

You want to know something else?  I didn’t plant this Desert Marigold.  It is a volunteer.  Over 11 years ago, I planted two Desert Marigolds in my garden and then let their seed spread naturally.  I have about 7 of them scattered throughout my garden right now.

So, I hope you enjoyed our ‘walk’.  
I think Dean enjoyed it more then Danny….who fell asleep 😉

You know what?  Sometimes life gets so busy and crazy.  Now, I am sure that none of you are surprised by my ‘earth-shattering’ statement.  But that is how I am feeling today.  Life is full of both grief and joy and it is strange to feel both emotions at the same time, isn’t it?

Wow….I am really getting quite philosophical now.  I had better concentrate on plants, since I did not do all that well in my philosophy class in college 😉

This will be the last ‘lesser-know’ plant that we will focus on for at least a little while.  Spring is on its way and it is time to concentrate on other gardening topics.

In some ways, I have saved the best for last.  One of my favorite things that I enjoy on a hot, summer day is the welcome beauty and shade from a tree.

What if the tree not only provided shade and attractive foliage, but also had beautiful flowers?  Would you want one in your garden?  I certainly do…. I have 4.

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis) is a visual oasis in the summer garden.  
I like the term ‘visual oasis’, don’t you?  I may need to use that term more often 🙂
Besides being beautiful, here are some more reasons that I think you should include this small tree in your garden.
Native to the desert Southwest
Drought tolerant, although supplemental water keeps it looking its best.
My trees are connected to my irrigation drip system.
Hardy to 0 degrees F.
Flowers spring through fall
Although not a willow, it does have willow-shaped leaves.
Grows fairly quickly and reaches a mature size of approximately 25 ft high and wide.
Thornless and easy to maintain
Plant in full sun and well-drained soil
Do not over water
They are deciduous, meaning that they will lose their leaves in winter and they do form seedpods.
The flowers range from pale pink to purple in the wild.  There is a variety known as ‘Lucretia Hamilton’ which is slightly smaller (20 ft high and wide) and has deep pink flowers.
Desert Willow ‘Lucretia Hamilton’
There are other varieties available, some with fewer seedpods, flower colors and leaf shapes.  You can view more specific information about the different varieties here (curse down until you reach Chilopsis linearis).
I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of my favorite lesser-know plants.  If you missed some of them, here are the links:
Okay, you know the big news that I have been referring to over the past few weeks?

Well, I can’t wait to tell you all about it…….
on Tuesday, March 1st

Do you have a memory tree?  A tree planted in memory of a loved one?  I would like to share with you my memory tree that I planted in honor of someone very special.

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)
You may or may not have noticed in my previous posts that I mention my siblings, our families and my mother, Pastor Farmer.  However, I have not mentioned my father before.
My dad was a very special man….not just to me, but to countless others.  He was a great dad to me and my siblings, but he also dedicated his life to those children who did not have parents who could care for them. 
Desert Willow in the park.
My father worked as a social worker in Los Angeles, working with teens in group homes and foster care.  For many this can be a very difficult job, but to my dad, it was a very rewarding career.  He loved nothing better then to help people.
Just over three years ago, my dad and mom took a huge step and moved to Arizona to be near me and my two siblings.  Both my parents had just retired and had plans to enjoy their children, grandkids and travel. 
Just three months later, on Memorial Day 2007, we were to spend the day at my parent’s house for lunch.  But when we arrived, my father had an earache and small fever and was in bed.  A couple of hours later, he was incoherent and was rushed to the hospital.  He was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis and never regained consciousness. 
To say that we were reeling from the shock of his sudden death, is an understatement.  But, we were so blessed to have him in our lives and the memories of him sustain us until we can be with him again in heaven.
Desert Willow tree at Scottsdale Civic Center.
One of my special memories of my dad, occurred when I was 12 years old.  I was going through a very awkward period as many 12 year olds do.  I was tallest in my class, had pimples, freckles and felt so ugly.  But I remember my dad looking at me and telling me that I was beautiful.  I didn’t know how he could think that, but I knew he would never lie to me, and so I hung on to the fact that at least my dad thought I was beautiful.
After my dad’s death, my mother divided my father’s ashes between me and my siblings and I used some of mine around a tree that I had planted in his honor.  It is a Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis), which is one of my favorite desert trees.
Flowers from other Desert Willow trees in my garden.
I love the subtle scent of the leaves, but my favorite part is the beautiful flowers that occur spring through fall.  As beautiful as this tree is when in bloom, it is entirely unremarkable in winter, when it sheds it’s leaves.
Hardy to zone 7, this southwest native, does best with regular irrigation.  I prefer training them as multi-trunk trees instead of a single (standard) trunk. 
Of all my plants in my garden, this one is the most special to me because whenever I look upon it, I remember my dad.
This is the photo that I use for my google account.  
These are flowers from my Desert Willow Memory Tree.
Just three years ago, this week, my dad passed away.  On the anniversary of his death, we were all gathered together to celebrate the graduation of my daughter, Rachele, from high school.  Later this year, my brother and his wife will welcome twin boys into the world.  It is wonderful to see how my dad’s legacy lives on in both his kids and grandkids lives.
My Kids
Brittney (her broken feet have finally healed),  Rachele (our graduate), Jeff (my son-in-law), Ruthie
Gracie & Kai
**I would like to thank you all for all of your supportive comments as my son Kai has been recovering from surgery.  To be honest, I have been completely overwhelmed by your support and it has helped me through some difficult days.  Kai is doing so much better that he is almost off of prescription medication for his pain.  Of course, since he is feeling better, he wants to move into different rooms of the house, so my arm muscles are getting bigger due to my carrying him, which is easier then getting to the gym these days 😉
It will be Kai’s turn in about 10 years…
I must admit, it feels great to slowly get back to our regular routine and I plan on posting regularly again 🙂
I hope you all have a great day!

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.

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

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

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

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.