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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.

Bio:

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.

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In honor of Halloween, I thought that I would do a ‘scary’ post for all of you.  


Now, this post isn’t filled with ghouls, witches, skeletons or zombies.  But that doesn’t make it any less scary.  


Over the years, I have photographed examples of truly horrific pruning, which are quite scary 😉


WARNING:  The following images are not for the faint of heart…



These used to be Jacaranda trees.  I say “used to” because they died because of this severe and unnecessary pruning.

This is a photo of a Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) that was pruned the wrong way.

Unfortunately, this was a landscape that I was in charge of 14 years ago next to the clubhouse on a golf course.  

My well-intentioned crew member, thought he was doing me a favor by pruning them for me.  He was so proud of the work he had done, that he came into my office and asked me to come outside and see his handiwork.

I must say, that it was hard to criticize him because he was so proud of his work.  Needless to say, I transferred him to doing more clean-up and less pruning around the golf course.

A few months later, he returned to his small town in Mexico where he became mayor 🙂

*This is what Red Yucca are supposed to look like when in flower…


As you can see, you don’t cut the grass-like, succulent foliage below – ever.  The flowers can be pruned to the base when they die.  If the base clump become to wide, then divide the base much like you would perennials.

This photo was taken of another landscape area about 12 years ago that I was in charge of by another golf course.  I made sure that the crew did not prune it 😉


Last month, I was in the historic district of downtown Phoenix returning from a landscape consultation when I drove by these very sad California Fan Palms.  

While fall is the time to prune back – this is NOT the way to do it.  Too much was removed.  For guidelines on how to prune palm trees, click here.


This was a beautiful Palo Brea tree.  Unfortunately, it was ‘topped’ in order for the homeowner to preserve their view of the mountains.

‘Topping’ trees is very bad for trees.  It leaves the upper branches open to sunburn, which is often followed by insect infestations or disease.  

In fact, topping trees causes the tree to grow faster, to replace the lost foliage, which leads to an increased need for pruning.  The branches that appear after ‘topping’ have a very weak attachment, which makes the new branches a hazard because they are in danger of breaking off.

**If a tree is blocking a view that is important to you – then remove the tree instead of subjecting it to torturing it with this type of pruning.


Here is another example of ‘topping’.  This parking lot in Scottsdale, has trees like this.

Believe it or not, this ‘topped’ tree is a Willow Acacia (Acacia salicina).

This is what it should look like…


Hard to believe that they are the same type of tree, isn’t it?


I don’t think that I have ever seen an agave pruned so badly before.

The only time you need to prune an agave is to remove the bottom leaves, once they die.

I think that this agave would have looked much nicer if they had left it alone, like the one below…


It would also be much healthier and less likely to be susceptible to insect attack.


Believe it or not, these are citrus trees.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I drove by and saw what had happened to these trees.

You may be thinking that maybe they suffered from severe frost damage and had to be cut back.  But, I assure you, this wasn’t the case.  I worked just down the road from this house and there was no reason for these trees to be pruned this severely.

Ideally, citrus trees are pruned in March, concentrating on removing dead branches and suckers.  

In fact, did you know that the lower branches produce more fruit that tastes sweeter than that on the higher branches?  That is why you see citrus growers letting the lower branches of their trees grow instead of pruning them up into tree shapes.

**Just don’t let any branches (suckers) from below the bud union grow because they are from the root stock and are thorny and will produce sour fruit.


Much like the Red Yucca I showed you earlier, these Desert Spoon have been butchered.

They also did the same to their own Red Yucca, off to the right.

Desert Spoon has a beautiful, natural form.


The only pruning to be done is to remove the bottom leaves once they turn brown and die.

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I hope you haven’t been to ‘scared’ by these scary pruning practices.

Sometimes it is easy to get carried away when pruning.  But it is important to remember that a plant’s leaves make the food for the plant.  Take away the ability of the plant to make food, it will re-route resources normally used for dealing with environmental stresses as well as defenses against insects and disease toward growing new leaves.

This will make your plants/trees more susceptible to other problems, not to mention leaving them ugly.


Sometimes when I am driving around, I see a poorly pruned tree or shrub, and I just cringe.  It never ceases to amaze me the crazy ways that people take care of their plants.  Whenever I see plants like this, I whip out my camera and quickly take a photo and then drive away before the homeowner asks what I am doing.

Butchered Palo Brea Tree

I mean if they catch me taking a photo, I can’t very well tell them, “I am taking pictures of the horrible way you prune your trees ?” Can I?  Well, I probably could and should, but I am too chicken to confront people that way.  I have no problem confronting people about their horrible pruning if they have asked me over to do a consult on their landscaping.  I just like an invitation first before I tell people what they are doing wrong 😉

‘Topped’ Willow Acacia
 
Willow Acacia as it should look like.
 
Although, the primary purpose of this post is to entertain with photos of truly awful pruning disasters.  I just have to step up on my “high horse” for just a minute regarding one type of pruning that is widespread.  So please bear with me…
 
One of the most harmful types of pruning in regards to trees is called ‘topping’ the tree.  It removes a lot of the top growth.  This is usually done to shorten the tree and to preserve a view.  The topping is NOT good for the tree and accelerates more top growth.  The new branches are weakly attached and are much more liable to break, which can cause damage to what is underneath.  Also, topping trees greatly stress the tree which can make them susceptible to insect and certain environmental factors.  You can read more about topping trees here Tree Care.
 
 
Chilean Mesquite with a ‘kink’ in its trunk.
  

 ‘Poodle’ Olive Tree

 Okay, the vast majority of trees should not be prune into round shapes.
 
Palo Brea tree pruned into a ‘ball.’
 
Palo Brea tree as it should look.
 
A Blue Palo Verde tree that lost its head.
 

A few years ago we suffered a severe micro-burst during the summertime at the community where I was working.   The tree above snapped off in the high winds at a weak point in the trunk, which was weak due to improper pruning that was done a long time before the storm.

 
This is an Orange tree that has been pruned correctly.

The Citrus tree, above, has been pruned the right way, but I just had to include it in this post because it is so humorous.  Look closely (you can click on the photo to enlarge)…. the homeowner tied CDs to the tree to scare off the birds from eating the fruit.

 
Many people prune their Citrus trees up so that they look more like a ‘typical’ tree.  But what many people don’t know is that the lower branches produce the most fruit, the sweetest fruit and protects the trunk from sunburn.
 

Now for some truly awful examples of shrubs….remember the “cupcakes” from a previous post?

Little Leaf Cordia pruned into a ‘ball.’
 
In an earlier post, we covered the epidemic of pruning shrubs into the shapes of ‘cupcakes.’  Well, there is another epidemic in where people prune their shrubs into the shape of a ‘ball.’  We call this type of pruning, “Poodle-Pruning” because the shrubs resemble the ball shapes that poodles have when groomed.  Either way, ‘cupcakes’ or ‘poodle,’ neither are good for your shrubs and take away from their beauty.
 
Feathery Cassia shrubs with large areas of dead growth.
 

One of the results of repeated shearing of your shrubs into specific shapes (cupcakes or balls), results in areas of dead growth.  This is because sunlight cannot penetrate inside the shrub and it is constantly trying to replace the growth that is cut off constantly.  There is a cure, which I will cover in a spring time post, which is when corrective pruning should be done.

Thunder Cloud Sage, unpruned
  
Now I don’t recommend going to the other extreme, above, and not pruning.  Just do it correctly.  So, if you have any ‘cupcakes’ or ‘poodles’ in your landscape, do not panic!  I will cover the correct ways to prune many shrubs in the spring, which is the time that it should be done.
 
So, take care to prune properly, because you never know when I will come driving by with my camera….