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‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde

One of the most popular trees for arid climates is the ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde. Once you see one, it’s easy to see why it is present in so many residential, commercial, and community areas.

Its medium-green trunk, feathery foliage, and golden flowers, that appear in late spring, add beauty to any landscape. Another characteristic of this palo verde tree is that is has a moderate to fast rate of growth. The branches lets in enough sunlight so many plants can grow underneath its canopy.

BUT, there is another side to these lovely trees that may dissuade people from growing them and that is wind damage.

Fallen ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde trees after a monsoon storm

I’ve heard murmurs from people who don’t want to plant these trees any longer because of their susceptibility to damage from high winds.

However, most of these problems are caused by improper maintenance, poor location, and not selecting the right ‘type’ of Desert Museum palo verde.

Desert Museum Palo Verde tree in my backyard

I have three ‘Desert Museum’ palo verdes around my house. They range in age from 10 to 20 years old. In all that time, I have not lost a single one. Of course, there has been a couple of instances of branch breakage, but the trees recovered nicely. Broken branches is a natural part of life with trees – particularly those native to the desert.

So, how can you enjoy the beauty of this tree while lessening the danger of wind damage? As a retired certified arborist, I’m here to tell you that there are definitely things you can do.

5 Strategies for Structurally Healthy ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verdes:

1. Water deeply to a depth of 3 feet. Deep roots are key to the stability of a tree and also decreases the chance of uplifting roots. Apply water toward the outer reaches of the branches where the roots are concentrated. As a tree grows, there roots move outward, so move your drip emitters or hose as needed.

Be sure to plant in an area where there is adequate area for root growth. Parking lot islands and narrow areas don’t allow enough room for roots to anchor the tree.

‘Desert Museum’ palo verde that has grown too rapidly due to excess irrigation

2. Irrigate less frequently avoid your tree growing too fast. This is a big cause of wind damage with palo verde trees. It’s important to remember that they are desert trees and don’t need as much water as other plants in the landscape. But, people often overwater their desert trees, which causes them to grow too quickly. This causes the formation of weak wood because they haven’t had the time to grow strong trunks and branches. In the photo above, notice how thin the multiple trunks are.

Established native desert trees, that have been in the ground for at least 3 years, can follow these general guidelines – water 1 to 2X a month in spring/fall, 2 to 3X a month in summer, and monthly in winter. These guidelines are for our current drought situation but can be modified as needed.

Trees that have been pruned up too high (lion-tailing)

3. Prune your tree correctly. There are examples of awful pruning. One common one is known as ‘lion-tailing’ which is when trees have been over-pruned so the majority of the tree is devoid of branches except for the very top. This pruning deprives the branches of foliage needed to produce energy for the tree and to increase tree strength. It also increases the amount of overhanging branches toward the top making the tree more likely to fall.

Many landscapers don’t know the right way to prune trees and can inadvertently cause harm to your tree. I highly recommend enlisting the services of a certified arborist to prune your tree correctly.

4. Select a multi-trunk form of palo verde instead of one growing on a single trunk. Desert trees naturally in a multiple trunk form, which distributes the weight of the upper branches. Palo verde trees that have been trained to grow on a single trunk, are under more stress from the wind with their heavy top half. The majority that you see fallen have been trained into a single-trunk tree.

This tree needs pruning before the monsoon season to lessen the weight of the canopy

5. ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees generally need pruning at least once (sometimes twice) a year. You want to be sure to prune them before the onset of monsoon season – removing any heavy weight or branches that are weakly attached.

Newly-pruned ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde tree ready for the monsoon season

Palo verde trees are a great choice for the desert garden that add welcome beauty and shade. If you have a ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde (or other native desert tree), I encourage you to follow these tips to help ensure a beautiful and stable tree for years to come.

Want to learn more about this and other palo verde tree species? Check out my previous blog post here.

 

My Desert Museum Palo Verde and an Unfortunate Event

For those of you who are familiar with ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees, you know how their stately beauty enhances desert landscapes. The curving branches of this tree are a lovely shade of green, which reaches toward the blue sky creating welcome shade underneath.

I have three of these palo verde trees planted around my landscape, but the one in my back garden is my favorite. Its broad canopy adds welcome relief from the summer sun, and I’m able to grow flowering perennials underneath its branches that otherwise wouldn’t survive in full sun.

Two weeks ago, this ‘Desert Museum’ tree experienced an unfortunate event. It happened around 9 p.m. on a windy day was drawing to a close. I heard a sound that sounded like firecrackers and didn’t think much of it, attributing it to kids in the neighborhood.

My Desert Museum Palo Verde and an Unfortunate Event

However, once the next day dawned, my husband called me outside to view the damage to my beloved tree. A massive section had broken off.

I must admit that I was heartsick when I saw what had happened. We had had our tree pruned by an arborist last summer and wasn’t expecting any major problems like this one. That being said, the combination of the extra weight on the branches from the flowers as well as the windy conditions of the day before was simply too much for this section of the tree.

My Desert Museum Palo Verde and an Unfortunate Event

The broken branch served to illustrate something that I frequently tell my clients; properly pruned trees are much less susceptible to branches breaking off, but they aren’t immune as my tree clearly showed. 

Under normal circumstances, I would have been upset about the loss of this major branch, but I felt a bit worse than that since we are hosting a wedding in our backyard in a few weeks and the ceremony was to take place underneath this lovely tree.

My Desert Museum Palo Verde and an Unfortunate Event

The affected branch was pruned back to a couple of smaller branches and the debris removed. Yes, my tree looks quite lopsided, however, ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde trees grow fairly quickly, and within a year, it should have filled in.

As for the wedding, plans for it take place underneath the tree haven’t changed. The small branches will grow more quickly in response to the pruning cut just above them, and I’ll probably notice the off-center appearance more than anyone else. It will still serve as a beautiful backdrop. 

Yesterday evening, I started to see the signs….

Gusty winds, thunder clouds, the smell of rain in the air and raindrops starting to fall.  A monsoon storm was on it’s way.

Monsoon storm, Clouds gathering over my house and Eucalyptus tree

Monsoon storm, Clouds gathering over my house and Eucalyptus tree.

When I first moved to the desert southwest from California, I was quite surprised that it rained in the desert frequently in the summer months.  Where I came from, summer rain was quite rare.

Another surprise awaited me when I experienced my first monsoon storm….flying dust followed by high winds, thunderclouds, lightning and torrential downpours – these were definitely things that I had not experienced in California.

*The Sonoran Desert has two rainy seasons, one in the winter and one in the summer.  Because of this our desert has the most animal and plant species of any North American desert.  We have over 2,000 native plant species alone.  

Although I love monsoon storms, I would dread going to work the day afterward because I knew that there could be a lot of tree damage to deal with due to the high winds…especially on the golf courses.  I would have to personally check all of the trees…some were completely blown over with roots sticking out and my crew would quickly cut them up.  Other trees would half in and half out of the soil and I would have to decide if we could save them or not.  

One summer brought a severe micro-burst over the area where I worked and the damage to the trees on the golf courses were thankfully, minimal, except for a large Saguaro cactus that was lost and just a handful of trees.

Monsoon storm

However, it was the damaged trees that I saw as a result of the storm in the residential areas that was shocking.

There were the trees that had been completely blown over…

Monsoon storm

 Fallen Mesquite

Monsoon storm

 Fallen Palo Verde

Fallen Ironwood

 Fallen Ironwood

Some trees were completely snapped off at their base….

Palo Verde

Palo Verde

Some trees that completely lost their head…literally.

Palo Verde

This Palo Verde snapped off halfway up the trunk.

Some trees looked like they were swallowing up homes….

monsoon storm

Although we did suffer some losses on the golf courses and landscape areas, the homeowners were hit the hardest in regards to damaged trees – mostly because their trees were either somewhat top-heavy or had not been pruned recently, or pruned correctly.  

You may be asking, what can I do to avoid having this happen to my tree?  Well, there are some steps that you can take to help prevent wind damage, BUT even if you maintain your trees correctly, wind damage may be unavoidable.  Following these tips will increase your chances of escaping severe wind damage, but nothing can totally prevent it due to circumstances beyond your control.

First, you may notice that all the trees in the pictures had a single (standard) trunk.  Imagine holding a lollipop at the base of the stick.  The top of the lollipop is quite heavy, isn’t it?  Well, this is the same for many single trunk trees.  Many desert trees such as Mesquite, Palo Verde, Sweet Acacia and Ironwood are available in both standard (single) or multi-trunk forms.  In my opinion, multi-trunk trees are more attractive in addition to the fact that they are less likely to suffer damage from wind because the weight of the branches is more evenly distributed among multiple tree trunks.

Second, proper pruning will help your trees to weather the storms.  I would always schedule our annual tree pruning to be done before the monsoon season would begin.  The International Society of Arboriculture has excellent information on how to prune mature trees which can be found here.  Trees add lots of value to your house – not just aesthetically, but in dollars as well.  So, it is worth the investment to hire a Certified Arborist to advise you on the correct way to prune your trees.  Most also offer pruning services for your trees as well.   *You can find a Certified Arborist in your area by following this link.

Last, make sure that your trees are watered correctly.  Trees need to be watered deeply, so that their roots will grow down into the soil.  Repeated shallow watering results in tree roots that are close to the surface and are not able to anchor a tree against high winds. 

monsoon storm

As I write this, I see storm clouds gathering to the east.  I am hoping for a nice rainstorm tonight, without the high winds 😉