The Q&A Archives: DESERT TREES!

Question: Hello.

I am trying to develop a tree plan for my long-and-thin residential lot that will provide fast growth, shade, wind resistance, drought tolerance, and salt tolerance. I live just East of Ridgecrest, CA, on the way to Death Valley. I am particularly in the market for my wasteland of a desert backyard which is in desperate need of shade. I want to plant a tree ASAP to get some shade inside of TEN YEARS.

There is already a Paloverde near the house that does little more than look green. My husband wants to rip it out because it provides no shade (I have recently learned that it might leaf more if I watered it).

I have a HUGE Cottonwood tree in my front yard that has some bark problems (rust color in crevices of bark...bark appears thick and kind of loosened in some places), and is continually and severly attacked by aphids. Tried systemic pesticides which seem to work, but it requires holes to be drilled in the trunk and I just don't like that. In addition, I am told that Cottonwoods don't live long anyway even though this thing is ENORMOUS. My yard is small enough I hate to even CONSIDER the day that tree will die (bye bye Bermuda Grass lawn?).

I planted a Purple Robe Locust across the driveway from the Cottonwood which is doing very well.

I also have a Crepe Myrtle and some Oleanders, both which seem to be doing well so far. The Crepe Myrtle is less than a year old.

I am not looking for a

Answer: A number of very attractive flowering trees, both native and introduced, are well adapted to your desert environment. Here are some of the best bets' to color up your home landscape.

Blue palo verde (Cerecidium floridum) is the best of a group of native trees characterized by green bark and showy yellow flowers. As its name implies, the blue palo verde has blue green bark, with multi-trunks that ascend into a tightly branched, dense canopy of blue green stems and leaves. Small yellow flowers line the branches in numbers that create a mass of radiating yellow spikes, flowing up like a fountain from the trees center. Blue palo verde is fast growing, medium sized and perfect for any home landscape. It typically booms for 2 weeks beginning in late March or early April.

Willow acacia (Acacia saligna), is a gold flowering tree with weeping branches. Native to Australia, it grows in hot, dry regions, and is well adapted to minimal care landscapes. Numerous flower clusters run the length of pendulous branches, projecting out lines of golden color. Blooms appear in March and persist for several weeks. This is a small to medium sized tree; moderately fast growing. More water encourages faster growth.

Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), is a native flowering tree with unique trumpet-shaped white, pink or purple flowers. A light canopy of foliage on this willow-like tree reveals abundant flowers scattered throughout the tree. An unusually long flowering period (April through September) maximizes the appeal of this tree. Although tolerant of very dry conditions, desert willow will produce more flowers and leaves with increased watering. Desert willow is a medium sized tree, excellent for use around patios and walkways were flowers can be enjoyed to their fullest.

Blue paloverde (Parkinsonia florida) has smooth, olive-green bark. It is a semi-deciduous, multi-trunked tree with small green leaves. Twigs and young branches are bluish-green. Bright, showy yellow blossoms in spring. It's fast growing, 40 feet high and 25 feet wide. Prefers sandy soil with good drainage. Plant in full sun, but protect bark of young trees with shade cloth the first summer. Prune lower branches to give it shape.

Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) has dark-brown bark and is an evergreen with dark, glossy leaves. In the spring, tree is filled with purple clusters of wisterialike flowers that smell like grape soda. It is slow growing, 15 feet high and 10 feet wide. Plant in full sun. Grows best in deep soil. Prune lower branches to give it shape.

Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) has rough, scaly, brownish-red multitrunks and light-brown branches. This is a deciduous tree. Bright-green, fernlike leaves and 1/4-inch- to 1-inch-long thorns. Showy, fragrant yellow blossoms in spring. It is fast growing, 25 feet high and 30 feet wide. Prefers sandy, well-drained soil. Plant in full sun. Prune lower branches to give it shape.

Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) has grayish-brown bark. A single-trunk evergreen that provides dense shade. Branches twist with age. Short, green needles. This is a moderate growing tree, 60 feet high and 40 feet wide. Plant in full sun. Prune lower branches to give it shape.

Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) has orange-gray bark that flakes off single trunk like puzzle pieces, giving it a mottled appearance. This is a deciduous tree. In spring and summer has, bright-green leaves. In fall, leaves turn red, then brown. Fast growing, 30 feet tall and wide. Plant in full or partial sun. Needs moderate water.

Hope these suggestions help you design the perfect landscape!

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