Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
August, 2006
Regional Report

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This Palo brea tree was broken at the base by a fierce microburst. (Photo by Kathy Green.)

Thunderstorm Season

Fierce thunderstorms deposited much-needed rain on large sections of Arizona recently. Washes filled quickly, although briefly, with water. Sadly, the storm left behind considerable damage as well. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix lost 40 trees, uprooted by strong winds. About 200 trees on Arizona State University's Tempe campus Arboretum suffered damage, some ripped out by the roots, others with severe limb breakage. These beautiful public gardens are located fairly near each other and were in the path of incredibly strong winds.

A friend of mine lives near that area, in a neighborhood that was hard hit by a severe microburst that knocked out utility poles, ripped off rooftops, and uprooted dozens of mature trees. The wind twisted her lovely palo brea tree at the base, snapping the trunk off like a toothpick and tossing the canopy aside like an upside-down umbrella. The tree's well-developed root system remained in the ground.

It's heartbreaking to lose a tree. Perennials, succulents, even shrubs aren't such a loss, as most can be quickly replaced. But growing a strong, healthy tree with an attractive canopy takes patience. In just an instant all that soothing shade for humans and shelter for birds is gone. But there might be a bright side. Perhaps you lost a poorly adapted tree installed by previous owners or a tree that was too big for its space. Now's your chance to replace it with a more suitable species. Examine the existing plants in your landscape and determine what season could use a little pick-me-up with color. Below are four desert-adapted, low-water-use trees with interesting characteristics. Each one provides color in a different season.

A Year's Worth of Tree Choices
For Spring. Foothills Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla). There are several palo verdes to choose from, but this is a good choice for smaller yards as its mature size is 15 x 15. Spring brings a cloud of sulfur yellow blooms. Plant where its thorns won't interfere.

For Summer. Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis). Hummingbirds flock to the trumpet-shaped flowers covering the tree from spring to fall. It has a sprawling, shrub-like shape if not pruned, growing to 25 by 20 feet tall and wide. Named varieties feature flower colors in shades of pink, purple, and white. Deciduous in winter.

For Fall. Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis). Provides vivid color when leaves change in autumn. Colors can vary so choose your young tree in fall when leaves are turning. Single trunk with a rounded crown grows 40 feet tall by 35 feet wide. Deciduous in winter.

For Winter. Cascalote (Caesalpinia cacalaco). In the same genus as the red, yellow, or Mexican bird of paradise shrubs, this tree features similar colorful flower spikes. Blooms with intense yellow flowers from winter to spring. Mature size is 15 by 15, with a multitrunked structure and a vase-like shape. Plant where its thorns won't interfere.

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