Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
September, 2009
Regional Report

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Deciduous vitex tree blooms in white, pink, or lavender.

Cool Off (or Warm Up) With Trees

Summer in the low desert is not a good time for digging a tree planting hole, in my opinion. It is better to lay low with a glass of lemonade and maybe a tiny hand-held fan if you can't find anyone willing to wave a palm frond over you. But summer is a good time to study sun exposures around your landscape and decide if adding a tree or two would be a worthy project come fall. Strategically placed trees help keep your house cool in summer and warm in winter thus reducing air conditioning and heating costs. Savings can be substantial depending on where you live, current tree coverage, and so on.

Most heat gain indoors comes from sunlight striking glass windows and patio doors on the east and west sides of the house. Trees can block 50 to 80 percent of this solar radiation. In the low desert, summer's western exposures are grueling in the afternoon. If you can afford just one tree, you'll get the most bang for your buck from energy savings by shielding west-facing windows and glass patio doors. Eastern exposures, with morning sun heating up the home at the crack of dawn, should be your next priority for a tree.

Deciduous trees drop their leaves when the weather turns cold, which allows the sun's rays to shine through bare branches, making deciduous trees a good choice for the east side of the home. In winter, when trees are bare, the morning sun can warm the house as you start the day; in summer when you don't want the house to heat up, the foliage blocks the sun. Either deciduous or evergreen trees work for the west side, although because desert dwellers live with more months of hot temperatures than cold, evergreen trees typically provide greater cost savings on utility bills.

Select trees based on their mature height and width so they won't outgrow their space in your landscape. Take into consideration overhead utility wires, roof tops and neighbors' property lines. Your goal is to allow the tree to grow to its full canopy size without having to prune it back to avoid obstructions.

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