Master Gardener's guide to
gardening in a hot dry climate
Leafy Trees for Cooling Shade
The FanTex Ash 'Rio Grande' gives shade in the
summer, golden color in the Fall and allows sunlight
onto your home in the winter. See it in early
Whether you select a Mediterranean
classic, the Olive tree (Olea europea),
or a large, fast-growing
Fantex Arizona Ash (Fraxinus)
for your xeriscape garden, you will be creating the cooling
shade that we all welcome in the summer. Trees planted on
the south and west sides of your home will, obviously, help
reduce your summer cooling costs.
While we can't introduce you to all
the trees that you can find in the local nurseries, here are
a few small scale trees that we especially like for the
smaller walled gardens so common in the desert. Plus two
more majestic trees for a hot, dry climate.
You can find information about
nut trees as well as
fruit trees that thrive in the desert on the HotGardens
website. For fast growing trees,
IMPORTANT: All these trees are best
planted in very early Spring or, better yet, in the Fall.
(Plant palms in warm months.)
Olive (Olea europea 'Swan Hill')
- the olive, along with the palm and cypress trees, has
traditionally been considered the defining tree of the
Mediterranean garden style. Grows fast and should be
pruned to the desired shape starting early. Can reach 30
feet. Moderate to low water usage. The 'Swan Hill'
variety does not produce olives.
Chitalpa (Chitalpa x tashkentensis)
- this hybrid of the Mojave native
Desert Willow tree
(Chilopsis) and the Catalpa tree grows to 20 to 30 feet
and provides dappled shade. Drought tolerant.
The Chitalpa blooms from Spring until Fall and the pink
trumpet-shaped flowers are loved by hummingbirds.
- (Malus) - the masses of pink spring
blooms and orange-red leaves in the fall, not to
mention the abundance of crabapples, make this a
lovely tree in a lawn. Most of the over 200
cultivars do not grow particularly tall, perhaps to
15 feet, but spread to 20 feet or more wide.
Needs regular watering.
- (Lagerstroemia indica) - will slowly grow
only to a height of 15 to 20 feet in a desert
climate. This colorful addition to a summer garden
prefers acid soil--instead of the typical alkaline
desert soil--so be sure to add organic mulch before
you plant it. In addition to hot pink, there are
varieties that bloom pale pink and white.
For a more majestic tree: an
Ash or Chinese elm
Ash (Fraxinus) -
whether you select an Arizona Ash, Modesto Ash or
Fan-Tex Ash tree, you will have shade in your garden
rapidly. The FanTex Ash 'Rio Grande' is especially
good because it thrives in hot climates with
alkaline soil. As you can see by the photo at
the top of this page, the leaves turn a lovely
golden yellow in Fall. All ash trees need regular
watering. Not all ash trees turn golden in
Fall, so be sure to plant the 'Rio Grande' variety.
(Ulmus parvifolia) a fast grower to 40 to
60 feet, this graceful tree has a "weeping" shape as
it matures. It can, in fact, reach a height of 30
feet in 5 years! Some varieties are evergreen, some
deciduous. The good news is that it is a low water
usage plant once established. It can tolerate
regular watering, too, so you can plant it in your
lawn to enjoy dappled shade.
For more trees for hot, dry
climates go here.
How to select
and plant trees in a hot
Follow these guidelines and your plant nursery's
written instructions regarding soil amendments
specifically for your locale. Soil
conditions vary and are extremely important to
1) Select a
healthy-looking tree. If its branches are flimsy
or broken, if its leaves are tattered or
discolored, if it is lopsided, or will not stand
up on its own without staking -- go on to the
next tree or another nursery.
2) Select the correct
tree for your kind of garden. For example, low
water usage trees, such as Mesquites (Prosopsis),
guzzle water like crazy in a regularly-watered
lawn environment. They quickly grow top-heavy
and may blow over in the wind. Better to choose
a tree that prefers regular watering if you are
planting it in a lawn.
3) Plant your new tree
at least 20 feet from the house. If it will be a
small tree when mature, you may be able to plant
it closer. Large trees should be planted further
away to allow for growth to maturity.
4) Dig a hole 2 to 3
times as wide as the tree's root ball for
planting. This will allow the roots to spread
easily through the soil. But don't plant the
tree deeper than it is in the container. The
crown ( where the roots meet the trunk) should
5) Water your newly
planted tree regularly until it is established.
Really soak it! Trees need deep water rather
than short frequent irrigation which won't
penetrate to their entire root zones.
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