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  This Issue:
   From Me to You
   Calendar of Events
   Things to Expect & Do
   Word Wise
   Ask A Gardener
   Tomatoes in the
              Desert Garden
   Creating A Butterfly
   Sacred Datura:
              Moonlight Magic
   Computer Corner
   Book Review
   Stories to Delight
              Young Readers
   New Publications
   BCI Celebrates 20th
   Garden Recycling
   Designing Your Own
              Desert Oasis
   Herbs for the Bath
             Evergreen Trees
   Center for Native &
              Urban Wildlife
   January Citrus Clinic

Master Gardener Journal  

S P E C I A L   F E A T U R E

Desert-Adapted Evergreen Trees

by Lisa Dubas,
Master Gardener Intern

On virtually every street in Phoenix, you can spot trees that are entirely too large for the yards they occupy. When a landscaper or nursery employee suggests Ficus nitida for your small front yard, or a Chilean mesquite to be planted in a narrow space, they're overlooking the amount of pruning it will take to keep the trees a manageable size for their allotted spaces.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting the best tree for a small yard:

Consider the mature height and width of the tree and plant accordingly. Don't place a tree that grows to a diameter of 20 feet within 5 feet of your home's foundation.

Don't plant thorny trees near active areas or walkways.

Some desert trees have a multiple trunk structure by nature . Pruning to one central trunk may make the tree unstable.

If you have to stake, do so for a maximum of two years. A tree staked longer than that may need to be staked its entire life.

Shallow watering can cause salt buildup in the root zone. To avoid this, water to a depth of 3 feet around the outer canopy of the tree.

The following is a list of six popular desert-adapted trees that work where space is limited. Each one is small (maximum 20-foot height by 20-foot width) and evergreen (meaning they lose a few leaves at a time, instead of all at once).

    (Acacia aneura)
  • Full sun
  • Hardy to 20°F
  • Prune in October
  • Puffy yellow flowers in 3 or 4 cycles per year, but mostly in spring/summer
  • Narrow, compact growth structure
  • Medium growth rate
  • No thorns
  • Mature example on display at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix
    (Acacia berlandieri)
  • Full sun
  • Hardy to 15°F-20°F
  • Prune in June
  • White puffball flowers from February to May (seedpods in summer)
  • Tendency toward multiple trunk structure
  • Slow-growing
  • Slightly thorny
    (Acacia smallii)
  • Full sun
  • Hardy to 10°F-15°F
  • Prune after spring bloom
  • Plant any time of year
  • Golden puffball flowers from late fall to March
  • Fast-growing
  • Very thorny!
  • Mature example on display at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix
  • Beneficial to native wildlife

Caesalpnia cacalaco
    (Caesalpinia cacalaco)
  • Full sun
  • Hardy to 20°F
  • Prune after winter bloom
  • Yellow flower clusters from September through February
  • Fast-growing
  • Very thorny
  • Plant in a warm winter location (such as a south-facing wall)

Lysiloma watsonii thornberri
    (Lysiloma watsonii thornberi)
  • Full sun
  • Hardy to 25°F
  • Prune in January
  • Plant in spring
  • Small white puffball flowers from May to June (flat seedpods follow bloom)
  • Medium growth rate
  • Not thorny
  • Mature example on display at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix
  • Sensitive to the cold
  • Too much water may lead to chlorosis
  • Beneficial to native wildflower

Texas Ebony
    (Pithecellobium flexicaule)
  • Full sun, accepts some shade
  • Hardy to 20°F
  • Plant in spring or fall
  • Prune in late winter
  • Puffy cream-colored flowers in spring and summer
  • Slow growth rate
  • Very thorny
  • Don't plant near electrical lines
  • Mature example on display at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix
  • Beneficial to native wildlife
"Desert Landscaping for Beginners" 2001.
Arizona Master Gardener Press,
Phoenix, AZ.

Duffield, Mary Rose and Warren D. Jones.
Plants for Dry Climates: How to Select, Grow , and Enjoy.
Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, MA.

Johnson, Eric A.
Pruning, Planting & Care.
1997. Ironwood Press, Tucson , AZ.

"Guide to Arizona Desert Shade Trees."
The Arizona Community Tree Council, Inc. and the Desert Botanical Garden.

Photography: Candice Sherrill

Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated January 25, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092