Desert Landscape Trees

Trees give height and width to your landscape. Keeping trees and other plants alive in the desert can be a challenge, but your chances are improved when you select the right tree for your space. Add color and life to your yard by selecting desert trees that will thrive in your garden.

Find the trees that are right for your yard by asking yourself what size tree do you have space for. Then go on to ask where the best place to plant the tree is so it can grow comfortably into its space with minimal trimming. Is it fast-growing or slow-growing? Is the tree light on litter and pool friendly? Does it have thorns, does it attract wildlife, or can it cause allergies?

Hints To Choosing Your Desert Trees

Things to consider when selecting the right desert tree:

  • The height and width of the tree in its mature state.
  • Understand your space. You need to make sure that you don’t plant your tree too close to your home’s foundation or fences. Use half the width of the mature canopy size as a guide. 
  • Think of the practicalities of your yard. Avoid thorny trees near active areas and paths. 
  • Remember that many desert trees have multi-trunk, shrub-like structures that help shade the ground below and conserve moisture. Give them room to grow rather than forcing them into unnatural shapes with unnecessary and stressful pruning.
  • Consider your neighbors. Know the impact of your tree’s canopy on their yard if it crosses the border.
  • Try to select a tree that looks stable in the container when you visit the nursery. If it has to be staked, make sure ties are adjusted regularly, so they aren’t tight on the trunk. A slight movement of the trunk within the ties indicates the strengthening of the trunk. A tree should not be staked for longer than one year.
  • A tree’s active feeder roots are at the canopy line and beyond. Be sure to water in those locations and not right up next to the trunk. Trees watered deeply and infrequently at the canopy drip line are less susceptible to windthrow in the hurricane season. 
  • Many large shrubs can be trained into beautiful specimen trees for tiny areas. 

Trees To Bring Your Desert Landscape To Life

Desert Willow (Chilopsis Linearis)

Desert Willow may only be pretty in summer, but its showy trumpet flowers in a variety of colors blooming from spring through fall are stunning. The willow adds a gentle grace to your yard and shares many standard features with the real willow tree, including a profusion of slender, narrow leaves that droop down from its branches. Unlike the willow, it loves dry, hot climates and has low winter needs. It grows to a height of 25 feet, but only 20 feet wide, so it fits nicely into a small yard. Chilopsis linearis grows pods and loses leaves in winter. There are many varieties available that produce and drop fewer seeds. Almost weed-like in its ability to adapt and grow, this desert tree doesn’t require much from you in the way of care or preparation. Plant in soil with good drainage and, if you live in an area that gets more than 30 inches of rainfall annually, plant in a raised bed to keep the roots from rotting. 

Chilean Mesquite (Prosopis Chilensis)

The Chilean mesquite has lots of slender, spreading leaves and drooping branches. It’s a sturdy tree native to South America, but you’ll find it in any area that supports drought tolerant growth. Use this desert tree for shade or as decoration. Plant in full sun and allow the tree to dry out thoroughly between waterings. Be sure to give the roots a deep soak. This is a semi-evergreen that will shed its leaves periodically

Desert Ironwood (Olneya Tesota)

This flowering perennial is an evergreen tree that measures 15 to 40 feet in height and width when mature. It provides screening, shade, and spring color to the landscape background. Usually grown as a multiple-trunk tree, it has small gray-green leaves and vibrant purple flowers. It also has thorns. 

Palo Verde

Palo Verde comes in many varieties, but it stands out as something special. Verde is the Spanish word for green. This attractive, multi-trunked tree is deciduous and reaches about 20 feet tall at full growth. It bursts into gorgeous white and yellow flowers every year, filling your yard with color and life. Seed pods hold between one and eight seeds. This drought-tolerant tree can live for centuries in the right conditions. Plant in coarse, well-drained soil in full sun. 

Desert Museum Palo Verde

If you’re looking for a tree that combines the Palo tree varieties’ best features, you won’t do better than the Desert Museum. This variety keeps a small profile and won’t get taller than 25 feet. It bursts into large, golden yellow blooms every spring that will astound you. Plant the Desert Museum Palo Verde in poor soil with good drainage. Water the new tree regularly until it takes root, and then only water it occasionally after that. Give the roots a deep soak when you do water, check your soil pH, and adjust as needed.

Chinese Pistache

Chinese Pistache is a large, showy tree with a green canopy that turns bright yellow and red in December before dropping its leaves. After losing its leaves, small greenish flowers emerge during winter, and new leaves start over in March. This tree provides deep shade in summer, but it needs space. It can eventually reach 30 to 35 feet high with a canopy of 25 to 35 feet. 

Arizona or Velvet Mesquite

Arizona or Velvet Mesquite spreads its trunks and main branches in unpredictable and sculptural ways, so it needs plenty of room to move. The tree sprouts white or yellow blooms around May and produces brown pods loved by all types of wildlife. It offers shade in summer and sheds most of its leaves for a few months in winter.

Blue Palo Verde

Blue Palo Verde, Arizona’s state tree, is a popular and uniquely desert tree with greenish-blue bark that grows 30 feet high and 30 feet wide. This multiple-trunked tree does best in large yards. If you don’t have space, try the Foothills Palo Verde, which grows 15 feet high by 15 feet wide. Palo Verdes trees produce a dramatic canopy of yellow flowers in spring.

When To Plant

Many trees are sensitive to cold temperatures, especially when you’ve recently planted them. If keeping yours in containers, keep them indoors until the chance of freezing weather has passed. Trees planted permanently in the yard should be planted as early as is safe, giving your trees their best chance to establish themselves and thrive. Wait until the season’s last frost has passed before planting. Your trees will spread out, so clear away any nearby stumps using a natural stump killer like Epsom salt.

Caring For Your Desert Trees

Different trees require different growing conditions. Check what your trees need and ensure they get it. Keep an eye on the planting and potting soil with a soil moisture gauge and watch the soil pH throughout the year. Adjust soil acidity as required to meet your tree’s needs. 

Immature trees often require more attention than established trees, so give special care to your trees when they’re experiencing their first few years of growth. 

Trees’ active feeder roots are at the canopy line and beyond. Be sure to water in these locations and not right up next to the trunk. Trees watered deeply and infrequently at the canopy drip line are less susceptible to windthrow in the hurricane season. 

Use large shrubs as small trees. Many large desert shrubs can be trained into beautiful specimen trees for tiny areas. Use tall, upright plants that bloom.