The Right Chaparral or Desert Tree for the Right Location

Pick the Right Chaparral or Desert Tree for the Right Location

The right tree for the right locaion

The right tree for the right locaion

Although the chaparral environment may seem harsh, there are still many trees to choose from that can grow well in your landscape.But the best way to assure success is to plant the right tree in the right place.Although it is tempting to buy a tree because you love the way it looks or because it is a tree that brings back fond memories, selecting trees for your garden by impulse is likely to lead you to regret.There are plenty of marvelous trees that can give you the effect you like best yet still will grow in properly in the placement you need. First you need to do a little investigating into what those trees that attract you most need to thrive.

The most important first step is to decide where you want a tree rather than decide what tree you want and try to figure out where to put it.It is the size, shape, soil and location that will define which tree you will want to buy.Visualize your tree in your landscape as if it were full grown.Many trees look fabulous as saplings but will grow to 90’ tall with an entirely different effect.Some even change the character of their leaves.For example, those cute blue, short-needled pine trees you see for sale at Christmastime are immature varieties of full sized pines.When the branches start to grow, they will suddenly put out the familiar long dark green needles and that cute little fuzzy bluish teddy bear baby tree will start to get gawky and rangy.

All too often people put pines, Camphor trees or other large growing trees right next to swimming pools because they are evergreen and look great when small.But these trees will grow very large and will likely cause serious damage to the swimming pool cement with their roots if they do not have sufficient space to grow.I saw one job where three little, immature pines were planted in a 15’ planter above a beautifully sculptured cement sheer drop into a swimming pool.Yes, they did create a lovely woodland effect.But in less than 5 years the roots will be pushing against the cement cliff wall chipping out chunks of that expensive sculptured concrete work to plummet into the pool below.

Be careful about where you plant trees with invasive roots like the American Elm, Cottonwood, Silver Maple or the Sycamore. These thirsty trees will happily invade any water pipes they can find and leave you with repair bills and constant pipe cleaning work to combat the invading roots.

Here in the chaparral we really need to think twice before planting the white birch tree, pine and the weeping willow. These trees naturally grow streamside and if they don’t get sufficient water, they will grow weakly with thin sap.This allows tree borers to easily drill into the tree and tunnel out the inside, killing the tree from the interior.

If you have open space where tree roots will not be a problem, you can grow the Sycamore, the California Pepper, the Black Walnut or the Honeylocust (Gledistia triacanthos).Plant the larger trees where they can spread wide and tall and provide the cooling shade we can use in hot summer months.

Most large trees are not native to the chaparral or desert.In these harsh conditions, trees have evolved to be smaller and more economical. Consider using one of the many smaller type trees like Desert Willows, Chaste Trees, Crepe Myrtles or Acacias where there is less space. The flowers of the smaller trees are better seen and can be quite decorative.

Other tips would be to use low branching trees to block unwanted views or to avoid dark fruiting trees over cement where falling berries or fruit can stain the concrete.Also, by planting deciduous trees on the south or west facing side of the house you can allow the shade from foliage to cool your home in summer, while bare branches allow warming sun in the winter.

You can find the perfect tree for your landscape.Just choose carefully.Call in a landscape designer, arborist or do your own research.A happy, healthy tree that is located in the right spot will add value to your property and offer years of beauty and enjoyment for you and your family. Consider designing seating to add beneath your chosen chaparral or desert tree. The shade will invite you to enjoy the outdoors despite warm temperatures. And seating can add another element of design to make your tree look even better in the right location.

Extra note: Another thing to consider are trees with extensive surface roots.Trees like the Mulberry, Poplar or Magnolia are notorious for spreading long, sinuous roots along the top of the ground to trip unsuspecting feet. If you want to use a tree that has this habit, try installing root guards around the young root ball when they are first planted to direct the new roots to penetrate down before they start to spread wide.

Added Resources:

How to select the right palm trees

How to protect fruit trees from squirrels, raccoons and birds

The Palo Verde: a perfect tree you can grow in a desert climate

You can grow that

You can grow fun trees s in desert or chaparral gardens


Desert tree

The Palo Verde is a decorative tree that does well in a hot, dry climate.

I am joining garden bloggers across the country to write a “You can grow that” article on the forth of each month. This is the brainchild of garden maven C.L.Fornari  to inspire people to grow beautiful gardens in harmony with their local environments. Although I have gardened in many areas, my current focus is on the desert and chaparral — a challenging but fragile ecology for gardening. My first “You can grow that” article centers around the Palo Verde. Planting the right tree in the right place is an excellent way to start building a successful, harmonious garden.

There are hot, dry-summer climates in more locations than just the official desert. People who live in these climates may think gardening is a challenge. It’s true many of the traditional garden plants used across the country will not survive hungry soils and hot sun, but the desert climate does offer some gems that gardens in other areas cannot grow. The Palo Verde is one of those gems.

The Palo Verde is a name given to both the Cercidium and the Parkinsonia. These are desert trees that love hot sun and dry, lean soils. They can take wide temperature ranges and enjoy winter rains. Losing their foliage in the winter, they leaf out with fine-cut leaves that look like billowing green clouds and bloom with big clusters (panicles) of showy yellow flowers, looking a bit like large sprays of orchids.

The Mexican variety or Cercidium aculeata is frost tolerant to around the low 20’sF and grows well on poor soils with little to medium water needs. The Parkinsonia floridum or Blue Palo Verde is more cold tolerant. If established, it can handle temperatures down to the mid teens. It grows between 25 – 30′ tall and likes a little more water than the Foothill variety.  And the Foothill, Cercidium microphyllum is a very slow grower with tiny leaves. This third Palo Verde is likely to reach only 10-12′ tall. It is more difficult to find in nurseries and garden centers. It will tolerate temperatures down into the high teens. The flower sports a lighter petal color in the flower than the previous two.  All these trees s are considered desert trees and will take hot, dry summers in their stride.

This is a striking tree that makes a perfect small shade tree.  Trees and/or branches are colored green and create an unusual color and textural effect to a cactus, succulent, drought-tolerant or artistic garden.  The fluffy foliage creates a soft backdrop for any design and the green wood is unique looking during dormancy.  The flowers of the Parkinsonia and Cercidium can rival the dramatic shows put on by tropical flowering plants. 

Give the these trees excellent drainage and plant it in full sun.  It handles strong winds and extreme heat.  These are great small trees for a decorative statement in the dry garden.