The Palo Verde: a perfect tree you can grow in a desert 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 Palo Verde 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 Palo Verde. And the Foothill Palo Verde, 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 Palo Verdes are considered desert trees and will take hot, dry summers in their stride.
The Palo Verde 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 Palo Verde 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.
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