Monday, October 3, 2011

Selecting the Best Tree in Tucson

This week we're focusing on trees.  This is the second part of the series and probably the MOST challenging of the topics.  What tree should I choose?  How much will I have to water?  What are the root systems like? How big will the tree get?  Will it lose its leaves?  How much work will it be to maintain?  Great questions.  I wrote a garden journal this past spring inspired by New Mexico's very own David Cristiani who writes about his work at The Desert Edge. After our extreme freeze, I looked at what survived and what didn't and created a tree journal about several of the trees on the El Presidio property. If you're looking for some great tree choices in Tucson, check out this link here.... Trees for Tucson. It's a long series of posts I wrote over a 2 week period featuring a different tree each day.  So how do I choose the best tree for my landscape?
  1. Start by examining your planting site.  How much space do you have to work with?  Take measurements to figure out what kind of tree will fit into that space.  You may not know right away because you haven't thought about your choices, but at least, you have the space mapped out for the height and width of a mature tree. Think also about the light.  How much sun does that area get?  Keep those notes.  Some of us have tree ideas already in mind.  However, if you are like many people who don't know what kind of tree they'd like but know that they want one, take your measurements and sun exposure information with you when investigating trees at a nursery.
  2. Once you have taken that step, look into your home's electric utility lines.  PLEASE PLEASE be careful here.  Even if there aren't electric lines, there may be some sort of water line or irrigation drip system in place.  It could cost you lots of money to replace.....or even your life.  Call the electric company if you don't know.  Our arborist called the various companies in Tucson to come out and spray for lines in the ground.  There are sewer lines, telephone lines, water lines, and electric lines.  Some tree nurseries like Civano or Mesquite Valley offer to transplant trees for you.  Before they take their jackhammer to the ground, map out what's below the ground.  You'll be happy that you did.  I remember watching my friends curse under their breath as they broke a major line in the ground.  Several hundreds of dollars later, their lines were fixed.  Be careful.
  3. Next choose native or desert adapted trees.  Again click on my link above for detailed information on the various trees that can be grown around Tucson.  We have a lot of wonderful choices for our landscape here.
  4. As you go through your choices, write down the ones you'd like to try out.  Do you want seasonal interest? Do you like "ferny" foliage? Normal leaf sizes? Shade? Partial sun? Big trees? Small trees? Fruit trees?  There a lot of personal needs.  Think about your own.
  5. Then write down these important questions to ask others for later research online or in person.  How far will the roots go?  How large will the tree canopy be?  Do the roots spread above ground? Can this tree tip over in a wind storm?  For example, I'd never plant a Eucalyptus tree near a sewer line.   The roots will eventually find this source of moisture and tap into it.  I also wouldn't place this tree near the foundation of the building as the roots could damage the home. A mesquite, while quite beautiful, can have disastrous consequences during a microburst as wind knocks weak branches off the tree.  I would be hesitant to plant this tree near a window or driveway.  Ask those important questions while using your "tree wish list" to make that important decision.
  6. Visit gardens.  Come to the Tucson Botanical Gardens or visit Tohono Chul park! We'd love to help you. Most of us are plant geeks, birders, and butterfly enthusiasts. We have a lot of trees to check out.  Take a look and see how big they get.....or just drive around town and take a look.   Seeing these plants at maturity before buying them helps me determine what I want to see at my own place. Most businesses will lie to you so that you'll buy their products, but I have found that plant nurseries here in Tucson have genuine people who really do care about what you have to say and will LISTEN!  There are a lot of people who know what they are doing(and those that don't). Google the business for reviews.  Ask first and you shall receive.  In Phoenix, be careful.  There are some nurseries that will sell you things and tell you that they will grow in your area. I am not going to say the names, but if you do some research online, you'll find out fast.  Just be aware of people telling you that tropical plants do well in your yards.  Everyone loves tropicals, but honestly, there are very FEW tropical trees that do well in our climates.  I'll write about a tree that is tropical and grown in Phoenix in the next several days.
  7. Begin your search and spend that money!  Doing the research first will help direct you with the questions and make you a better informed person.  Landscapers, arborists, and other tree specialists will be able to better serve you if they know what you're looking for......until tomorrow gardening friends.  A little FYI.  Fast growing vs. Slow growing.  Faster growing trees tend to have weaker limbs and shallow root systems.  The mesquite is a good example of this. The Texas Ebony, Ironwood and Palo Verde are slow growing trees yet are quite established in the landscape with sturdy limbs and a strong deep root system. How patient are you?:)
  8. Click here for Pruning Do's and Don'ts.


  1. ... and how much pruning these trees will require in the future and how often.

  2. me..I want a catalpa tree
    they are messy, but I love them
    I don't think of deserts as a place for trees
    is this artificial
    well anyway....I love trees
    I often have said that they are angels in plant form

  3. I can't imagine living without trees. The desert is not the palce for me!! Smart article! :o)

  4. You have your favorite picture posted today!

    I love trees. Hubby is considering moving to place which is known to be a desert...


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