Shady Way Gardens Bits and Briefs May 2002


With May come inklings of the relentless heat, dryness and sun of the long Arizona summer.  So you're thinking, "I'd better hurry up and plant some big leafy things for shade.  But what kind?"  Well, if you've got shallow, rock hard soil that doesn't drain too well you'll have more success with the desert type trees such as Mesquites, Palo Verdes and Acacias.  If you have easily diggable soil that drains well, you can plant things that look more like those back home.  Remember that it may take several years for a tree to produce real shade, and that big leaves mean big mess!  A sampling of trees for that longed-for leafy look include.

ASH (Fraxinus sp.) This semi-deciduous tree really looks like a "back east" tree and is commonly seen in lawns and parks.  The most common variety is Shamel Ash, but Fan-Tex Ash is more heat and salt tolerant and holds leaves longer into winter.  Raywood Ash produces red fall color.  Sometimes slow to establish, Ash trees may look bad during their first couple of summers.

FICUS, INDIAN LAUREL FIG (Ficus nitida) In recent years, this tree has become very popular because it is evergreen, fairly drought tolerant, disease resistant and has dark green leaves.  It can be pruned into formal shapes.  Eventually these trees get gigantic and can be heavily damaged by frost.

CHINESE OR EVERGREEN ELM (Ulmus parvifolia) Mostly deciduous, this tree spreads wide and has semi-weeping branches.  The spring flush of new leaves is always an inspirational event.  The beautiful mottled bark on older trees resembles that of a Sycamore.

MULBERRY (Morus alba) Mention this plant to a desert plant aficionado and you're sure to get a look of disgust or downright revulsion!  Used for years as a staple landscape tree Mulberries fell into disfavor sometime in the 80's mainly due to their pollen production.  They do, however, give dense shade and can withstand desert conditions.  You folks desirous of a unique tree should try a Weeping Mulberry whose branches weep right down to the ground to form a lush, green enclosure for any interested kids or pets.

COTTONWOOD (Populus sp.) These deciduous trees need lots of water.  The most popular varieties are cottonless and don't produce the messy fluff like the native trees.

SOUTHERN LIVE OAK (Quercus virginiana) Although this tree does not have the big leaves of eastern Oaks, it still gives a slightly leafy look in the landscape.  With time and lots of water, it can get to 40' high and just as wide, but remains smaller under harsher conditions.

BOTTLE TREE (Brachychiton populneum) Here's a truly drought tolerant tree that's leafy looking.  The leaf sizes and shapes are variable.  Young plants grow vertically, but with age can develop quite a spread. 

SILK OAK (Grevillea robusta) Definitely a leafy looking tree, Silk Oaks grow vertically and may attain heights of over 40' under good conditions.  Larger trees produce unusual clumps of orange flowers in spring.  In recent years this tree has not been used much in landscapes.

CAROB (Ceratonia siliqua) Very slow growing, this dense, evergreen tree eventually develops a wide spread.  Female trees produce the pods that are used as a chocolate substitute.


In a desert landscape neighborhood, the above plants may be wanted..dead not alive!
Planting any of these in your yard may result in apprehension by the plant police!!


The herbs that will do best in summer heat include Basil, Rosemary, Thyme, Society Garlic, Wormwood, Mint, Oregano, Rue, Catnip, Chives, Garlic Chives, Mexican Marigold, Tarragon.  Sage and Lavender do not like the heat and may or may not live through the summer.  It's best to keep these in containers.

The veggies that will do best in summer include all types of Squash, Melons, Gourds, Peppers, Armenian Cucumbers.

What's a Swamp Gum doing in Apache Junction?  Apparently thriving on the northeast corner of Meridian and the Trail.  The plant is Eucalyptus spathulata, a small to medium sized tree that seems to do quite well in the desert if not allowed to dry out during establishment.  It has beautiful red bark and doesn't seem to be extremely messy.


If you've noticed any notches and circular cut-outs in Rose, Bougainvillea and other leaves, they are made by leafcutter bees which line their nests with leaf circles.  Though somewhat unsightly, the cut-outs don't harm the plant, and the little bees are considered beneficial insects.  We can live with this. 

With our lack of rain, unirrigated soils are bone dry so any newly planted or unestablished plants should be watered deeply and often to compensate for the dry surrounding soil.

Birds are wreaking havoc on any newly emerging vegetable and flower seeds which will need some protection to survive.  Also it's best to protect fruit trees such as Peaches and Apricots with bird netting before fruits ripen so that birds won't be inspired by that first taste of ripe fruit.

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Web Comments September 13, 2004 Shady Way Nursery 2004