This blog is about growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area

January 14, 2017

Bringing back the trees to Phoenix, Arizona

I like trees. I feel better around them. I grew up in Minneapolis, where there are a LOT of trees. And I lived in Southern California in areas that are lush with tropical plants, including trees. But I live in Phoenix, and it's a compromise. You really can't make Phoenix look like Minneapolis, but it doesn't have to be just dirt and rocks. Contrary to popular belief, trees can grow in Phoenix. They were widely planted from territorial times until about the 1970s, when the city was essentially stripped bare of trees. But there are people who want to bring the trees back to Phoenix, and I'm one of them.

I always say to plant a tree, and care for it. But there are arguments for and against any type of tree, planted anywhere, and for a lot of people that stops them from doing anything. Some trees grow too slowly, some grow too fast. Some have leaves that all fall off in the winter, some have leaves that continuously shed all year. So find a tree that you like, and can care for, and plant it. Be prepared for people to disagree with your choice. Here are some pros and cons of trees that grow in Phoenix:

• Desert-adapted trees. These trees tend to be non-deciduous (they don't drop all of their leaves in the fall). And there are a LOT of them, from mesquite to Texas Mescal Bean (you see a lot of them planted in the medians of Grand Avenue nowadays). There are what I've heard described as "parking lot trees" - which are acacias. If the only desert-adapted tree that you know is a palo verde, I recommend that you go to your local nursery, and look around. Personally, I like desert-adapted trees because they have leaves in the winter. But don't make the mistake of believing that they don't drop their leaves - all trees drop their leaves, some just do it all at once, and the rest drop leaves all year 'round. I use the leaves from my trees as free mulch for my garden.

• Deciduous trees. These are the trees that I grew up with, in Minneapolis. They can get very big, and their leaves turn colors in the fall, and drop for the winter. Yes, even in warm areas like Phoenix, deciduous trees do that. I have fond memories of jumping into piles of leaves when I was a kid, but I chose not to plant this type of tree here in Phoenix because I personally don't care for the look of bare leaves for several months.

Do your homework before you plant a tree. If you have a big lot, go ahead and plant trees that will get very big. My little suburban lot is very small, so I have small trees (still tall enough to shade my house, but not monsters). By the way, if you're a neighbor of mine, in Glendale, go look at the xeriscape gardens at the Glendale Main Library, which is on 59th Avenue and Brown, just south of Peoria Avenue. That's where I went when I bought my house, and it gave me the best information that I could find. And if you're near Tempe, you can see an incredible display of trees that have been planted, and cared for, for over 100 years, on the campus of ASU. The entire campus is the arboretum, and most of the trees are labelled.

Image at the top of this post: Acacia trees at Glendale Community College, 59th Avenue and Olive, Glendale, Arizona
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