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Norm Schilling's List of Wonderful Trees on the Cheap and Easy

There are many wonderful plants that are very easy to propagate. Some are easy to start from cuttings and others set out baby plants that you can remove and plant elsewhere. Some plants can be divided into many, and others send out seed, resulting in babies popping up elsewhere in your yard.

There are many wonderful plants that are very easy to propagate. Some are easy to start from cuttings and others set out baby plants that you can remove and plant elsewhere. Some plants can be divided into many, and others send out seed, resulting in babies popping up elsewhere in your yard. In conjunction with the two episodes of Desert Bloom in which I talk about such plants, I am providing this informational list that describes the characteristics of the plants I talked about, and a few extra. I hope you find it helpful, and end up getting much joy out of watching cool plants spread all about your yard.

This is the list of the sun lovers. I'll be writing the shade lovers list soon. And by the way...while I did try to include all the useful information I could think of, and I think all the botanical names are spelled right, there is the chance that there are a few slight errors. If there are, I hope you'll understand.

Sun Lovers

Flowering Perenials and Annuals

Shrubby Dogweed (Dyssodia pentachaeta)

  • Reseeds itself easily, and pops up nearby, usually within 10 ft.
  • 1 plant will produce about 10 the following year.
  • 6 to 18 inches around, by about 4 to 8 inches tall
  • Produces small golden daisy-like flowers for most or all of the year.
  • Relatively short-lived.
  • Shear plants back half way late in the winter, and will likely grow right back in spring.
  • Foliage is fine and delicate, and has a wonderful, interesting smell when crushed between your fingers or pruned.
  • Low water user, seems to grow bigger and fuller with a little extra.
  • Likes desert soils (actually a native species).
  • Difficult to find. I bought one at the UNLV plant sale a few years ago, which has since died, but I now have 30-40 from it reseeding itself...I didn't do any of the work. 

Coreopsis (Coreopsis sp.)

  • Reseeds itself easily, but is not invasive.
  • Grows to approx. 2 foot wide by 1 foot tall.
  • Bright yellow daisy-like flowers about 1½ to 2 inches across.
  • Intense spring bloom.
  • Cut back spent flower stalks carefully into the foliage, to make them disappear, but leave some unpruned for reseeding.
  • Cut foliage back to new rosettes (small plantlets) growing at base, in winter.
  • Not picky about soils, and is a low water-user. 

Beardtoungues (Penstemon spp.)

  • Many different species exist.
  • Many are natural humming bird feeders.
  • Come in a wide variety of colors, from blues through reds, often borne on spikes. Flower forms vary, but are open throated, some slender, some fat.
  • Cut spent flowers back to rosettes after seed has matured and dispersed.
  • A very fun group of plants to play with.
  • Different species are particular to different growing conditions, but the species listed here are generally tolerant of our soils and sun. Some of the non-desert varieties of Penstemon can be a bit fussy about irrigation, and will not take well to drying out too much.
  • Penstemon spectabilis has greenish-gray foliage that turns partially purple in cold weather, with tall reddish flower spikes in spring that feed hummingbirds, and reseeds itself prolifically nearby, creating groves of plants.
  • P. eatonii (Firecracker Penstemon), P. ambiguous, P. strictus (Rocky Mountain Penstemon) and P. palmeri (fragrant), as well as other species, also perform well here

. Santa Barbara Daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus)

  • A spreading sub-shrub that reaches 4 foot around and 2 foot high, or more.
  • A mound of small dainty daisy-like flower that change from reddish pink to white as they mature.
  • Will reseed itself occasionally, as my original one plant has now given me about 6 off-spring, after about 3 years.

I'm not sure on maintenance, but I think it can be pruned back hard, and size controlled, in winter...I'll have a much better idea on that in about 6 months, after I cut mine back, and see how it responds.

  • Low to moderate water use, and loves our sun and soil. 

Gazania sp.

  • Comes in a variety of colors from yellow through orange, red to purple.
  • 2 basic types, clumping and spreading. Clumping types reach about 1 to 2 feet around, and 1 foot tall, and spreaders reach about 6 inches high, and can spread quite wide, 6 or more feet around, but can be cut back on the edges to control size.
  • Flowers daisy-like, low, open only in sun, clumping varieties especially can be spectacular in pattern, and long blooming season. Maximum bloom in spring.
  • Different varieties will cross-pollinate readily, and new color combinations will pop up elsewhere.
  • Reseeds itself quite easily.
  • Prefers sun, takes poor soils, and is quite drought-tolerant, but prefers some supplemental water.

Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

  • Dainty white, lavender or purple flowers, with long bloom season.
  • Plants are 6 to 8 inches tall, and spread to about 1 foot.
  • Can fill a planting bed easily with a carpet of tiny flowers.
  • Purple and lavender varieties tend to revert back to white over succeeding generations.
  • Reseeds itself profusely, and can even become a invasive.
  • Loves sun and is tolerant of most soils.
  • Like regular watering and moist soils.
  • Cut back in winter to promote new growth in spring. 

Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)

  • Native to Southern Nevada.
  • Bright yellow daisy flowers held atop tall stems.
  • Very low water user, and fine with poor soils.
  • Foliage is minimal, grayish, fuzzy.
  • Reseeds itself easily. 

California Poppy (Escholzia californica)

  • Native wildflower of the Southwest.
  • Intense large orange flowers from winter through spring.
  • Delicate, grayish green foliage with toothed edges.
  • Plants are small 6 inches around and 3 o4 4 inches tall.
  • Reseeds itself easily.
  • Low to moderate water use, sun loving, tolerant of desert soils.
  • Usually planted from seed. 


Brittle Bush (Encelia farinosa)

  • Native to Southern Nevada.
  • Foliage very bluish-gray and a wonderful color to mix into plantings of uniform greens, for accent and interest.
  • Bears yellow daisy-like flowers on thin stalks above plant, from late winter through early spring if unpruned, later if pruned back.
  • Plants are small in the wild, but with irrigation reach 3 feet tall and 4 or more feet around.
  • Will occasionally pop up as small, very blue-gray seedlings.
  • If plant gets rangy or too large, can be cut back quite hard, and will usually come right back. If short young growth is present at or near base, leave it intact while taking out the old woody tissue.
  • Low water user, gets rangy with too much irrigation, sun loving but will tolerate some shade, and is fine with unamended desert soils.Desert Broom (Baccharis sarothroides)

  • A mixed blessing in the garden, as it can become quite weedy, popping up all over the place. Seedlings are easy to pull out though, as long as you get to them before they get more than 6 inches to a foot tall.
  • Foliage thin, airy, evergreen. Recognizable as a seedling for the foliage is unevenly serrated, with some leaves showing no "teeth" at all, others with several, and an upright growth habit.
  • Large shrubs, 10 foot around and as tall, or even larger. Looks best if left unpruned, so give it room to grow. It can be "lifted", with lower branches cut off at point of attachment, for a more tree-like effect.
  • Separate male and female plants. You can tell which you have after they've matured a bit and flower. Females bear whitish puffs of cotton-like seeds, and mature plants can be covered in it...very attractive, but you pay the price with too many seedlings. Male plants have non-showy, small flowers.
  • As attractive as the females are with their cottony show of seed, I have chosen to leave only male volunteer plants in my yard, so I'll have fewer seedlings/weeds.
  • Requires lots of sun, very low water user, thrives in poor soils. 

Dusty Miller (Senecio sp., Artemesia sp.)

  • A variety of garden plants go by this name. I have both Senecio and Artemesia in my yard.
  • Senecio is the more commonly available variety at nurseries, but I prefer the Artemesia.
  • Both plants have fantastic silvery-blue foliage with scalloped edges.
  • Flowers are "hairy" and yellow on flower stalks in spring
  • Senecio is smaller, 2 to 4 feet around, and 2 feet tall.
  • Artemesia is spreading, grows to more than 6 feet around, 2 feet tall.
  • Both plants seem to reseed themselves fairly frequently.
  • Both are tolerant of our soils, take sun and some shade, and need irrigation. Low to moderate water use. 


Mexican Feather Grass (Stipa tenuissima)

  • 2 feet tall and 4 feet around.
  • Very fine blades (foliage) make this plant give a very "soft" visual texture, and plants sway and undulate wonderfully in the wind, bringing movement to the garden.
  • Reseeds itself readily, and seedling are easily transplanted if done in cool season and while soil is moist. Can be a little invasive (too many seedlings).
  • Sun loving, tolerant of poor soils, low water user but needs some irrigation.
  • Late in season, spent "flower" spikes look matted. (Yes, grasses do have flowers too).
  • Cut back low to the ground, just 2 to 4 inches high, in late winter to early spring to rejuvenate and get fresher, greener growth. 

Purple Three-Awn (Aristida purpurea)

  • 3 feet tall and 2 feet around.
  • Fine bladed for a soft textural landscape effect, and also moves well in the wind.
  • Reseeds itself too easily, and can become quite weedy, so use with caution, and be prepared to remove lots of seedlings.
  • Foliage can take on a slight purplish hue.
  • I started with one plant a few years ago, and now have 5 or 6, and have weeded out hundreds more. I've even had thoughts f getting rid of it altogether, because it does reseed so prolifically.
  • Low water use, tolerant of soils, likes sun, can take some shade.


Cacti and Other Succulents

Prickly Pear, Beavertail, Cholla, etc. (Opuntia spp.)

  • A large group of North American cacti.
  • 2 basic groups: pad-type and cane type
  • Pad types have flat rounded "pads", shaped similar to a beavers tail, coming out in clusters, or attached one or several on top of each other.
  • Cane types (Chollas) have pencil or thumb shaped canes attached one to another.
  • Both types are very easy to spread by cuttings. Simply take a pad or cane, cut it off at the point of attachment, and let it lay out and dry for 3 to 7 days before planting. This allows the wound to "callous" over, and prevents rotting from occurring. Simply take the cutting and stick it in the soil where you want the new plant, give it infrequent water, and watch it grow.
  • All members of this genus (Opuntia) have cup-like flowers with shimmering petals, and colors ranging from yellow to red to violet. Individual flowers are short lived, but the abundance of them allow for at least several weeks of bloom in the spring.
  • A wonderful flower feature of some species is that they have thigmotropic flower other words, if you carefully reach a finger into the flower cup (check for bees first), touch the stamens (the hair-like extensions in there), and swirl them just a bit with your finger, they will move and twitch on their own...a very cool and fun feature.
  • Be careful with placement. All have either long spines (very painful), or clumps of short hair-like spines (very irritating), or both. Even the most innocent looking ones have little clumps of hair-like spines (called glochids). Keep them away from people, kids and pets.
  • Can grow into quite large colonies, 10 or more feet around.
  • Sun loving, but tolerant of shade as well.
  • Very low water users, need only be watered around 5 to 10 times per year, and prefer poor (inorganic) soils. 

Century Plants (Agave spp.)

  • A large group of spiny desert plants, ranging in size from 1 to 8 feet wide, and 6 inches to 5 feet tall.
  • Very bold form, with large thick pointed leaves radiating from the center, which makes for a striking accent plant.
  • Colors of foliage range from silver blues to greens, and some have variegation of yellow stripes down the center or on leaf edges.
  • Only flowers once in its life, which occurs after 10 to 50 years, depending on species and growing conditions. The flower is a giant in height, reaching 10 feet in the smallest species, and exceeding 20 feet in the larger. The flowers aren't showy, but the size is. After flowers are spent, but the stalk is still up, some species will actually develop hundreds of baby plants (pups or offsets) where the flowers were. The flowering event is so extreme and strenuous to the plant that it dies. However most species are quite long lived, and many send out pups from the base that can be easily (if carefully) dug out, cut off, allowed to sit and dry for a few days, then replanted.
  • Spines on tips of leaves can be dangerous, so keep it away from walkways and children.
  • Loves sun, will take some shade, needs very infrequent watering and likes desert soils. 

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

  • Not a true Yucca, but looks similar.
  • Plants grow up to 3 or 4 feet around, 1 to 1½ feet tall.
  • Light red flowers are sparsely set on long flower stalks, 3 to 4 feet tall, multiple spikes on each plant.
  • Flowers aren't real showy, but bloom for a long time, and are great hummingbird feeders.
  • Flower stalks can get covered in tiny black aphids, but don't worry, they don't seem to do any harm, and are also a great food source for hummingbirds, and other predators.
  • Seed is viable and can be sown, but a quicker and more certain method is to dig up and divide a large plant into multiple plantlets. It's easy and obvious where to pull the plant apart after you dig it up.
  • Very low water user, tolerant of low fertility soils, and a sun lover.
  • Looks somewhat spiny and dangerous, but it isn't, and can be used near walkways, seating areas, etc. 

Ice plant (Carpobrotus chilensis and others)

  • There are several different types, and all are characterized by thick succulent leaves.
  • Very low growing, just a few inches tall, but can spread over a very wide area. The 5 inch long cutting of Carpobrotus chilensis I planted just a few years ago now covers an area 8 feet around.
  • All have daisy-like flowers, with lots of very narrow petals, ranging from red to violet to yellow. Gives a fairly short but very intense flower show in the spring, and can bloom through summer with increased irrigation.
  • Very easy to start from cuttings. Just cut a piece off and stick it in the soil where you want the new plant.
  • Works very well in rock gardens.
  • Reseeds itself profusely, and can even become a bit weedy.
  • Loves sun, will take shade but flowers less, and is tolerant of most soils. Takes more water than some desert plants, but is still fairly drought tolerant.
  • Other types include Hearts and Flowers (Aptenia cordifolia) with reddish flowers about 1 inch across, and Drosanthemum sp. with intense violet flowers about 1½ inch across.

Shade Lovers


Aloe (Aloe saponari, A. vera, others)

  • A genus of thick leaved succulents, similar in form to the Agaves, with small spines growing off the leaf edges. The spines are relatively soft, and not real dangerous.
  • Most species will readily produce pups (small baby plants growing as off-shoots), which are easily detached and placed elsewhere in the garden.
  • Size can vary, but most species are 6" to 2 feet high, and just a little wider than tall.
  • Produces tall reddish to orange flower spikes in the spring that feed humming birds. When flowers are spent (finished), simply cut them off at the base...but, I must admit, I rather like the antennae-like form of the spent flower stalk on Aloe saponaria, and will sometimes leave one or more on for quite a while after the actual flowers themselves are gone.
  • Cold hardiness varies from species to species, but most will take our average winter without a problem.
  • Plants are rather drought tolerant, and often look better if they're not pumped full of water, which can cause leaf tip dieback.
  • Aloe saponaria is a species with shorter, fatter leaves with whitish spotting flecks. Areas near leaf edges take on a delightful purplish tinge in cold weather.
  • Aloe vera is the medicinal aloe. Its leaves are narrower, longer, and not as clearly spotted as A. saponaria. It reaches to about 18 inches high, and with masses of pups, can spread much wider. It really does work well to help wounds heal, and I take cuttings from mine often.
  • Aloe marlothii is larger, and with leaf form more similar to A. saponaria than A. vera, but it has the bonus of small teeth scattered seemingly haphazardly across the leaf surface. It isn't real cold hardy though, and somewhere in the 20's or teens, it will die. I'm using a few in my yard, because they are soooo cool looking.
  • Not picky about soils, and can take a fair bit of sun, but needs shade in the afternoon.
  • The only reliable supplier of succulents I know of in town is Turners Greenhouse, a small local grower, which is where I acquire most of mine. 

Hens and Chicks (Echavaria sp.)

  • A very small succulent with a bold and beautiful form.
  • Leaves are triangular, spiral out from the center, and are closely set to one another, giving this plant a very bold form.
  • Plants reach a maximum size of just a few inches across.
  • It sends out pups in the same manner as the Aloes, and can be removed from the mother plant, and spread about.
  • Needs lots of shade. Can take some sun, but not much.
  • Leaf edges turn shades of purple in cold weather, making its small bold form stand out even more.
  • Seems to like fairly ample water.
  • A fun and cute little plant, that works very well in close-up viewing areas, and in rock gardens. 

Pork and Beans, and other Sedums (Sedum rubrotinctum and S. brevifolium)

  • Many different species exist.
  • Smaller fat leaves and low growth habits are characteristic of this group of plants.
  • Some species, including both Pork and Beans and S. brevifolium, have leaves similar in shape to jellybeans.
  • Flowers are small and not real showy.
  • Needs lots of shade, and likes ample water.
  • Plants spread by both above ground and underground "runners", but are not invasive.
  • Pork and Beans (S. rubrotinctum) takes on a strong reddish brown color in winter, giving this plant its common name. Leaves are slightly smaller than a jellybean, and the same shape.
  • S. brevifolium has bright green, very small leaves, and a trailing habit.
  • Some species are not real cold hardy, but can handle most of our winters. 


Dichondra (Dichondra micrantha)

  • Rich green in color, with small round leaves about ½ to ¾ inch across.
  • Forms a dense mat of foliage, never growing more than a few inches high, and can spread over very wide areas.
  • Spreads by both runners and seed.
  • It can take quite a bit of sun, but prefers shade, and likes ample water.
  • Adds a very soft looking texture to the garden, and a sense of lushness. Excellent in close-up viewing areas.
  • I've had it growing in my front yard garden for years. About 6 or 7 years ago, mine was devastated by a small beetle that ate it almost all to the ground, and most of it disappeared and died. I had made a choice not to use any insecticides in my yard, and as much as it pained me to watch the Dichondra perish, I stuck by my resolve. As I suspected, over the following years it slowly came back, at first just a few, and now is as lush and thick as it ever was. 



Virginia Creeper and Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus quinquefolia and P. tricuspidata)

  • Both are self-attaching vines that can quickly grow up and cover bland walls.
  • Both are less invasive and damaging than "traditional" English or Algerian Ivy, but can affect loose masonry, wood shingles, etc. However, plant can be cut back and kept off of undesirable targets, and away from windows and doors.
  • Very easy to start from dormant cuttings. Cut off a piece of dormant wood, the diameter of a pencil or less, and make sure there are at least 3 or 4 nodes in the cutting. Nodes are where the leaves were attached, and there are dormant buds at those at each one. Take the cutting, and place it with at least 2 nodes buried in moist (not wet) soil. At least one node should be above ground. Make certain the "orientation" is the same, so that the buds that were lower down on the branch are the ones placed in the soil, and the ones further along the cutting are the ones above ground. The nodes below ground will become roots, and those above ground will become stems and leaves.
  • Both do well in shade. Boston Ivy can take quite a bit of sun, but needs at least some shade in the afternoon. Virginia Creeper is less sun tolerant, but can take some morning sun.
  • Virginia Creeper has quite large leaves, with 5 leaflets arranged in a manner somewhat similar to a maple leaf. Boston Ivy has smaller leaves, but still substantial. Both turn the most extraordinary shades of crimson, burgundy, yellow and orange in the fall, with Boston Ivy having a slightly broader spectrum of colors. Truly two of the very best plants around for fall color. Virginia Creeper is deciduous, and Boston Ivy is semi-evergreen, but will drop most or all of its foliage in our average winter.
  • Can be cut back to control size, as desired.
  • Needs ample water, very cold hardy, and likes enriched soils.
  • Plants also look good sprawling across the ground. I've seen Virginia Creeper planted behind a low growing, small and silver leafed Trailing Indigo Bush (Dalea greggii), and the effect of the large green Creeper leaves poking out of the Dalea was very striking. 

Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila)

  • An evergreen self-attaching vine that can become very large with age, but can be kept cut back to size.
  • Dark green and lush foliage gives this plant the ability to contribute to a "woodsy" or "tropical" landscape effect.
  • Self-attaching pads are relatively nonobtrusive, and will attach to almost any surface.
  • Leaves are heart-shaped, tiny in youth, and growing slowly larger with time. This gives the foliage a very visually interesting pattern.
  • Roots are listed as invasive, but I haven't yet seen a problem.
  • Likes regular water, fertilization, and amended soil. 


In the second episode, I spoke of trees that can start in your yard from seed. These can be "volunteers" that pop up on their own, or can be intentionally planted. I have 5 such trees in my own yard, 2 Mexican Palo Verdes, a Western Honey Mesquite, an Almond and a Chinese Pistache. All of them germinated on their own, and with the exception of the Chinese Pistache, they sprouted in places where I decided to leave them. The Chinese Pistache, which is less than a year old, is still little more than a twig, and less than the thickness of a pencil, and will be transplanted to a more desirable location sometime this month. I should have done it late in the fall.

Trees that start from seed or are transplanted when very young have the inherent advantage of typically developing very sound root systems. Because of this, such trees often catch up to and surpass the size of their more elderly transplanted kin, and can do so quite quickly. There is also no chance that they are pot-bound with girdling roots, a condition that often later causes the demise of so many nursery bought trees.

It is important to note that a trees root system not only gives it water, air and nutrients, but also provides structural support. Therefore it needs watering that extends from the trunk to the drip-line, and even beyond. As the tree matures, the canopy grows, and so should the wetting pattern, unless it's already been planned for the mature size of the tree. This can be accomplished with drip emitters, by placing them in a cross pattern with the tree in the center, with at least four lines of drip emitters radiating out in all four directions, each emitter placed approximately 3 to 4 feet apart. This will give the roots an area of soil that, when wetted, is interconnected, and the roots will then naturally travel out past the drip-line, and give the desired structural support. The larger the mature size of the tree, the more extensive this system must be. The tree can also use the emitters from other plants as part of this wetting pattern, if they are growing near or under the trees canopy.

Remember, trees will typically do much better if they are watered deep, wide and infrequently. The frequency depends on the type of tree and the soil and other site conditions. Desert species of trees thrive most if they are watered deep and wide, but only a dozen to a few dozen times per year! Non-desert species require more frequent irrigation, but most do not like to be watered every day, even in the height of summer.

As for collecting seed and planting that way, I honestly do not have a lot of experience in that regard. Some species of trees such as the Mesquites, and at least some of the Acacias, (and other plants), require scarification of the seed in order to germinate. Scarification is the process of abrading away the tough outer seed coat, and can be accomplished by rubbing the seeds briskly between two sheets of sandpaper. If I am not sure exactly how to plant the seeds, I will usually scarify some of them, others not, and then plant a whole bunch where I want the plant, at differing depths. Usually many seedlings will pop up, and I choose the strongest looking one, and weed out all the others. Do not attempt to grow more than one of the seedlings in the same spot.

Many people look at me as though I'm completely out of my gourd (a good expression for a gardener, don't you think?), when I suggest they start their trees from seed. They look at me that way at other times too, but that's another story. Anyway, I want to drive home the point that this really is a viable way to go. Three years ago a Western Honey Mesquite popped up in a great location in my yard for such a tree. I had already planted a 1-gallon Sugar Bush there, and it is a special plant to me also, for I love them and they're quite hard to find. But I saw the incredible opportunity presenting itself, and I carefully transplanted the Sugar Bush to another location, knowing full well they don't take well to transplanting. It struggled but survived, and is now doing fine.

Anyway, this sapling Mesquite was mine to train as I desired, and I knew, absolutely, that it would not suffer from girdling roots, as Mesquites from nurseries so often are. Yesterday I went to a local nursery, and as always, I checked out their plant material. There I saw a number of Mesquites in 36" boxes, selling for $350 each. My tree is much more substantial than any that I saw there, and has much better form. The trees I saw at the nursery were full of weak crotches, and were just not that attractive. Also, the larger a tree is when it gets planted, the more likely it is to just sit there, and not grow, for a period of time commensurate with its size. I am so convinced that this is the case, that I will often go out of my way to find and often special order trees to get the youngest tree possible for my own yard. The dividends come within just a few short years, and I save money to boot.

In any case, I never plant anything larger than a 15-gallon, unless my customer insists, and never in my own yard. Oh, and my now about 10 feet tall, and 12 to 14 feet in just three years. While going from seed is not always the best option, especially when it comes to fruit trees (I address this a bit when I talk about the Almond, below), it can be a win-win situation, by saving money and having a better quality tree.

If you're contemplating planting trees in your yard, whether from seed or from the nursery, I would encourage you to make a trip to the Desert Demonstration Garden, where you can observe some relatively mature specimens of all the trees I'm writing about here. They have many different varieties of the Mesquites, Acacias, and Palo Verdes, as well as an almond, a Lacebark Elm, and a couple of Chinese Pistaches. Not only that, but the staff is friendly and very helpful, and the garden is beautiful.

And please, don't top your trees!



  • A number of different species and varieties exist. They vary from the relatively small native Screwbean Mesquite, to species that get much larger. Typically quite thorny.
  • Flowers are catkins, which look similar to a fuzzy yellow caterpillar, and can be quite nicely fragrant.
  • Beautiful trees with feathery foliage and interesting bark texture that varies from species to species. Form also varies with species, from the weeping effect of the Texas Honey Mesquite to the erect and angular nature of the Screwbean.
  • Mesquites are true desert trees, and thrive best with very infrequent watering. Too much water, and they grow very quickly. While this might seem like a good thing, there are many disadvantages that come as a result... They often develop "weak crotches" which will later cause the branch to rip off the tree with a resulting enormous wound. They also don't develop as sound a root system under wet conditions. Their beautiful natural form is distorted by the development of very long whip-like branches, and they grow fast and die young. Do not attempt to grow Mesquites in, or right next to, a lawn.
  • The cold hardiness of the species varies, with the North American varieties being more cold tolerant than their South American cousins. The cold hardiness of individual trees can be increased if they are allowed to go dry going into and through the winter. I try not to water my desert trees at all in the late fall and winter, and simply accept whatever rainfall they get.
  • Does not require fertilization, and does well in poor desert soils. 


  • A large group desert trees and shrubs typically characterized by finely textured foliage, thorns, and yellow puffball-like flowers that can be wonderfully fragrant.
  • Size of mature plant can vary greatly, depending on the species.
  • Cold hardiness varies from species to species.
  • A true desert plant group that thrives on poor soils and infrequent watering (see Mesquites, above).
  • Typically needs little or no fertilization. 

Palo Verde

  • Actually 2 different groups of trees, Parkinsonia and Cercidium.
  • Green trunks and branches characterize both genuses, from which they get their common name, which means "green wood" in Spanish.
  • Flowers are yellow, and the trees can put on an incredible flower show in the spring, especially the Blue Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum).
  • Foothill Palo Verde (Cercidium microphyllum) is the smallest, reaching a mature size of only 15 to 20 feet, and not as wide.
  • Mexican Palo Verde reaches 30 feet in height and width, and has a longer bloom period, but is quite messy, producing lots of leaf and seed litter. It produces a nicely filtered shade beneath, for the canopy is not real dense.
  • All like desert soils, infrequent watering, and little or no fertilization. 

Chinese Pistache (Pistache chinensis)

  • A large and picturesque deciduous tree. Deciduous means that it drops all of its leaves in winter.
  • Moderate growth rate, eventually reaching a size of thirty to fifty feet in height and almost as much in width.
  • Produces a beautiful fall leaf show, with the tree turning crimson and purple.
  • Because of its size and deciduous nature, it is an excellent choice for areas to the south or west of the house, for it lets the sun shine through in cold weather and shades wonderfully in warm. This not only results in savings through reduced air conditioner use, but also makes the yard cooler in summer.
  • Because of its eventual size, roots can become quite large, and should be kept at a minimum distance of 5 to 10 feet from foundations, walkways and other hardscapes.
  • Flowers are visually insignificant. Seeds are borne in small fruits that turn from red to black as they mature.
  • Moderate water use, needing more frequent irrigation than the desert trees.
  • Can be used in lawns. If you do plant one in a lawn, whether from seed or nursery, remove the turf from around it a minimum of one to two feet on each side of the trunk, the more the better. Studies have shown that such turf removal greatly increases the health and growth rate of trees. It also prevents accidental line trimmer or mower damage. 


  • Almonds thrive here. They are beautiful, dark wooded, deciduous trees with lance shaped leaves three or four inches long.
  • Moderate growth rate, eventually reaching a size of twenty to thirty feet in height and width.
  • Almonds give a fantastic early spring flower show, when the tree becomes almost covered in white, 5-petaled blossoms, tinged to red in the center. Each blossom is mildly fragrant, and when many thousands of blooms are open, the air is filled with wafts of wonderful fragrance.
  • Produces fruit that looks like a peach when young, but later hardens, dries and then splits open when ready to harvest. Trees can produce great quantities of nuts.
  • Tolerates most soils, but they don't like poor drainage. They appreciate organic amendment of soils, and organic mulch.
  • Cold hearty, and moderate water use.
  • I have 3 mature specimens in my yard, and they are very dear to me. I love the flower show, and harvest lots of nuts every year. There are plenty left over, and the ground squirrels that live in the cactus garden love them. I have many seedlings pop up each year, and have removed them all but one. It grew in the cactus garden, and though I have given it extra water, it has still shown great drought tolerance. Because it is a wild seedling, I don't know if it will produce fruit, for they need to be planted with a different variety to do so, or be of a self-pollinating variety. Because I don't know the lineage of the parent trees, I'm not sure what will happen with the offspring. For that reason, I actually wouldn't recommend an almond from seed in most cases. A well-selected nursery tree would suit most needs better. 

Lacebark Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)

  • Lacebark Elm is a semi-evergreen tree that can reach 40 feet in height and 50 in width.
  • The tree gets its name from the nature of the bark to peel of in irregular patches as it matures. The resulting mottling effect can be very attractive, with very subtle shades of purples and greens showing.
  • Leaves are small, and the flowers insignificant. The tree has a nice, fairly open form, making it a great shade tree.
  • Tolerant of desert soils, but benefits from organic soils and mulch, and fertilization.
  • Moderate water use and growth rate, and cold hardy.
  • Trees can be fairly messy, and produce lots of seed. Seeds germinate readily, making this a good tree for intentionally starting from seed.