The best fast growing trees for hot, dry desert climates
Trees can easily reduce the temperature in your xeriscape garden and on your home’s exterior by up to 10 degrees F. in the summer when they are planted on the south and west sides of your home. So here are some of the best fast-growing trees that do well in a hot, dry climate and will add 2 to 4 feet in height every year. Some are quite drought tolerant, some need regular watering. All will help you reduce your air conditioning bill!
(See other leafy trees for hot climates.)
The drought-tolerant Chitalpa tree (Chitalpa x tashkentensis), left, will grow 2 feet or more every year to a mature height of 25 to 30 feet. It has an open branching structure and casts a dappled shade. This heat-loving tree blooms with pink, white or lavender flowers all summer long. Low water usage after it is established in your xeriscape garden.
Another fast grower is the majestic Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia), right. It can reach 30 feet tall within 5 years and ultimately grow to a height of 40 to 60 feet. It has a graceful weeping shape at maturity. It can be planted in a lawn where it will receive regular irrigation, but also does well with less, but consistent, watering.
The Desert Willow (Chilopsis Linearis) grows fast and produces pink orchid-like flowers all summer long. Come autumn, however, messy seed-pods develop. Its cousin, the Chitalpa tree, shown above, is a far better choice unless you are a native plant purist. Both trees are drought tolerant and grow rapidly.
If you want gnarled gray bark, very bright green, ferny leaves, and gracefully drooping branches, plant a California Pepper tree (Schinus molle). But be sure to plant it away from paving as its roots crawl along near the surface. Small white flowers in summer give way to rosy color berries in the Fall. Their leaves look bright green and healthy even under drought conditions, but their branches may hollow out and when wind comes the branches may snap off. Moderate water usage is recommended.
The Nichol’s Willow-leaf Peppermint tree (Eucalyptus nicholii) also has a weeping shape. Again, you can count on growth of 2 feet or more per year with this low-water usage Eucalyptus which grows to 50 feet tall. The flowers are small, the seed pods small, too. The bark is reddish-brown and the leaves, when crushed, smell like peppermint! Be sure to add iron chelate, such as Kerex, to the soil around this tree in spring and fall. Many other eucalyptus grow rapidly, too. Ask your nursery for more information or see our January 2004 newsletter.
The pyramid-shaped Honey Locust tree (Gleditsia triacanthos) grows 3 or 4 feet a year to a mature height of 35 to 75 feet tall. Its bright green leaves are ferny so it does not cast a lot of shade allowing a lawn to grow beneath it. The downside for this drought-tolerant tree is that there are sharp thorns on the trunk and branches so it should not be planted in an area where children or animals might bump up against it.
Not only do Fig trees (Ficus carica) grow rapidly to 20 to 30 feet, they have big leaves which cast dark shade. The fig produces delicious fruit and is not particular about soil quality. The ‘Black Mission’ and ‘Brown Turkey’ are good varieties for the desert. Most produce two crops of figs per year and need regular watering, especially when the fruit is growing. Be sure to ask at your nursery how tall a specific variety will grow. Some trees are much larger than others. You may need to control the size by pruning.
The name Mesquite Tree (Prosopis) instantly brings up images of cowboys and the Old West. These trees grow very fast and definitely prefer little water after they are established. In fact, if you plant your mesquite in a lawn it will grow tall and lush with a very shallow root system — and may very likely blow over with the first strong windstorm. Infrequent, deep watering is best because it encourages the roots to go deep into the soil.
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