A Master Gardener's guide to gardening in a hot dry climate
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2006 New Year's
Resolutions Revisited. In our
we suggested two resolutions. They will benefit the planet
we all share and your desert garden. 1) Change at least one
ordinary light bulb to a long-lasting florescent or LED bulb and start
saving a lot of money. And 2) plant a tree. They are easy
things to do -- you can even do them both this Saturday.
Big is Beautiful.
If you have not planted your tree for this year we have
three suggestions for you. All three grow fairly
rapidly, become very big, and provide cooling shade for
your home, especially if planted on the southwest side
of your house. Be sure to plant your new tree at least
20-25 feet from your home so the limbs can spread out as
the tree matures and becomes much larger.
The first, and our favorite, tree for a desert garden is
the Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia),
a fast grower to 40 to 60 feet tall. It can, in fact, reach
30 feet in height in five years! This graceful tree has an
umbrella-like, weeping shape as it matures. Most Chinese
elm are evergreen and lose their leaves gradually year
'round. A few are deciduous and shed their all leaves in
Fall. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine which
individual trees are evergreen and which are not. Even your
local nursery may not be able to give you an answer when you
buy the young tree for your garden. The good news is that
it is a low water usage tree once established -- ideal for a
desert garden. It can, however, thrive with regular
watering so you can plant it in your lawn and enjoy dappled
||At about 25 feet tall, this
Chinese elm is quite young. Mature trees reach 60
feet tall, are umbrella-like in shape and provide
2. Our next candidate for Big Is
Beautiful is a Southwestern favorite that thrives in hot
climates with alkaline soil-- the
Fan-Tex Ash 'Rio
Grande' (Fraxinus). While there are
several ash trees that do well in our weather, the 'Rio
Grande' is the real show-stopper. In Spring it has light,
almost chartreuse green leaves, which darken to deep green
and give solid shade in the summer. Come Autumn, the leaves
become an intense golden color, then fall. With the leaves
gone, winter sunlight can reach your home and warm it. Ash
trees native habitat is in or near riverbeds in the desert,
so your new tree will require regular watering.
left, is a 'Rio Grande' ash tree in summer. On the
right, the same tree wearing its golden autumn
leaves. Not all ash trees turn this lovely
golden yellow in fall.
3. The third big tree on our list is
the Fig Tree (Ficus carica).
Not only do heat-loving fig trees grow fast to 15 to 30 feet
in height, they have big leaves that cast a very dense shade
in summer. Like the Ash, fig trees lose their leaves
in Autumn and let winter sunlight into your home. The
best varieties for a desert garden are 'Black Mission',
Kadota' and 'Brown Turkey'. Most will produce 2 crops
of delicious figs a year and, for home garden use, do not
need another fig tree for pollination. Figs could also
make a "Small is Beautiful" list because they can be pruned
to remain short and even do very well as an espaliered plant
-- grown against a wall or trained on a trellis.
Tall is Ugly.
Whatever you do, do not plant a Cottonwood. Yes, we
know it grows like a weed, but it gulps and guzzles water,
has roots at the surface, invades water pipes and sewage
lines, and is subject to borer infestation.
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another idea for a lawn
replacement. We recently came across a front yard
that had been turned into a mini-maze using
boxwood (Buxus microphylla Koreana).
Apparently the owner designed the maze pattern, then
planted these hardy, low-growing (to 2 1/2 feet) shrubs to
bring it to life. A white rose bush marked the center.
Korean boxwood grows well in hot climates with cold winters
and in alkaline soils. Japanese boxwood, which grows
slowly to 4 to 6 feet tall, can endure the heat, but not
saline soils. English boxwood will just keel over and
die in the desert.
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More gardening news for you
provide shade and
delicious food--if they are grown
in the right conditions.
|See an online preview of
the many gardens at the
Los Angeles Arboretum.
|It may look like a palm but
it's not! It does look great
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