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Hot Gardens Newsletter: Autumn 2006

List of previous newsletters by month 
   

2006 New Year's Resolutions Revisited.  In our January Newsletter 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.

1.  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 shade.

chinese elm At about 25 feet tall, this Chinese elm is quite young.  Mature trees reach 60 feet tall, are umbrella-like in shape and provide dappled shade.

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.

rio grande fan tex ash green leaves To the 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. fan tex ash rio grande autumn gold

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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A-Mazed!   Yet another idea for a lawn replacement.  We recently came across a front yard that had been turned into a mini-maze using Korean 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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