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Shade Trees for the Desert

ash image by milemarsovac from

When desert temperatures head toward the 100-degree mark in late spring, homeowners are thankful for the shade provided by the broad, green canopy of a tree. Trees allow you to get more enjoyment from your backyard during the hottest months, June through September, when many desert dwellers stay indoors. Trees that block the blistering sun on summer afternoons keep your patio and the exterior of your house cooler, which translates into lower air conditioning costs. You can find trees that are in perfect harmony with a low water usage landscape design.

Desert Willow

Named for its flowing, willowy appearance, the desert willow grows up to 25 feet in height and width. The desert willow is native to Mexico and the southwestern U.S., so it is well adapted to surviving drought conditions and does well in desert soils. Flowers resembling orchids appear on the tree in spring and last through the summer. These 1½-inch blossoms come in white, pink, lavender or purple. This is definitely a low water usage tree, but watering it every month or so will help accelerate its growth. Hummingbirds delight in the nectar from this tree’s flowers. The desert willow drops some seed pod litter, which birds feast on in late summer and into the fall. The tree sheds its leaves in the latter part of winter.

Arizona Ash

The Arizona ash tree is majestic and wide, soaring up to 45 feet in height and spreading out nearly as far. The leaves of this relatively fast growing tree are dense and dark green. In autumn, the leaves turn bright yellow. The tree sheds its leaves in winter. Established ash trees only need water once a month during the growing season, and once every two months when the tree is dormant. Arizona ash trees are popular nesting sites for many species of birds. Pruning may be required for the tree to retain a full, well-proportioned shape. The Arizona ash is a member of a family of trees native to the Southwest region from Texas to California.


Native to Brazil, the jacaranda brings tropical beauty to a desert yard, and tolerates both full sun and intense summer heat very well. It can grow more than 30 feet tall, and spread out 15 to 30 feet. The jacaranda’s rounded foliage canopy provides ample shade. In spring, the tree bursts out in color with the appearance of striking lavender flowers in 8-inch clusters. When the blossoms fall, they are so numerous they carpet the ground with lavender. The tree has flat, woody seed pods 2 inches long. The jacaranda drops its leaves in winter. This tree benefits from being watered once a week during the spring, summer and fall. Soak the tree to the edge of its root zone. Make sure you plant the jacaranda in well-drained soil.

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