Issue: March 15, 2002

A few easy care, drought resistant trees

Question:

I'd like to plant one to three easy care, drought resistant, medium sized, trees in my yard. What would you suggest? Audrey R. Albuquerque

Answer:

There are a lot of trees to consider, but I will list only a few with their good and bad characteristics. I will skip trees, such as the Green Ash, that are very common but have severe insect problems. The Redbud (Cercis spp.) is a small-to-medium sized tree that produces rose, magenta, or white blossoms very early in the spring. There are several species and varieties to consider. The leaves produce good shade, but the pods that develop after flowering are annoying to some people as they rattle in the wind and litter the ground. The Mimosa (Albizzia julibrissin) is common in the Southeastern U.S. where fungal diseases are eliminating the plant. Our dry climate has been providing protection from diseases. The tree produces a light shade and fragrant flowers in June. Following flowering, the spent flowers fall to the ground and are considered by many people to be trashy. The seedpods also remain on the tree, rattling in the wind. This may be a pleasant sound to some but others dislike the "noise". The Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis), a relative of the pistachio that produces a non-edible nut, is a well-adapted tree. It casts a nice shade, its flowers are inconspicuous and fruit are usually not a problem, and it survives on relatively infrequent, deep watering. Besides its shade, its red fall color is its most desirable characteristic. The apricot (Prunus armeniaca) makes a nice shade tree that flowers early in the spring. Its fruit are often killed by late spring frosts, but in years when fruit is produced, the apricots are delicious. This tree is related to the peach tree and susceptible to the peach tree borer that has been killing many peach, apricot, plum, and cherry trees. This is the most negative characteristic of the apricot if it is grown as a flowering tree (without regard to whether the fruit form or not). The desert willow (Chilopsis liniaris) is a beautiful, open, medium-sized flowering tree. It casts a very light shade allowing other plants to grow under it. It is native to New Mexico and West Texas and is adapted as far north as Albuquerque. This tree may prosper if given protection in colder climates. It flowers all summer and is frequently visited by hummingbirds. There are many other excellent trees to select. It is wise to choose a well-adapted tree that is not used excessively in the area. By planting too many of one type of tree, we increase the possibility of insect and disease infestations and reduce the diversity and landscape interest in our neighborhoods.

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For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page: desertblooms@nmsu.edu.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.