Desert Trees for Fast Shade – and Pollinators

“Fall is such a great time to plant new trees, and there are so many wonderful native and near-native choices to add pollinator and wildlife benefits to your yard!”

She got me with that wonderful opening sentence so I asked her if I could use some more of her words. Yes! So today we have a guest post from longtime friend and plants woman extraordinaire, Carianne Sienna Funicelli, or should I say from “SHE.”

Hackberry (Celtis) casts some lovely shade, and uses less water than the Arizona ash.

Strategic Habitat Enhancements

trees-desert-souleCarianne Sienna Funicelli owns Strategic Habitat Enhancements (SHE), a local company that provides a variety of natural resources consulting services, with an emphasis on native plants and creating bird and pollinator friendly yards. She shares this information.

Instant Shade

“My clients often want some “instant shade” when installing a new landscape project. To fulfill this desire they tend to gravitate toward the largest trees available at the nursery. But is that always the best choice? Maybe not.

Consider This

Retail prices for trees increase sharply with the size of the container, starting at $25 – $50 for a 5-gallon, $75 – $125 for a 15-gallon, and $300+ for a 24″ box tree. Installation logistics and cost also increase with the size of the tree.

There are many factors to weigh not only when deciding on what tree species to plant, but what container size to buy. Below I am going to share some of my favorite species for the Low and Middle Desert elevations in our region, with some considerations to help you chose the best size for your project and budget!”

The desert willow (Chilopsis) loses it’s leaves in winter so is good to plant on the south side of the home for summer shade and winter sun.

Edible Landscaping – an Interjection

All of the plants Carianne discusses below are great for a low-water yard. 
But Wait – There's More!
Many of these are multi-purpose plants, offering not only food for the native birds and other pollinators, but also food for our table as well. It can be as simple as adding a few colorful flowers to your salad, or as involved as harvesting mesquite beans and creating your own gluten-free flour for cooking. How to do that is currently on my sister site, Savor the Southwest – here.

Here's my key to additional benefits
&& edible fruit
^^ edible flowers

“Slow Growers – so Go Big!

These stunning trees are slow growers, and so using larger container sizes may be worthwhile to get a jump-start on their growth. Here are some of my favorites in this category:

Some slower growing trees. Images courtesy Strategic Habitat Enhancements.

Texas mountain laurel (Dematophyllum secundiflorum also sold as Sophora secundiflora)
Texas olive (Cordia boissieri) &&
oak trees (Quercus species) &&
boojum trees (Fouquieria columnaris) ^^

Moderate Growers

Some of these have a reputation for being slow, but I have found that they actually grow fairly fast with generous watering for the first few years. Here are some of my favorites in this category:

Moderately fast growing trees. Images courtesy Strategic Habitat Enhancements and Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.

Texas ebony (Ebenopis ebano also sold as Pithecilobium flexicaule)
ironwood (Olneya tesota) ^^
canyon hackberry (Celtis reticulata) &&
blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida) &&

Fast Growers – Save Money and Start Small

These speedy trees will give you shade in a hurry – just a few seasons. Consider saving money by opting for smaller plants. In many cases, a 5-gallon sized plant will “catch up” to 15-gallon size over the course of a single growing season. Here are some of my favorites in this category:

Fast growing trees. Image courtesy Strategic Habitat Enhancements.

desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) ^^
velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina) &&
chitalpa (Chitalpa tashkentensis) ^^
citrus (various species)  &&

P.S. Don’t forget you might be able to get low-cost trees though your local power company! Currently Tucson Electric Power, Tri-Co Electric, and Salt River Project all offer such programs. Look for these species on their lists.”

Texas mountain laurel. These are so incredibly fragrant when they bloom!

About the Author

Carianne Sienna Funicelli is a longtime plant person here in the region and the depth of her knowledge on our native plants is phenomenal. She is very personable and helpful and will even help you shop for plants. I promise she won’t go all science nerdy on you – that’s more something I would do.

Carianne is currently accepting new clients – and will help you get started with a wonderful yard that you, and our native winged wonders will love. You may contact here through her website Strategic Habitat Enhancements.

If nothing else, I encourage you to visit her site and subscribe to her newsletter – a sample of which is posted here today.

Speaking of newsletters – if you have not yet – sign up for mine in the side bar.  It will come to you from my newsletter page on Substack.


© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule & Carianne Sienna Funicelli. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

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