©2019 by The Gardens 

Drought Tolerant Shade Trees

There’s no doubt about it, these past few years have been rough on our landscapes.  With cautious optimism I have been watching the rain fall this winter season and transform our reservoirs and mountain ranges.  I am now enjoying what seems to be a promising spring and a fruitful future.  It will take some time, but we can start rebuilding the exterior of our homes to their former glory.  With a few lessons under our belt from the harsh reality of living in a Mediterranean/semi-arid climate through a drought we can move forward and create a landscape with a sustainable planting pallet. 


When creating a design for our clients I work from big picture – the structure and use of the space -  down to the details of plant selection and irrigation design.  One of the first major design decision I make is tree placement and selection.  Trees can effectively create outdoor space by physically providing perimeters with their trunks and canopies, and suggestively create space by casting shade for a cool spot to sit in the summer.  Trees do more than give a little shade in the summer.  They increase ground water percolation by slowing rain water down and deterring it from running off the site, cool the ambient temperature, and stabilize soil structure.  There are even studies to show that mature trees increase property values within neighborhoods.  There is a value put on trees within our landscapes that are multi-serving to our homes.

Selecting the right tree sets the tone for your landscape.  When looking for a shade tree think big.  Over 30 feet in height and diameter will create a structure in the space as well as give usable space beneath the canopy.  Classic shade trees that do great in our valley are Pistache trees, Elms and Red Leaf Maples.  These all have a great umbrella shaped canopy with a vertical trunk and are deciduous in the winter.  An interesting aspect to point out with deciduous trees is that is gives you shade in the summer, but allows the sun the warm a space in the winter when the leaves are gone.  Not to mention all of the great fall color you gets.  Then there are more structural trees that add character and style to a space.  Species like Olives, Strawberry Trees, Palo Verdes, even oaks if you have the space, are great focal points.  We have most of these planted at the nursery so you can come compare what each type has to offer. 




 Pistacia chinensis – Chinese Pistache

A hardy, disease resistant shade tree with fantastic orange/red fall color.  Maturing to 30 to 35 feet tall and wide these develop a deep root system.  The standard variety does bear a small berry-like fruit in the winter months, which I find adds seasonal interest.  There is a

 ‘Keith Davey’ variety that is a grafted male tree, meaning no fruit, but has become increasingly difficult to find this past year.


Ulmus parviolia – Chinese Elm


Easily a go-to favorite for fast growing shade trees.  The dense umbrella shapes canopy quickly matures to 40 feet tall and wide.  They look best when the branches are heavily thinned out to create an airy effect.  Silvery bark is a favorite feature on this tree and the leaves turn a wonderful yellow hue. 

Acer ruburm – Red Leaf Maple: One of my favorites for fall color.  These trees exhibit more of an upright vase shape canopy, growing to 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide.  Large, broad palmate shaped leaves turn a beautiful red orange in October and November.  A perfect back drop in your yard or to frame your home.  Non-invasive roots makes this easy to manage and care for. 





If you are looking for a distinct style to reinforce your home’s architecture and interior design there are several trees I love that easily transition to Mediterranean or Contemporary design styles.  Creating structure within the landscape and a visual focal point I tend to select multi-trunk trees for added interest.


Olea europea – Olive Trees

Quintessential Mediterranean, these can flow to several design styles when placed within the proper context.  Their silvery leaves and aged bark gives character and detail.  Maturing at 25 to 30 feet tall and wide these look great in the evening with quality landscape lights.  If you want instant gratification you can purchase a field grown olive tree around 15 to 17 feet tall and wide.  These will produce fruit.  To inhibit fruit production that you can apply a growth regulator like Florel when the tree is blossoming.  If you want a fruitless variety select ‘Wilsonii’ or ‘Swan Hill.’  You will not start out with a mature tree like the field grown varieties, but you will not have to battle olives in your landscape. 

Arbutus marina – Strawberry Tree: A beautiful substitute for a Manzanita, these evergreen trees grab everyone’s attention entering our nursery with their smooth cinnamon red bark.  Deep green leathery leaves are seasonally adorned in the winter months with clusters of light pink bell flowers.  Exhibiting great character in their branching structure, these are slower growing, but will eventually grow to 40 feet tall and wide.


Parkinsonia aculeate – Palo Verde Tree

 Quickly becoming a valley favorite these interesting trees are easily identified by their yellow green bark and matching lacy foliage.  Creating a delicate dappled shade pattern Palo Verde’s enhance any southwestern or contemporary landscape.  Summer months you are welcomed with a show of yellow trumpet shaped flowers.  Staying under 25 feet tall and wide their multi-trunk habit looks great in raised planters or lining a walkway.  If space is tight look for the ‘Desert Museum’ variety which has a more upright vase shape thornless selection.

It’s time to start planting your garden.  Take the first step and get your trees in the ground.

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