Choosing large trees for yard - your $.02

Jordana GeorgeJune 14, 2012

Hi y'all,

I recently moved to Socorro, NM (zone 6 or 7 depending on who you ask) 4600' elevation, 9" annual rainfall, high winds in spring) and I would like your input. Since there isn't a New Mexico garden forum, I figured AZ would be the next best thing, at least those of you at higher elevations.

There is very little in my yard besides an old mulberry tree on the west side and I'm starting to landscape. I want to add two evergreen trees for shade and birds. There will be xeriscaping around the trees with shrubs and flowers as you approach the house. The trees will be planted 6' from a masonry wall and 15' to 20' from the house.

The trees I am considering are Arizona Cypress, Apache Pine, Afghan Pine and Live Oak (Quercus Fusiformis). Here are my concerns:

* Drought resistance

* Heat resistance

* Cold resistance

* Roots surfacing and damaging the sidewalk or house foundation

* Prefer a fast grower

* Longevity of the tree

* Insect and disease tolerance

Please share your experience with these trees. As they will be in the garden and in full view of the house, I want very attractive trees that will enhance the yard, even as they age. Some pines get scraggly looking at maturity, which worries me. On the other hand, the live oak can have surface root issues. I've also heard that the cypress only lives 20-30n years. Which tree to pick or get 2 different trees?

Thanks so much for your time,


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haname(z9 AZ NE Phoenix)

Hi JG,

Maybe others with experience with those trees will offer you some advice, but I just wanted to let you know there is a Southwestern Gardening forum you might also try.

There may be a native tree that would fit your needs, they're well worth considering.

Here is a link that might be useful: Southwestern Gardening Forum

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 2:27PM
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Jordana George

Thanks, Haname. I found that forum after I posted here, but didn't want to post in two places as that tends to annoy people ;) If no one offers any advice here, I'll repost it over there next week.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 5:44PM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

JG, I can't make a recommendation at this point, but I think some additional info might make it easier for some tree-perts to help you out. For instance:

* What's the orientation.
* Is your house 1 or 2 story.
* Is there a house on the other side of the 6' wall. If so, how close is it.
* Are there plants or trees on the other side of the wall.
* Do you have a water source on that side.
* Are there power lines within potential reach of a full-grown tree.

Take it from me; the choice of a tree is sometimes the least of your worries, especially as the tree matures. I have evidence of that in my yard. :(

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 7:11PM
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Jordana George

Hi Tomato,

Good questions and all something to think about.

*Orientation is north/south, between the house on the east side and the wall on the west side. The potential tree locations do get full sun and are hot.

* House is 1 story old adobe with flat roof

* The other side of the 6' wall is the street and dirt sidewalk with no plants

* Power lines are on the other side of the street, not my side. No obstructions vertically in these locations.

* The water is easily accessible to the tree locations.

Thanks so much.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 12:49PM
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haname(z9 AZ NE Phoenix)

I think a tree is most beautiful when it has space to grow to its natural size, both height and spread. Ideally, you wouldn't have to control the size of the tree by pruning. This makes it much lower maintenance, so the only pruning that would need to be done would be to shape while it is young, and to maintain health and beauty as it grows older. Since you are planting 15-20 feet from the house, I would choose a tree with no more than a mature size of 30 foot spread (at 15') or 40 foot spread (at 20'). Keep in mind that at 6' from the wall, half of the tree will spread out to the street side and might need to be controlled from that side. Around town here we have lots of trees that are 'pruned' partway up one side of the tree by trucks hitting them as they whiz past. Not very pretty.

I hope you find exactly what you want and will enjoy it for many years. :)

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 1:30PM
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Jordana George

Thank you, haname. I don't like pruned trees either.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 2:20PM
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Yo, DUDE!!!!!!

Me too. please reply via e-mail and we can talk dirt, or the lack of it.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 1:21PM
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And the correct answer is "none of the above trees" until you have a copy of the Sunset Western Garden book and some local sources of native plants.

15-20 feet from the house is too close for those tree species. They will be bashing your roof to pieces in the next high wind.

Also, you want deciduous because the heat build-up in adobe is awesome in the winter.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 1:29PM
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Jordana George

Lazy, I think you right about size. I wanted to block the ugly wires across the street. Uggh now I need a new tree search. I have Sunset book and i used to volunteer at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin (who runs Native nurseries are available in Abq 70 miles away. Now I'm thinking to double my desert willows and put in just one addl tree 20' from house. Whatcha think about Sweet Acacia? There was a good sized mimosa in the same spot but it didn't get watered for 2 years when the house was fun sale. All that is left are root sprouts and a mimosa shrub that I'm thinking will need to be removed.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 1:48PM
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Here's some suggestions:

Chitalpa - hybrid of Desert Willow and Catalpa (look at the flowering trees in the little park at the corner of Mineral Way and Mount Carmel.

"Koelreoteria paniculata": Golden rain tree - Open branching deciduous tree 18 �25� tall. Compound lobed leaves, flower clusters in summer, fruit-like little brown lanterns in fall. Takes heat, cold, alkaline soil and is drought tolerant when established.

Currently blooming around town with bright yellow flowers on the tips of the branches. Specimens can be seen near the apartments at NMT.

Robinia neomexicana : New Mexico or rose locust - Deciduous large shrub to tree. Large clusters of pink or purple flowers in spring followed by fuzzy seed pods. Thorns on all stems and branches. Good windbreak, erosion control and wildlife plants. Full sun, any soil, drought tolerant when established

Want's to be multi-stemmed, but can be controlled. Easy to spot when it's blooming.

Sambucas nigra ssp. cerulea : Mexican elderberry - (formerly Sambucas mexicana) This 20� tree has thick wide spreading branches with pale-green compound leaves. White flower clusters in spring produce an edible blue black fruit. Drought tolerant when established, well drained soil, sun to part shade.

Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii : Western soapberry - Desert tree ranging from 10-30� depending on water availability. Leaves are compound with 12 or more on a branch. Inconspicuous flowers in spring produce fruit that looks much like a garbanzo bean. Fruit poisonous if large quantities eaten. Full sun, any soil, drought tolerant.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 3:31PM
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Jordana George

Thank you so much, Lazy; that's an awesome list. I look at trees around town but I don't know what they are many times. I'm a block from Mt Carmel and Mines. Will check out your tree tour tomorrow :)

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 2:55AM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

Lazygardens, since we're talking trees, how would the Mexican elderberry fare in an irrigated yard in central Phoenix? I love the description of this tree.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 12:33PM
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"Whatcha think about Sweet Acacia?" It's right on the edge of it's cold tolerance here ... lovely tree, but maybe better in Las Cruces or Deming. If you have a sheltered south-facing corner it might be worth it.

TomatoFreak - it should do OK. Sunset has it listed for "all zones"

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 12:50PM
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Jordana George

Too bad about the sweet acacia. I'd rather be safe than sorry when it comes to expensive plants like trees. I used to pick elderberries to make jam, but the plants I saw were big shrubs, not really trees.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 2:26AM
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Jordana George

Lazygardens - check your email spam live around the corner from me!

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 11:27AM
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