Native Trees I Chose for My Arid Southwestern Property

Reader Contribution by RenÉE Benoit
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White Mulberry
Photo by Wikipedia Commons

We recently bought 4 acres with a house near the border of Mexico. It’s a nice house, but the land around the house needs a lot of work. Fortunately, we’re up the task, and even look forward to it. One thing we’re happy about is that we don’t have to do a lot of clearing of the sticker bushes, including mesquite, found elsewhere in abundance. That was already done before we got here. We also were fortunate that the land is not rocky. We wouldn’t have bought it if it were.

What the land really lacks are trees. We need trees for shade, privacy and wind breaks.

Considerations for Tree Planting at Home

What is all too common is people plant their trees too close to the house. They don’t realize how big that cute little tree in the nursery is going to get. We have that problem with a 40-foot Arizona Cypress that is about 3 feet from the foundation of the house. It’s going to be a sad day indeed when we have to cut it down. It was pruned way back on the house side because it rubbed the roof and destroyed shingles and underlayment. Please read up on the attributes of a tree before buying it. Yes, it would be cute to have it next to the house while it’s little but when it’s big you will be sorry.

Another common problem is people choose trees that aren’t suited to their environment. This becomes a problem when the chosen tree needs constant watering or care or it’s in danger of perishing. For example, don’t pick a poplar or cottonwood unless you live next to a water source. Fortunately, there are so many varieties of trees you will be able to find one that you like and instead of being annoyed with it in the years to come you will enjoy it very much.

So, we did our research. We surfed the web. We drove around and did our best to identify what was growing wild or in people’s yards. I got a phone app that identifies the trees I was curious about. This worked really well because I could see a tree in its maturity.  It’s difficult to imagine how big a tree will grow or how it will look when you’re checking out little trees in a nursery.

Native Trees for Arid Landscapes

Even so, I talked to nursery people because knowledge is power and you can’t have too much of it! Now you must know that I’m a big proponent of planting native vegetation as much as possible. For one, natives are adapted to the environment and tolerate whatever Ma Nature throws at them. However, in my research I found that if we were going to go 100% native we would be looking at mesquite, palo verde or locust. These native trees grow wild without any kind of support at all and are adapted to low moisture. Their tiny leaves are perfectly suited to conserving moisture. The palo verde has one more adaptation.

The Palo Verde tree blooms in the spring.
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

The green bark still produces photosynthesis even when the leaves are gone.
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

The bark is green and when the leaves are gone it still makes photosynthesis. How marvelous!  But none of these trees have the dense shade I was looking for. However, all is not lost. I found that there are many trees that do well in this climate, with this kind of soil and, on the plus side, are not invasive. We wanted trees that would grow quickly, too, and, important to me personally, no thorns!

For broad leaf shade we chose male mulberries.

Mulberry fruit make great pies. The leaves make great livestock feed.
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

For wind break, we chose Eldarica pines.

Eldarica pines also known as Afghan pines are fast growing, drought and heat resistant.
Photo from Tuscon Clean and Beautiful

In another blog post, I’ll talk about how to plant your trees for maximum success. I’ll also talk about how to propagate your own trees from cuttings.


Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who homesteads a small ranch in the southeast corner of Arizona near the Mexican border. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.


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