Can you plant trees in desert landscaping?

Yes, there are many types of trees that grow in the desert landscape.  We own multiple homes in the Phoenix area, and all of our homes have dessert landscaping.

Instead of grass, we have smooth stone, and each home also has several bushes, a tree.  In one of our homes, we also have several aloe vera plants, and a nice collection of fruit trees. 

What is the best type of trees for desert landscaping

There are many types of tree that work well in the Arizona and New Mexico areas.  We have a palo verde tree that may have a disease. If it turns out that we need to replate it, we are going with a Willow Acacia  (aka Acacia Salicina).  They have beautiful silver-blue leaves, and they are a fast grower even in the dry environment.  

One major consideration is allergies.  Some trees such a Vitex or Texas Mountain Laurel produce blooms with a strong fragrance.  While they are create amazing curb appeal, they can also be a trigger for many people’s allergies.   One of our neighbors has a Vitex, and we have symptoms when it is in bloom.  

Buying a tree isn’t something that’d we’d recommend doing online.  It’s best to go to a local nursery so that you can see and smell the plant before getting it.  Trees live decades so this is a decision that should take a lot of thought and research.  What may be right for our family may not meet your needs at all.  

We’ve also included a nice video we found on YouTube that goes into a lot of great detail regarding which trees work best in Arizona and New Mexico.

Are there any good shade trees for desert? 

Our top pick for a shade tree is the Sumac.  The scientific name for this tree is Rhus Lancea, and it is from South Africa.  It has evergreen leaves meaning that you will have shade all year around.   

They do very well in low rainfall areas, and they can be used as a shade to screen your home or windows from the sun’s rays.  They will naturally grow with multiple trunks to spread out for a wider screen area; however, the extra trunks can be pruned to have a single trunk that extends higher if that’s what you prefer. 

Do you need a drip/irrigation system to grow trees in desert?

No, you do not need a drip or irrigation system to grow trees in the desert, but it is nice.  Our main home has an irrigation system that has sprinklers for our tiny patch of grass in the back where we let our pet bunny out to play in.  We also have a drip system for our aloe veras, shrubs, and trees.  I love the irrigation system as it allows me to set the amount of water used and when.

After moving in, we spoke with a professional irrigation company to help configure our system to minimize water usage.  He recommended 2 waterings per day at 4am and 7am in the summer months.  He recommended a single watering at 8am for the other 3 seasons.  He told us that we never wanted to water the plants in temperatures that could freeze.  It’s very unlikely with where we live, but I like not having to worry about it.  

He also told us that watering in the afternoon is far less effective as the ground is already drier.  The plant roots will get much less moisture due to this dryness and the evaporation from the sun.  By watering in the early hours, we eliminated more than 50% of the gallons of water we were spending on irrigation.

Can palm trees grow in the desert?  

Yes, in fact our next door neighbor has a very large palm tree that overlooks my office window.  Their tree is more than 20 feet tall with leaves that have grown to 6′ long.  They have a nice pool, and they use the tree to provide shade.  This cuts down on evaporation in their pool.  Previously, they had a few other trees in their backyard, but removed them because they kept losing leaves and flowers in their pool. 

Can apple trees grow in the desert?  

Apple trees are very resilient, and there are likely some breeds that could deal with the extreme temperatures of the hot Arizona summer.  I know for tomatoes there are special breeds that we plant which explicitly do well in our 115+ degree days.  

That being said, we don’t recommend apple trees because the ones we’re familiar with require a lot of water.  Our fruit trees are lemon, orange and pomegranate.  To be fair, we haven’t had much luck with the pomegranate though.  It does produce fruit, but it’s simply not very tasty.  We’ve done some PH tests on the soil, and we’re creating some natural mulch to get more nutrients in the soil for it.  We’ve considered taking it out for a lime tree for several years now, but it’s hard for me to justify the cost to take down a mature tree.   

Our lemon and orange trees are total champs.  My wife who bakes a lot will often go outside to pick the fresh citrus for recipese.  We have so much citrus that we give oranges and lemons to our friends and family.  She then converts our excess to curd which we freeze.  I think these are much better options than apple trees.  Similarly, some variations of banana trees grow well in Arizona, but they can be finicky.  

Getting expert advice

We’re far from experts on the best type of trees for every desert landscape.  We know what works well in central Arizona, and when we have questions we stop by our local nursery.  We’ve made so many trips to Moon Valley Nurseries which is a few miles from our home, and they’ve always been able to answer our questions.  

If you don’t have a nursery, both Lowe’s and Home Depot will have a garden section.  We’ve asked them a few questions about our vegetables, but definitely do your research as we’ve also gotten some very wrong and bad information from the big box stores as well.  

Keeping the Tree Trimmed

One area that always comes up to people who are new to living in the desert is surprise over the trees need to be trimmed. I grew up on the eastern coast, and we rarely hired a tree trimmer. We mainly only hired someone when the tree got so large that we wanted to fully take it out. However, living in the Arizona, we get our trees trimmed every 16 months.

I think this could be that the trees that grow here use less water and don’t have as sturdy base and branches. Heavy wind storms always seem to cause branches to be blown down. I’ve also seen so many trees fully blown down destroying walls, fences, cars and sometimes even the home itself. Another issue could be that the soil doesn’t hold the roots in nearly as well as the rich grass covered dirt from my home area.

Another reason to get your tree trimmed is that roof rats will use trees close to your home as a way to leap onto your roof and move into your attic. This can be very dangerous because they feed on the home’s electrical wiring. This is both expensive to repair and it may lead to electrical fires.

When hiring someone to trim your tree, you will want to get a lot of quotes. I use Yelp for this, and you will want to get a sense of what’s included. You also want to ensure you get a complete price in the quote. We had a few vendors give us what appeared to be a great price, but upon going through the booking process they told us about all these “surcharges” like paying for the removal of the landscape material and cleaning the yard afterwards.

I kid you not. We had multiple companies quote a price for trimming our tree and the completed project would have them just leaving with all the branches and debris all over the yard, driveway and road.

Another item that I felt was a little questionable is asking about upsale items while they were onsite. We hired one company that gave us a reasonable price, but after they arrived told us that our tree was diseased and wouldn’t make it a year without the deep root feeding or something. The quoted price for that service was as much as the initial tree trimming. I rejected it knowing that I could at least get a second opinion and get quotes for that work. When rejecting this root feeding, the person went into hard sell mode and kept offering other upgrades such as adding mulch around the tree.

The entire time the workers were actually trimming the tree. I spent with this “project manager” pushing me to sign up for more work. I eventually just pulled out my phone and put the recording device on so he could see and said: ” {Person’s Name}, I just want to be clear so there is no confusion. I would like the tree trimmed as per our email discussion. The agreed upon price was $XXX. I do not wish to deviate from this quote in any manner, and I do not authorize service that would change this price. Do you understand what I just said?” and then I put the phone near him.

He didn’t respond anything back so I could get his voice recorded as I hoped. He went over to his team and then told them something. They proceeded to do the worst job I’ve ever seen. They were off our property in 10-15 minutes later. I paid them in cash, and I got a receipt that said the job was paid in full. Obviously, this is not a company that I would ever use again.


Wrapping Up

Thanks for reading this whole article.  We mainly write about awnings, patios and shades.  We began writing about garden and landscaping topics because we had so many readers reach out to questions in that area.  

Our expertise in these areas is far less than it is in the window coverings and shade space.  As we learn more, we’ll continue to update this article, and we welcome any feedback on our posts.  If you have any suggestions about this post, feel free to contact us or send us a DM on  our twitter account.

Last Updated:September 01, 2023