8 Different Types of Desert Trees to Consider Growing

When it comes to trees that thrive in a desert garden and landscape, homeowners have a wealth of choices. Whether you’re seeking a tree tolerating drought, sun, heat, or those that flower or are suitable for a small yard, there’s a tree fitting your needs.

Continue reading because we cover some popular varieties that thrive in desert conditions.  (1, 2)

Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

Although native to southern regions of the Mediterranean, chaste trees make a hardy addition to a desert garden like southern Arizona.

It’s hardy growing in USDA zones 6 through 9. In the coolest portion of its hardiness range, the tree may die down to ground level in the winter but will resprout in spring. However, it grows best in an area with warmer winters.

Provided preferred conditions, chaste trees thrive in the heat, sun, and dry and arid conditions that a desert landscape offers. The tree has an average lifespan of 50 to 150 years.

Chaste trees have a vase-shaped, shrub-like nature and form multiple trunks. With pruning, the tree can be shaped into a small tree that matures at 20 feet tall and wide.

Chaste trees are deciduous in the winter. However, in the spring, the canopy fills with a 6-inch lance-shaped, grayish-green foliage that is fragrant. In summer, 12-inch long, upright panicles fill with fragrant purple flowers that make a beautiful sight rising above the canopy.

For the best performance and growth, grow the chaste tree in a site situated in full sun or partial shade. Although the tree prefers fertile soil that drains well, it’s also tolerant to drier and less fertile soils when provided sufficient water. Moderately drought-tolerant, once established, chaste tree performs best with regular and deep water applications. That being said, make sure to water weekly during the tree’s first year of growth.

Chilean Mesquite (Prosopis chilensis)

Native to South America and the Southwest, Chilean mesquite trees make attractive and hardy additions to a desert landscape. Hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11, these heat-lovers and drought-tolerant trees make beautiful additions to xeriscapes, rock gardens, and desert landscapes like those found in Texas and Arizona.

Chilean mesquite trees are semi-evergreen and develop an open and spreading canopy filled with airy green, fern-like leaves. The fast-growing desert tree grows to a mature height of 30 feet tall and wide and can live 50 to 150 years.

The grey bark is fissured, and depending on the variety, it may either be thornless or contain thorns. In spring, inconspicuous greenish-yellow flowers bloom. Once the flowers fade, they give way to long brown seed pods that attract birds. The tree also works well planted in groups where the airy canopy filters the harsh sun and reduces heat and glare.

These trees grow well in fast-draining soils that have a sandy texture and are dry. Chilean mesquite trees also grow best located in a site receiving full sun, making them great additions to a desert garden. During their first year of growth, water deeply weekly. Thereafter, the desert tree only requires occasional irrigation. However, if summer conditions are sweltering and dry, the tree appreciates more frequent water applications.

Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis)

Native to California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, desert willow is an attractive desert tree hardy in USDA zones 8 and 9.(3)

It earns its common name due to it resembling true willow trees. The small flowering tree or large shrub is tolerant of the heat and arid conditions found in a desert region, making it a great addition to a desert garden.

It has an average lifespan of 40 years or longer.

The native tree has a deciduous and fast-growing habit. Desert willow trees produce a single trunk that often has a twisting or leaning habit and open, low branches. The willow-like foliage is light green and grows anywhere from 4 to 12 inches long. Fragrant and showy flowers start blooming in late spring and smell like violets. Blooms are funnel-shaped and range in colors of purple to dark pink with white or yellow streaked throats.

In autumn, once the flowers fade, long and slender seed pods form. Various birds and pollinators are attracted to the flowers and seed pods. Desert willow averages around 15 to 25 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet wide, making it suitable for a small yard or landscape.

Desert willow trees thrive in various well-drained soils, although limestone soils are preferred. The desert tree thrives in dry, hot, and arid regions planted in full sun. It’s drought-tolerant and excessive water leads to weaker growth, a reduction in flowers, and problems with rot. Allow the soil to dry out between water applications to encourage more blooms.

Desert willow makes a beautiful addition to rock gardens, xeriscapes, pollinator gardens, or a sunny desert garden.

Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora)

A beautiful desert tree native to Texas and New Mexico, Texas mountain laurel is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 10.

The tough native tree stands up to sun, wind, heat, and arid conditions, making it a great addition to a desert garden. Sophora secundiflora makes an attractive addition to a small yard, patio, or landscape. Texas mountain laurel is one of the many trees that grow well in a desert climate.

Sophora secundiflora has an evergreen habit and trees typically grow several trunks. The desert tree averages around 15 to 20 feet tall and about 10 feet wide.

This native develops a symmetrical canopy filled with glossy dark green foliage that is leathery, making the tree quite showy. In spring, purple-bluish flowers bloom that smell like grape Kool-Aid and fill the landscape with their fragrance. The showy flowers form in drooping clusters that are around 7 inches long and attract beneficial pollinators.

Like many plants growing in rocky soil conditions, Texas mountain laurel is slow-growing. After its flowers fade, gray seed pods form that have a felt-like texture. As the seed pods age, they change to brown and open to reveal red seeds that are toxic.

Texas mountain laurel trees grow best in a site situated in full sun to partial shade. Grow this native in well-drained soil that is rocky, sandy, loamy, or dry. Just make sure that the soil drains well to prevent rot problems. Once established, this desert tree is very tolerant to drought. Although the small tree is tolerant of heat and drought, Texas mountain laurel trees establishing themselves into the landscape benefit from a bit of shade and regular water. This is especially true if your region is incredibly hot during summer.

Texas Ebony (Ebenopsis ebano)

Native to Texas, Texas ebony is a true desert tree thriving in the heat found in USDA zones 10 and 11.

Although extremely tolerant to drought, the roots are also resistant to root rot. However, the roots can be invasive, so make sure not to plant the tree close to the house. This tough tree stands up well to the heat, sun, and drought conditions, making it one of the trees that grow well in a desert garden or landscape. The slow grower has a lifespan of 50 to 150 years.

Texas ebony trees usually produce multiple trunks, developing rough brown bark. Although the branches resist breakage, they are covered in thorns. Trees develop a vase shape, with the canopy filling with pinnately compound green foliage. Once mature, the dense foliage makes Texas ebony an excellent shade tree.

In summer, showy yellow flowers bloom that are fragrant and attract beneficial pollinators to the landscape. Once the flowers fade, they give way to 6- to 12-inch long seed pods. The native grows at a slow speed, maturing at around 30 to 40 feet tall and wide.

This desert tree has a high tolerance to dry, drought conditions and doesn’t require much water to thrive. Make sure to plant Texas ebony trees in well-drained soil. Additionally, it grows well in either acidic or alkaline soil with good drainage. Plant Texas ebony in a location that receives full sun. Grow this beautiful heat-loving tree as a dense shade tree, specimen, in a native or pollinator garden or along a buffer strip. Due to its large size, it’s best suited for a large landscape.

Sweet Acacia Tree (Acacia farnesiana)

Native sweet acacia trees make great additions to a desert garden with its tolerance to heat, drought, and sun. Their small size and great looks make them perfect additions to small yards. Sweet acacia trees thrive in regions with consistently hot temperatures found in USDA zones 9 through 11. The acacia isn’t tolerant of too cold conditions.

These desert trees make beautiful flowering specimens in a smaller landscape, used in wildlife gardens, or as a barrier plant due to its thorny nature. When considering where to plant the acacia in the landscape, consider the thorns and situate in a location away from foot traffic.

Sweet acacia trees are semi-evergreen and develop with a spreading and irregularly rounded canopy. The canopy fills with green feathery foliage and the grayish-green branches are lined in thorns at the leaves’ base. Sweet acacia matures at around 25 feet tall and wide, making it suitable for use in a small yard.

The tree has fast growth, growing around 2 feet yearly. It can also be pruned into a large bush. In late winter or early spring, acacia trees fill with fragrant yellow flowers that are shaped like puffballs. The yellow flowers last long into the season, as with each new flush of growth, another round of flowers bloom. 

Sweet acacia trees grow best planted in a landscape receiving full sun, although they tolerate partial shade. The acacia performs well in a variety of well-drained soils and is quite drought-tolerant once established in the landscape. While the sweet acacia is establishing itself, water several times weekly. Thereafter, watering every few weeks is sufficient. Sweet acacia trees typically have a lifespan of around 50 years. Consider the tree’s weak wood when selecting a landscape location.

Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida)

Native to the Sonoran Desert regions of Arizona and California, blue Palo Verde are true desert trees that stand up to the sun and heat. They are hardy growing throughout USDA zones 8 through 11 and aren’t tolerant of extremely cold winters.

The small shrub-like tree is an excellent addition to a desert garden where conditions are extremely dry. The desert tree works well used as a screen or in wildlife or pollinator gardens, as the flowers and seeds attract birds and beneficial pollinators. Blue Palo Verde has a typical lifespan of 50 to 150 years.

Blue Palo Verde trees can be pruned into shrubs and grow around 20 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide. The desert tree forms a rounded and low canopy.

The graceful tree develops a large bluish-green trunk, with bluish-green pinnately compound leaves that are deciduous. In spring, blue Palo Verde bursts into bloom with bright yellow flowers. The yellow flowers form into clusters and are quite showy. Once the flowers fade, 3-inch long seed pods form. The yellow flowers last long into the summer season, making the blue palo verde a beautiful addition to a desert landscape.

For the best results, grow this species of Palo Verde in full sun. The desert tree prefers a site with well-drained soil that is loamy or sandy and has a pH that is neutral or slightly alkaline. Although tolerant to drought once established, water the tree weekly until it establishes itself in the landscape. When you are considering where to plant it, take into consideration that this tree has thorns.

Palo Verde ‘Desert Museum’ (Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’) 

Palo Verde ‘Desert Museum’ is a hybrid resulting from a three-way cross between Palo Verde Parkinsonia florida, Parkinsonia aculeata, and Parkinsonia microphyllum. Combining the best characteristics from the three resulted in the hybrid Desert Museum. With the parents native to the Chihuahan and Sonoran Deserts, Desert Museum inherited their tolerance to heat, sun, drought, and dry conditions.

The hybrid Palo Verde is hardy in USDA zones 8 – 9 and isn’t tolerant of extremely cold winters.

Desert Museum trees have a spreading habit and form into a vase-like shape with low hanging branches. The fast-growing tree grows around 15 to 20 feet tall and at least 20 feet wide at maturity. Thornless green branches have an upright habit. They are covered in the bipinnately compound, light green foliage that is deciduous.

In spring, showy and fragrant yellow flowers form in long clusters, filling the canopy with beautiful color. The flowers attract beneficial pollinators. Given enough water, Desert Museum continues blooming through summer. In fact, of all Palo Verde species, the Desert Museum flowers the longest. Long brown seed pods follow the spent flowers in fall.

For the best growth, situate Desert Museum in a site located in full sun. Grow the desert tree in well-drained loamy or sandy soil. Although tolerant to drought once established, water several times weekly for the first few months and also if weather conditions are extremely hot and dry. Thereafter and depending on the weather, you can water every week or so. Due to its colorful flowers, small size, and hardiness, Desert Museum makes a great desert tree to add to a desert garden, small yard, or landscape. It has an expected average lifespan of 40 to 150 years.

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Happy Planting!

About the author: Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at TheGreenPinky. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years.

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