8 Tips To Help Your Trees Stand Up To The Weather
By Warren Tenney
Did you lose a tree during this past summer’s monsoon season? Trees are a big investment and we grow to love them. We miss their shade and beauty when they are gone. There are ways to help a tree stand up to monsoon winds, but it is best to start when they are young. Here are eight things you need to know about growing a tree strong enough to weather desert winds and rain.
1. Plan: Know what tree you want before heading to the nursery. Understand how much room the tree will need when it is mature. Do you need a tall thin tree or do you have the room for a tree with a wider canopy? Many cities have free demonstration gardens where you can see trees as they grow and when they are mature. AMWUA's plant pages have the details that can help you select the right tree for the right space before you go to the nursery.
2. Buy Healthy: Buy a tree in at least a 15-gallon container. Avoid a nursery tree with roots growing out of the holes in the bottom of the container. That indicates the tree has been in the container too long. Walk around the tree. Look for even branching or symmetry. Check any existing nursery stakes to make sure they have not damaged the tree.
3. Plant Right: Don’t plant a tree too deep. Keep the lower bell-shaped part of the trunk above ground. Use native soils without mulch to back fill the hole. Mulch disappears quickly in desert soil, leaving gaps around the roots of a new tree. Instead, put a layer of mulch on top of the soil to hold moisture. The City of Glendale has a great video series about selecting, planting and caring for your trees.
4. Stake Right: When your tree arrives it is usually tied tightly to a nursery stake. The nursery stake makes it easier to transport trees but should be removed before planting. That tight nursery stake can impede proper growth of the tree, damage its bark and weaken its ability to grow a strong trunk. A young tree sometimes needs to be staked for several months and up to a year. When staking a growing tree, place the stakes outside the root ball and tie them to a tree in a way that lets it sway in the wind. Find more information about the right way to stake a tree here.
5. Water Correctly: Trees need to be watered infrequently and deeply along the edge of their canopies, not directly at the bottom of their trunks. This allows the tree to grow a wider root structure. Add more emitters and move them as the canopy gets bigger or use a soaker hose (which attaches to your own hose) available at most home improvement stores. Find more information about watering your tree and all your plants here.
6. Nature Happens: All trees drop at least some leaves, pods or flowers so don’t try to reduce litter by pruning a tree. You can plant your tree in an area with decomposed gravel and scattered riprap that looks more like the natural desert and allow the leaves, pods and flower to decompose and blend with your landscape. If this is impossible, you can select “pool friendly” trees that have less litter. Find these trees in the AMWUA plant pages.
7. Shade or Light: Some trees offer shade all year long. Others drop their leaves during the winter and allow light and warmth into your home. There are many drought resistant trees for large and small spaces that lose their leaves in the winter. The Palo Blanco (Acacia willardiana) is an airy tree that grows to 20 feet in height but its canopy remains about 10 feet wide. In the winter it drops enough leaves to show off its creamy lacey bark. Choose your Palo Verde tree carefully. There are different native and hybrids of Palo Verde trees. Some fit well into smaller yards, while others need space for a larger canopy.
8. Prune Less: This is the most important part of keeping your tree healthy enough to withstand a storm. The less you prune a tree the stronger it will grow, that’s why it’s so important to select the right-sized tree for the right space. Leave lower branches on a young tree. Those little branches are feeding lower sections of the tree and give a mature tree heft on the bottom. Don’t “thin” a tree by removing all the greenery in the middle and leaving foliage only on the outer ends of branches. This mistake is called “lion tailing.” During a high wind these branches will bend at a weak spot and be more likely to snap off. You can learn more about pruning a tree here.
Investing in a tree adds shade to your yard, value to your home and is a gift to your city. The Cool Urban Space Project by the City of Phoenix, University of Arizona and Arizona State University showed a 25 percent canopy could reduce near-ground temperatures in the city by 4.3 degrees. Trees also reduce air pollution, storm runoff and residential energy costs. It may be time to replace or add a tree to your landscape. Find a list of local nurseries here.
Photo: Avondale Xeriscape Demonstration Garden
For 49 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.