Have you ever noticed how some plants always look good? No matter how hot, no matter that there’s been no rain to speak of, no matter that the plants are in a rental where no one cares if it gets watered.
What are the secrets of these few-and-far-between plants that seem impervious to anything the desert climate throws at it? As our summer temperatures heat up to full blast and monsoon rains seem so far in the future, you will definitely start to notice these standouts that stay green and lush while other plants sizzle and seem to be barely hanging on through the worst of heat.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a more in-depth look at a few of these extra-hardy individuals. The one tree that always astounds me with its great ability to manage to look dark green and immensely cool all through the summer is the Chinaberry, or Texas umbrella tree (Melia azedarach). This tree has been planted around Tucson neighborhoods for over 50 years and one often sees it in older areas of town and in places where many plants seem neglected – but not this one!
So what are its secrets? The first is a physical property. So many of these were planted before the advent of drip irrigation that most of them got off to a splendid start with watering either by bubbler or hose into a large well. This deep irrigation allowed them to make a big, deeply rooted system, which, unfortunately, many trees today do not get. Because they are old trees, those deep roots are still serving them well half a century later.
The umbrella tree’s other secret is largely psychological. It has extremely dark green leaves, and though they are only medium in size, they are arranged in an overlapping pattern that creates a very deep shade. When one sees that big, round head of dense, dark green leaves in the middle of the summer – when so many other plants are looking yellowed or sparse – you can’t help but have a feeling of cool shadiness associated with this tree!
If you choose to plant a Texas umbrella or any other kind of tree this time of year, ask your favorite nursery person for the correct way to water to ensure your success.
> At www.tucsoncitizen.com, help in selecting Tucson-appropriate plants
Cathy Bishop, general manager and co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery in Tucson, has 30 years of nursery experience. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.