by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
When so many days can be spent outdoors it just makes sense to plant more trees. The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago; the next best time to plant is today. Without the right trees planted in the right place summer rays beat down on us heating up patios and decks well above temps humanly comfortable. Planting during our summer monsoon season increases root depth and faster development of canopy shade. Now is an ideal time to plant a new tree.
Deciduous trees are the best to shade patios, courtyards, and the west- or south-facing walls of our homes. Their seasonal leaf changes permit solar warmth in the winter and provide dense shade during the heat of summer.
My favorite deciduous trees for central Arizona are readily available for planting now. There are dozens of great trees from which to pick, so I’ve decided to narrow the field for those of you who don’t want to put in hours of research to find that perfect tree for that special spot in your landscape. I am certain any one of these trees can earn itself a place of pride in your yard.
#1 London Plane Sycamore, Platanus x acerifolia, is a large shade tree that seems to thrive at this altitude, and in our clay soils and heavy winds. Its leaves look like maple leaves on steroids, but their leathery texture tolerates our wind and sun better than the leaves of its native cousin, the Arizona Sycamore.
#2 Sunburst Locust, Gleditsia triacanthos, so named because its new growth and fall color are a bright sunburst gold. This tree compensates for its small leaves by the vast numbers of leaves that provide the delightful filtered shade unique to locust trees. The hardiest tree requiring the least amount of water, it really is hardy in low water use landscapes.
#3 Flowering Pear, Pyrus calleryana, provides more than just great shade in summer. It is one of the first trees to blossom each spring and is graced with bridal-white flowers that produce no fruit. In fall this tree is the last to turn crimson red before evergreens take center stage in winter’s landscape. For a deciduous tree that performs extremely well through every season at this altitude, the hands-down choice is a flowering pear.
#4 Summer Blooming Silk, Mimosa pudica, is ideal for a yard that needs a small tree with an umbrella shape. This extremely low water user grows to about 18 feet and produces masses of pink tasseled flowers that cover the top of the tree. Our home’s second story looks down on three of these summer beauties. They create a striking view that our family really enjoys, especially when having dinner on that elevated deck.
#5 Autumn Blaze Maple, Acer freemani, is a mountain favorite because of its classic red color in fall. During summer months its large leaves provide great shade that is rivaled only by the shade of a sycamore. A healthy maple tree will grow 2-3 feet per year, topping out at 40 feet high. Mountain wind can tear and shred the leaves of some maples. The ability to withstand mountain winds is why the only varieties of maples that I recommend are the Autumn Blaze and Silver Queen.
#6 The Tulip Tree, Liriodendron, not only has massive green leaves that cut wind damage and reduce heat, but in summer this tall tree is covered in tulip-sized flowers. It is a disease-free, nearly litter-free candidate for the front or back yard. Popular as a long-lived avenue tree, it also makes a majestic statement alongside an entry drive.
As they take center stage in local landscapes, this is the best time to plant summer blooming butterfly bushes, sages, crepe myrtles, roses of Sharon, and chitalpas. Interestingly, although they are indifferent to the ups and downs of our springtime weather, they prefer being planted in this season’s warm soils, warm days, and warm nights.
One of the truly unusual specimens this season is the Blue Bird Hibiscus. This is an amazing summer bloomer that is coming into its own right now. Considered the best true blue hibiscus for the area, the eye-popping blue flowers with a dark red eye are favorites every summer. Surprisingly, this winter-hardy variety does well down to a nippy -20F degrees but loves the summer heat as well! An ideal hedge, foundation, or specimen plant, it is a standout against fences and large foundation walls, or in fire wise woodland areas. This blue beauty is exciting, whether it’s a lone blossom behind your ear or an entire bush admired from a distance. Pick these flowers with the assurance that 50 to 100 more buds will replace them throughout the summer season.
Until next week, I’ll see you at the garden center, where summer is not only shady but beautiful as well.