Shade Tree Types: Desert Willow

Mon, October 13, 2014 11:50 AM | Danielle Corral

Over the next six weeks we are introducing the types of free trees available through the Shade Tree Program by providing some background information and care requirements, in order to help you decide which trees you want for your home and to learn more about desert-adapted trees.

This week we are starting off with the Desert Willow, as this is one of the more popular trees because of the beautiful pink and purple flower blooms (pictured below).  

 

Desert Willows are native to the U.S. southwest and northern Mexico. Their native name, mimbre, means willow-like. Desert Willows aren’t, in fact, true willows as they below to a family of blooming plants. Desert Willows are drought-tolerant and fast-growing, with some reaching heights as tall as 25 feet.  They can be grown as a multi-stemmed shrub or pruned as a tree.

From spring to summer, the Desert Willow blooms into white, purple, and pale pink trumpet-shaped flowers. By early fall,  the flowers are replaced by long, thin seedpods (pictured below). Medicinal teas can be made from the dried flowers, leaves and bark that help regulate glucose metabolism and sooth coughs. The wood has often been used for fence posts, houses, and thatch roofs. From late November to March, the tree drops its leaves and often customers contact us because the tree appears dead.  This behavior is completely normal as part of the dormancy process our desert-adapted trees undergo during the fall and winter (refer to our blog on Tree Dormancy for more information). 

Care and Maintenance:

The Desert Willow sapling you will receive comes in a 5-gallon base and tends to be 3-6 feet tall (pictured right).  Plant your sapling in a spot that will receive full sun or partial shade. During the first year, make sure to water the tree deeply--down to at least 3 feet. During spring and fall/winter, water it once approximately every 14 days but during the summer increase the watering to once every week.  Refer to our blog on How to Properly Water Your Tree for more information on watering techniques. 

After the first year, prune the tree in spring just as leaves being to grow to remove any winter damage and to shape it. Below is a picture of one of our customer’s Desert Willow almost a year after receiving it from a workshop.  She had recently pruned it into the tree shape she wanted.  

If you choose the Desert Willow as one (or both) of the free Shade Trees for your home, you will enjoy the beautiful blooms and although the tree does shed its blooms and pods, it is moderate compared to other desert-adapted trees.  Also, Desert Willows tend to be resistant to pests and disease. The main drawback with the tree is that it may not grow as tall and wide (its canopy) as our other trees, such as the Mesquite or Willow Acacia.    

If you have a Desert Willow or are thinking of getting one and have questions, please post them on our Ask the Arborist forum here and our volunteer Arborist, Erik, will answer them. 

References:

Erik the Arborist, on our forum:  http://vpaaz.org/STForum

http://www.horticultureunlimited.com/landscape-plants/desert-willow.html

http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=CHLI2

http://www.gardenguides.com/92697-desert-willow-trees.html

http://desertswest.blogspot.com/2010/03/desert-willow-and-blue-skyskywatch.html

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