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4 Low-Water Trees for Desert Landscapes

If you’re looking to add some greenery to a desert landscape, consider planting some low-water trees. Not only will they help beautify your yard, but they will also provide shade and reduce the heat island effect in your neighborhood.

When considering what to plant, remember to choose trees and plants that can thrive in our arid climate. In this blog post, we will discuss four trees that are perfect for low-water landscapes: Ironwood, Thevetia, Shamel Ash, Live Oak, as well as a bonus desert “tree,” the Ocotillo.

With a little planning, you can create a desert landscape that is stunningly beautiful while remaining water-thrifty!

Why is tree choice so important when planting in a desert climate?

Desert trees have to be tough to survive the extreme heat, strong winds, and little rainfall that characterize desert conditions. They also need to be able to store water so they can stay hydrated during long periods of drought.

If you plant a tree that is not well-suited for the desert climate, it is likely to die during a heatwave or drought. Not only is this a waste of money, but it can also be dangerous if the weakened tree falls over in high winds.

To avoid these problems, make sure to choose desert-adapted trees when deciding which trees to plant in your central Arizona front or backyard.

What are the best trees to plant in a desert landscape?

Besides drought hardiness, there are other things to consider when choosing the best trees for your landscaping goals. The first is whether you want a deciduous or evergreen tree. Deciduous trees are those that lose their leaves in the winter, while evergreens keep theirs year-round.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Deciduous trees provide shade in the summer but not in the winter when they are leafless. Evergreen trees provide shade year-round but may drop needles or flowers, which can be a nuisance if you have lawn furniture or a pool.

Another thing to consider is the size of the tree at maturity. Some desert trees grow to be very large, while others stay relatively small. Make sure to choose a size that fits your landscape and won’t overwhelm your yard!

Our four favorite desert trees:

1.  Ironwood Tree

The Ironwood tree is indigenous to the Sonoran desert and can tolerate long periods of drought and extreme heat making it ideally suited for desert landscapes. It’s one of the largest and oldest desert plants, reaching a mature height of approximately 25 feet.

Ironwood Tree in Phoenix Area

The Ironwood tree has long been used by Native Americans for a variety of purposes, including as a food source and in ceremonies. The wood of the Ironwood tree is very hard and strong, making it ideal for building projects.

Many species of Sonoran wildlife depend on the Ironwood tree for survival. This means that adding an Ironwood tree adds more than just shade and beauty, it adds desert birds and critters as well!

Ironwood Tree at a glance:

  • Foliage: Gray-green
  • Flowers: Lavender, bloom in the spring
  • Height: average 25′ at maturity

2.  Thevetia Tree

Thevetia peruviana, also known as the yellow oleander, is a desert tree that can be found throughout the southwestern United States. This evergreen tree has glossy green leaves and produces beautiful bright yellow flowers. Thevetia trees are hardy and can easily withstand the hot desert sun, making them an ideal choice for desert landscapes.

Thevetia Tree in Phoenix Area

Use the Thevetia tree as a beautiful accent tree, privacy screen, or windbreak. These desert trees are fast-growing and relatively easy to care for. Thevetia Trees prefer well-drained soil and should be planted in full sun. They are drought-tolerant and do not require much water once they are established.

Thevetia Tree at a glance:

  • Foliage: glossy green, evergreen
  • Flowers: yellow, blooming in warmer months
  • Height: 15 to 20′ at maturity

3.  Shamel Ash Tree

The Shamel Ash, sometimes called the Evergreen Ash, is a desert-adapted tree that is native to California and Arizona. While considered evergreen, the Shamel Ash may lose some or all of its leaves when temperatures drop below freezing. The Shamel Ash has beautiful green leaves and produces small white flowers in the spring. These desert trees can grow to be quite large, reaching heights of up to 50 feet!

Shamel Ash Tree in Phoenix Area

The Shamel Ash is an excellent choice for desert landscapes as it provides much-needed shade and is also resistant to pests and diseases, making it low-maintenance as well. This desert tree is also drought-tolerant and does not require much water once it is established.

Shamel Ash Tree at a glance:

  • Foliage: green, full canopy
  • Height: up to 50′ at maturity
  • Growth habit: Rapid growing, reaching ~25′ in 10 yrs.

4.  Live Oak Tree

The Live Oak is a desert-adapted tree that is native to California, Arizona, and Mexico. It is an evergreen tree with dark green leaves. The Live Oak produces small acorns which are an important food source for many desert animals. The Live Oak is another desert tree that grows to be quite large, reaching heights of up to 40 feet.

Live Oak Tree in Phoenix Area

Live Oaks are an excellent choice for those wanting to add shade and beauty to their desert landscapes year-round. Live Oak Trees are easy to grow and are tolerant of a wide range of soils. They are also drought-tolerant and do not require much water once they are established. They can be planted in full sun or partial shade and are resistant to pests and diseases.

If you are looking for a large desert tree that will provide beauty and shade for your landscape, the Live Oak is an excellent choice!

Live Oak Tree at a glance:

  • Foliage: dark green, full canopy
  • Height: up to 40′ at maturity
  • Growth habit: slow to moderate grower

5. Bonus Tree – Ocotillo

The Ocotillo isn’t what one typically thinks of when thinking of a tree, but in the desert heat, even the shade of an Ocotillo is welcoming! Sometimes called Candlewood, Slimwood, Coachwhip, Vine Cactus, Flaming Sword, and Jacob’s Staff, Ocotillos are an excellent choice for desert landscapes.

Ocotillo in Phoenix Area

This desert plant has long spiny leaves growing from its branches and produces flowers in the springtime before shedding its leaves again for the winter months.  The bright red flowers make the Ocotillo easy to identify while adding a bold splash of color to the environment.

This beautifully distinct plant is indigenous to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and requires little water once established. Being drought-hardy allows Ocotillos to bloom reliably every year!

Ocotillo at a glance:

  • Foliage: Spiny branches, thorns, small green leaves
  • Height: up to 20′ at maturity
  • Where there are Ocotillos there will be hummingbirds


Many desert-adapted trees can provide beauty, shade, and privacy to your desert landscape, but If you want to add greenery without spending much time watering, the five desert trees we discussed here are ideal. Ironwood, Thevetia, Shamel Ash, Live Oak, and Ocotillo are all great choices for desert landscapes. When choosing a desert tree for your landscape, be sure to consider the tree’s size at maturity, growth habit, and water needs. With a little research, you can find the perfect desert tree for your landscape!

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