Trees for the High Desert

Marina's strawberry tree (Arbutus marina)

Marina’s strawberry tree (Arbutus marina)

Q: My daughter is building a house in California City, in the upper Antelope Valley. The area has a high-desert climate. I would like to give her about six trees to start her landscaping. These should include fruit trees, ornamental trees and windbreak trees. Can you give me ideas for hardy trees suitable for her area?
– Barbara Allshouse
A: Zone 11, which includes Palmdale, Lancaster, Mojave, Barstow, Twentynine Palms and Las Vegas, provides a favorable climate for many deciduous fruit trees, including plum, peach, apricot, cherry, apple, pear and pomegranate, as well as grape vines, olive, loquat and pistachio trees. Make sure you select varieties of each type of fruit tree that are compatible with your zone.
As far as ornamental trees are concerned, you really should consider the flowering peaches, plums, almonds and crab apples.
Other flowering trees that would grow well in your area include the common strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) with urn-shaped white flowers and bumpy yellow and red fruit; Marina’s strawberry tree (Arbutus marina), with pink flowers; the desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) with fragrant pink trumpet flowers; the silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) with feathery pink flower puffs; and the southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) with large, strong-scented, chaliced white blooms.
When it comes to windbreak trees, poplars are usually at the top of the list. When it comes to keeping the wind out, no trees do it better than these. The problem is their roots. Make sure your poplars are far from water lines and paved surfaces. I have seen adventitious shoots growing 100 feet away from the base of a poplar tree.
Other windbreak trees to consider for the Antelope Valley include Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica); California cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), whose bright green and pleasant-scented pyramidal dome never needs pruning; southern live oak (Quercus virginiana); and ‘Fan West’ and ‘Rio Grande’ ash (Fraxinus varieties).

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