Trees That Grow Well In Dry And Hot Arizona


Trees are a great asset to the Southwestern landscape. They provide shade, oxygen and even clean the air by removing carbon II oxide from it. Trees also provide habitat for many animals and insects, including birds and butterflies.

Arizona is generally a desert with hot, dry summer at the lowest elevations and cold winter at the highest elevations. The low desert of Arizona includes cities in and around Phoenix, including Glendale, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, Peoria, Apache Junction, Buckeye, Fountain Hills, Tolleson, Surprise, Sun City, Queen Creek, and Goodyear.

Growing trees or anything to maturity in Arizona is not an easy task as it is always the case in other places like California. It is tedious, back-breaking and if done incorrectly, can cost you a lot of time and money. There are a variety of trees that can grow very well in Arizona with little to no maintenance at all. We’ll cover some of the most common types below.


Palo Verde

Scientific Name: Parkinsonia florida

Size: This shrub or small tree matures quickly but rarely survives to 100 years. It grows to heights of between 25-40 feet, appearing more decumbent in overall form.

Characteristics: This is a deciduous tree, shedding its foliage for most of the year, only leafing out after rainfall. Its plant’s trunk, branches and leaves are gray-green in color. Once established, Palo verde is extremely drought tolerant and survives on low amounts of moisture.

Joshua Tree

Scientific Name: Yucca brevifolia

Size: Joshua trees grow upright and although most have several branches and can attain a height of up to 40 feet.

Characteristics: Joshua trees resembles several other types of Yucca plants such as Mojave Yucca, with sword-like green leaves that are somewhat stiff. Joshua trees generally bloom as early as February and may continue flowering through may. Climatic extremes like those of Arizona supports Joshua tree’s dramatic life expression.

 California Fan Palm

Scientific Name: Washingtonia filifera

Other Names: Desert fan palm, California palm, American cotton palm or Arizona fan palm.

Size: Most California fan grows between 50-70 feet tall with attractive grayish-green fronts. 

Characteristics: This hardy palm tree features a thick gray or tan trunk with a tuft of erect spiny fans. When the fronds die, they remain attached and drop down to cloak the trunk in a wide skirt. Because of its size, it more often grown as a street or park tree, rather than placed in an urban garden.

Alligator Juniper

Scientific Name: Juniperus deppeana

Other Names: Checkerbark juniper, Mountain cedar, Oakbark cedar, Thickbark cedar etc.

Size: The tree often grows to between 30-60 feet tall.

Characteristic: This Juniper species is characterized by one central trunk and a unique cracked bark resembling alligator skin. In other words, the stem bark is ash-gray on the outside and dark brown to black on the inside, deeply fissured or furrowed into checkered plates. It is heat and drought tolerant and will simply stop growing during drought conditions and remain dormant until moisture resumes. It can live for more than 100 years with a trunk diameter of more than 5 feet.

Arizona Ash

Scientific Name: Fraximus velutina

Other Names: Desert Ash, Smooth Ash, Leatherleaf Ash, Velvet Ash or Fresno Ash

Size: Arizona ash grows upright and reaches heights of between 35 and 50 feet.

Characteristic: This species of ash tree is deciduous in nature and grows upright, stately free with a rounded canopy of deep green leaves, and light gray smooth bark that becomes textural as the tree matures. This is a relatively drought tolerant and provides a great shade in summer. It can be used for residential landscapes or in large residential settings in combination with other deciduous or evergreen plants.

Emory Oak

Scientific Name: Quercus emoryi

Other Names: Desert Live Oak, Roble Negro, Apache Oak.

Size: This is a large shrub or small tree from 10-30 feet tall.

Characteristics: Emory oak is a type of oak tree that typically grows in dry hills at moderate altitudes.Emory oak has a similar leaf appearance to Arizona White Oak.Leaves are dark green, oval with sharped toothed edges. Turning gold or yellow and dropping before new growth in late spring. The tree is extremely heat and drought tolerant and great for residential landscapes in combination with other deciduous plants.

Desert Ironwood

Scientific Name: Olneya tesota

Other Names: Palo fierro, Iron stick

Size: This tree grows to heights of about 33 feet with average trunk diameter of about 24 inches.

Characteristics: Desert ironwood usually grow multiple trunks and its strong branches produce a wide canopy that can span 30 feet in diameter. The leaves are grayish-green whereas the bark is smooth but becomes cracked and shaggy with age. Desert ironwood dramatic character creates a good focal point in entries or act as a signature tree in high-visibility areas.

Velvet Mesquite

Scientific Name: Prosopis velutina

Size: Velvet mesquite can grow between 25 and 45 feet tall with a matching spread.

Characteristics: The mesquite is deciduous, losing its leaves in winter and leaves out again in the spring when all danger of frost is passed. It has rough, reddish-brown bark and spiny branches. Evolved to grow in arid regions, their roots spread wide in search of water and can consume moisture needed by neighboring plants.

 Arizona Walnut

Scientific Name: Juglans major

Other Names: Arizona black walnut

Size: It is a small to medium monoecious tree that grows between 30 and 50 feet tall with stout branches and a rounded crown.

Characteristics: The tree features a single stout trunk or in some cases several slender trunks. It is also characterized with a furrowed bark on the trunk, gray twigs and reddish-brown new growth.  

Desert Willow

Scientific Name: Chilopsis linearis

Size: Grows between 15 and 40 feet tall.

Characteristics: The desert willow grows into a shrub or tree and adds color and fragrance to a landscape and at the same time providing shade. The tree features many trees, thin drooping leaves and fragrant trumpet flowers on the branch tips. The desert willow is also disease and drought resistant; and can fit well when planted as a backyard or front-yard tree. 

Arizona Cypress

Scientific Name: Cupressus arizonica

Size: This tree grows to heights of 25-70 ft with trunk diameter of at least 25 inches.

Characteristics: The Arizona cypress is a conical, broadly pyramidal growing conifer with layered branches and lacy, silver-blue foliage that billows in the wind. It a great for windbreaks, screens and as specimen tree.

Fremont Cottonwood

Scientific Name: Populus fremontii

Size: This is a large tree growing to heights of between 35 and 90 feet tall with trunk diameter of at least 1.5 feet.

Characteristics: Fremont cottonwood is deciduous in nature and characterized with large wide spreading limbs with nearly triangular leaves and small seeds. The bark is smooth when young, becoming deeply fissured with whitish cracked bark on old trees. This tree is extremely drought tolerant and grows very well in places with desert like conditions like Arizona.

Bur Oak

Scientific Name: Quercus macrocarpa

Other Name: Mossycup oak, Mossycup white oak, Blue oak or Scrub oak

Size: Bur oak is a relatively large deciduous tree growing between 30 and 60 feet with large trunks.

Characteristics: Bur oak is drought resistant, long-lived and reasonably fast-grower. Its acorns have a bur or mossy appearance hence the common name. It usually does not show strong fall color, although fine golden hues are occasionally seen. It is tolerant of drought and adapts well to urban settings.

Narrowleaf Cottonwood

Scientific Name: Populus angustifolia

Other Names: Willow-leaved cottonwood

Size: Narrowleaf cottonwood grows between 30 and 50 feet tall.

Characteristics: This tree grows in a pyramidal form with narrow leaves than turn yellow in fall. It is fast growing, short lived and has an aggressive root system that make it tolerant of dry condition and prolonged drought. Other than in dry and hot environments, narrowleaf cottonwood also grows well in hilly plains and rocky mountain places.

Ponderosa Pine

Scientific Name: Pinus ponderosa

Other Names: Bull pine, Blackjack pine, Western yellow-pine or filipinus.

Size: It usually grows 20 to 30 metres, although it can reach 50 metres with a diameter of at least 0.5 meters.  

Characteristics: Penderosa pine is a large coniferous pine tree with straight trunk and a wide open, irregular cylindrical crown. The bark on the young trees is blackish or dark-red brown, furrowed and on mature trees yellow brown to russet broken up into scaly plates separated by deep, irregular fissures.

Pinyon Pine

Scientific Name: Pinon pine

Size: This pine tree generally grows between 10 and 35 feet with a pyramidal or spreading shape.

Characteristics: Pinyon pine is a gnarled evergreen with horizontal branches. It is symmetrical and bushy when young, develops a flat crown with age. It is a hardy, drought tolerant tree, suited for rock gardens and xeriscaping. One disadvantages of pinon pine is that it is very difficult to grow.

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