The Desert Willow

Tree of the Month: The Desert Willow

Learn about this drought-tolerant, Central Texas tree and how to identify it.

Growing plants in the Texas summer heat can be a difficult task.  Many plants that flourish in other parts of the country have a hard time with our clay soils, 100+ degree days, and low rainfall.  Some people turn to xeriscaping their lawns to reduce water usage and others turn to native plants.  Fortunately, there is a small group of trees that can be chosen to meet both of these criteria.

What if I told you that you could plant a flowering tree that attracts all kinds of pollinators, uses very little water, and flowers all summer?

If that sounds good to you, the Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis, is the tree for you.

The Desert Willow

Desert Willow TreeThis small tree can grow to a maximum height of around thirty feet and has a canopy of approximately 20-25 feet when fully grown out.  Pruning the Desert Willow can be as easy as letting its multiple trunks grow freely or pruning it extensively can make it appear to have a single trunk, like an oak or maple tree.

The Desert Willow has long thin, deciduous, lancelet-shaped leaves that it will loses in the Fall.  Summer through early Fall, purple trumpet-like flowers bloom and attract a variety of native bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Those pollinators will create seed pods that dry out and crack open into white cotton-like tufts.

Tree Care

Local nurseries, hardware and home improvement stores can supply Desert Willow trees and are relatively easy to find.  As with any new planting, make sure to dig a hole that is appropriately sized to house your new tree.  The hole should be approximately twice the diameter of the tree and deep enough to bury the tree to its flare (the place at the base of the trunk where it widens into roots).

Plan to water your new tree during the cooler hours of the morning (before 10 a.m.) or after the sun has set (after 6 p.m.) daily until the tree is established.  The growing season for the Desert Willow is between early Spring to late Fall, and in dormant times should be watered once a week.

The general rule-of-thumb is to use 10 gallons of water for every inch of the tree’s diameter.  Since the Desert willow can have multiple trunks, consider the diameter of the largest one, and add ½ of the diameter for each additional trunk.

If properly planted and taken care of, the Desert Willow can be a low-maintenance, but beautiful part of your world for many years to come!

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