Shade Trees for the High Desert


High desert is a term that refers to inland deserts of the American West that occur at high elevations of 3,000 to 6,500 feet above sea level. These include the Great Basin Desert and the Mojave Desert. Given their higher latitudes, high deserts are also referred to as cold deserts. High deserts generally have a pleasant climate with warm temperatures and low humidity. A number of shade trees are well adapted to growing in the high desert environment.

California Black Oak

  • California black oak (Quercus kellogii) is a large tree that thrives in the high desert. It is well adapted to growing at elevations of up to 7,000 feet above sea level. The tree grows to a mature height of 80 feet with a 25-foot spread and grows well in a variety of fertile, well-drained soil and in areas of full sun to partial shade. California black oak is very effective for soil erosion control. The deciduous tree is low maintenance and the tree acorns attract squirrels and strong beaked birds. The tree is easily propagated with seed. Common diseases include oak leaf fungus, sudden oak death and oak anthracnose.

Blue Palo Verde

  • Blue palo verde (Parkinsonia floridium) is a native tree of the Sonoran and Mohave Desert and thrives in high desert elevations of up to 4,000 feet. The tree has a moderate growth rate and grows to a mature height of up to 25 feet with a 15-foot spread. Blue palo verde serves well as a medium sized shade tree for smaller landscapes and grows well in areas of full sun to partial shade. The tree has a scarred bark and an extensive root system. It is commonly used as a low-maintenance erosion control tree. Blue palo verde is relatively short lived with a lifespan of 20 to 40 years.

Scrub Oak

  • Scrub oak (Quercus gambelii) is also referred to as gambel oak. Scrub oak is a slow growing, medium-sized shade tree that achieves a mature height of up to 30 feet. The tree is a native of the southern Rocky Mountains and thrives in high desert elevations of 6,000 feet or more. Scrub oak grows best in areas of full sun to light shade and in a variety of well-drained soils including dry, decomposed granite. The tree is deciduous with alternate, simple, 3- to 6-inch-long foliage. Scrub oak is a low-maintenance tree that's often used for erosion control and barrier planting.

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