Tree options for succulent gardens are many. We look at five:
Summer has arrived, which has us thinking of shade and the coming moments when we will be fleeing for cover from an oppressive sun.
At the same time, feeling compelled to seek refuge indoors is not particularly desirable. Do you have any cool or cool-ish zones in your succulent garden? Or, if not some majestic, light-blocking tree canopy, areas where more wispy specimens soften the sun’s impact for your fleshy leaved light lovers?
Provided you have room or can make some, it’s never too late to throw some shade onto the landscape or patio — and, by the way, our “throwing shade” has zero to do with the “insulting someone” version. Appropriate choices generally come down to aesthetics, function, and ecology. Will the tree fit into the look of a space filled with kalanchoes, crassulas, sedums, and cacti? Will it benefit its neighbors? Does it have similar water and soil preferences? Gardeners looking to make their habitat hospitable to succulents that want minimal direct sun/heat may desire a bigger tree with dense or dense-ish foliage. Bright-light-craving succulents, though, would prefer a more airy companion that takes just enough of the afternoon edge off.
Keep in mind that your special space will change as the tree grows and fills out. And, of course, it takes years to realize full impact. With those variables in mind, let’s get to some tree ideas already.
Hercules tree aloe (Aloe ‘Hercules’)
Dragon tree will just have to settle for the top photo, because we couldn’t resist sticking a tree aloe on this list. True to its name, this hybrid is a vigorous grower, eventually hitting 30 feet and boasting thick, sculptured stems and triangular, blue-gray-to-green leaves. You shouldn’t have to sell anyone on this tough guy being suitable for a garden of succulents and cacti. Naturally, use it to add height and a dramatic silhouette effect. It’s also quite hardy. Mammillaria species should match up well, especially the woolly white ones.
Bailey acacia (Acacia baileyana)
Like succulents, Bailey acacia enjoys light, well-drained soil, but it’s not all that picky. It also takes minimal watering once established. The tree features a more traditional, dense, evergreen canopy, but at a modest, 20 to 30 feet height and spread. Aromatic yellow flowers in winter-spring, with feathery, silvery, blue-green leaves. Spring pruning at base helps it stay on “tree track.” The white leaves of Senecio haworthii ‘Woolly Senecio’ should look extra swell as a perimeter contrast element — keep them spaced enough so that the acacia doesn’t infringe on the senecio’s desire for sun.
Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis)
Shh, it’s not really a willow, but just try not to blurt out “I want that” when you see it in peak bloom. Bees get lost in the fragrant, trumpet-shaped, dark pink or purple, summer flowers. This deciduous, ornamental fast-grower is accustomed to summer thunderstorms, so some warm-season hydration is perfectly acceptable. Listed height potential ranges from 15 to 40 feet. Probably best to hope for 25-ish, and about as wide. Must deal with seedpods, though.
Blue Ice Arizona cypress
(Cupressus arizonica glabra ‘Blue Ice’)
This pyramidal-growing evergreen specimen may strike some as an odd, “forest-y” choice. It’s a conifer, after all, but it’s also a heat lover that can look right at home in southwest or Mediterranean settings. The silver-blue foliage sports a crystalline texture that looks amazingly like ice. Maximize the contrast factor by pairing it with earth tone hardscape or fiery red plant life (like say Euphorbia trigona ‘Royal Red’ or a potted massing of high-altitude forest dweller Peperomia graveolens). Grows to 30 feet tall by about 15 feet wide.
Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
Because everyone needs to snack at least a little, are we right? Or maybe you can take up making authentic grenadine from scratch. This shrub to small tree is here, though, because it’s adapted to areas with cool winters and hot summers and is not fond of humidity. And the flowers absolutely rock. While pomegranates are drought and heat tolerant, fruiting will suffer without irrigation during hot spells. The plant can handle most soils and can reach a rounded 20 to 30 feet.
That is but an introduction to a quintet of possible tree selections for your succulent garden — a springboard for developing a deeper understanding before planting a tree or three. Yanking out failures and starting over is no fun.