Searching for Drought Tolerant Trees

Trees to Experiment With

Dove Ranch doesn’t get much rain. In fact, the Salt Lake Valley gets twice as much rain as Park Valley where the ranch is located. That doesn’t mean trees can’t grow at the ranch, but it does mean they need help getting started. A lot of trees can survive up there as long as they get extra water until they are established. There are a lot of trees that can handle low water environments, but fewer that can handle winters, too. So, my search for Park Valley friendly trees has been slow. Still, I’m having some success. Here is a list of some interesting drought tolerant trees I’ve been researching for possible planting on Dove Ranch.

Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis) – Colorado pinyons can thrive off even less water than the Junipers that already populate Park Valley. When they’re small, they might get eaten by the cattle that graze across the land, but I’m still planning to hand plant a couple of thousand seeds this fall all over the 80 acre ranch. I’ll draft my wife or kids to help out. These trees are slow growing, but shouldn’t need any special attention to grow in Park Valley. Best of all, the pine nuts they will produce many years from now are delicious. (I ate a few of the seeds, just to make sure I liked the taste.) These trees live for hundreds of years, but are slow growers. I have to accept that I might never see these trees get very tall, but my kids might.

Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica) – I’m very excited about this one. It only needs 10″ of rain annually. It should grow nicely up at the ranch. It isn’t extremely cold tolerant, but should handle winters up there nicely most years. These trees start dying if exposed to below -13 degrees Fahrenheit. That should be rare even in Park Valley. Park Valley usually stays above 10 degrees even in January.

Lacebark Elm aka Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) – These are one of the useless, but pretty trees I plan to test out. They are good for shade, but the wood will poison meat if it is used for smoking it. They don’t produce any fruit or nuts. But, they have the coolest looking trunks you will ever see. They get a camo design going in the bark. I love it. Lacebark Elms are faster growing than Bur Oaks, but they need 16″ of rain annually, instead of just 15″. I’m pretty sure I can get them established and keep them alive until I get a well up at the ranch.

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) – These oaks produce massive acorns, when watered regularly. When given as little water as you see at Dove Ranch, they become stunted and more of a scrub oak. They need about 15″ of rain annually, so a little more than I see up at the ranch. However, they should be easy to get established and keep alive until I get a water well up there. I’m looking for trees that need no supplementary water, or only one visit from me per month. Bur Oak should work well in the area I’ll be setting up first.

Utah Serviceberry (Amelanchier utahensis) – I’ve lived in Utah for nearly 30 years, and never heard of these fruit bearing trees. They look a bit like Russian olives, so I may have seen them many times, and had no clue what they were. No one I’ve spoken to so far has heard of them, either. However, they only need 12″ of rain annually once established. I’ll try out 1000 seeds, and see if I can get them growing up at Dove Ranch.

Seaberry aka Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) -Sources claim they need at least 20″ of rain annually to get established, and that they can survive on a lot less once established. Dove Ranch only gets about 9″-12″ inches per year, so I’ll plant these seeds on the ranch and see what happens. I’ll also plant some at my house in pots and see if I can get them to grow before planting and babying them along. I only have 100 seeds, so I may need to get more seeds to do any real testing. The trees come in male and female varieties. The males send up shoots to spread to new locations. The females produce the berries. Also, these trees absolutely hate shade, even when small, so all sagebrush needs to be cleared from areas I plant them.

Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) – Ponderosa pine grow to be huge, and only need 15″ of water annually once established. They grow to over 200 feet tall at maturity, and 6 feet in diameter at the base. They live for hundreds of years, too. Obviously, I wouldn’t live to see any get that big, but it would be cool to know someone may look up at the massive tree someday and say, “Wow!” I’m guessing there are other trees I should be looking into. The Utah Serviceberry totally caught me off guard. If anyone has any suggestions, please leave a comment below!

Websites to check out …

The Weber Basin website has a nice, though very incomplete list of plants that can handle low water conditions. http://www.weberbasin.com/conservation/index.php/publications/plant-lists-a-searches

The Utah.gov site has a nice list of drought tolerant trees and plants. They like to call it “water-wise”, I suppose in an effort to shame people into not planting anything regional plant snobs look down their noses at. I find the term “water-wise” extremely offensive, personally. It has too much “New Speak” stink about it. http://waterwiseplants.utah.gov/default.asp?p=PlantInfo&Plant=90&Cart=

This is a very nice link for finding trees that might work in my area. I see trees missing from the list when I search, but it does have a nice selection. http://lyra.ifas.ufl.edu/NorthernTrees/NorthernTreeSelector.swf

This might be a nice place to get tree seeds. I haven’t ordered from them yet, but the selection and information isn’t bad. http://www.datreestore.com/index.html

I absolutely love the Arbor Day Foundation. You can order tiny trees from them, too. However, I’d only do that during cold parts of the year so the trees aren’t killed in transit. http://www.arborday.org/

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