Willows :The Growing Plant of Desert – This plant is actually a large shrub and not a willow
The desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), although not a member of the willow family, certainly looks like one. In fact, the Spanish name for the plant, mimbre, means “willow-like.”
It makes a wonderful screen and provides cover for wildlife and shade for humans. In the spring, the graceful, lacy branches sway in the breeze, and in the winter, its bare bones make a great backdrop for a snowy landscape. The plant is also ideal for eroding hillsides and washes.
The desert willow can get a little unruly, but the secret is to prune after it’s lost its leaves. This will let you better visualize what the tree will look like when leafed.
It’s deciduous, and a native to the southwest, as far east as Texas, and as far west as southern California. It makes a great base structure for your garden. In nature, the plant is classed as a phreatophyte. (Phreatophytes are deep-rooted plants that obtain water from a permanent ground supply or from the water table.) Despite this fact, the tree is very drought-tolerant and cold-resistant. Cultivars have been grown as far north as Denver. It can grow in alkaline soil, sandy or even clay soil.
The desert willow has narrow, alternate, light-green leaves that are three to six inches long. The leaves have very pointed ends. The tree’s trunk will grow to six inches or more in diameter and is dark brown.
The flowers are large and fragrant and resemble orchids. The flowers have white rims or edges and pink or purple throats. Generally, they bloom April to August.
The fruit is brown pods resembling a cigar, growing between four and eight inches long. Inside are a number of flat seeds.
Although most data suggests the tree should be grown below 5,000 feet, it has been grown successfully above 7,000 feet.
You can germinate desert willow seeds easily. If you’d prefer to purchase a plant, you can do that from a number of nurseries that specialize in xeric, southwestern or drought-tolerant plants.
Plant the desert willow as you would any other tree. The hole should be twice the diameter, and as deep as, of the root ball. Replace the soil and do not amend. Water deeply.
Water deeply once or twice a month and you’ll be rewarded with two to three feet of growth per year. Go easy on the fertilizer though. Too much fertilizer will promote a too much disorderly growth of branches and before you know it, you’ll have a tangled mess instead of a sculptured and interesting tree. The unruly growth will also attract aphids, which can do considerable damage to the tree.