by Bill Hodge, El Paso Master Gardener
Everyone knows what an evergreen tree looks like, right? When most people here think of evergreen trees, the first to come to mind is the Afghan pine (Pinus eldarica). The Afghan pine is a great tree for El Paso because it does well in our hot, dry climate with alkaline soils. It is a medium-sized, drought tolerant tree growing to 40-50 feet tall with soft, dark green needles. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It can be used as a windbreak or on a border.
However, not so fast! Even though the Afghan pine is an excellent tree for El Paso, we also have some other great evergreen trees that may surprise even the seasoned gardener. Here are some excellent choices:
Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) is a 10- to 15-foot multi-trunked shrub that may also be trained into a small tree. It requires little water and thrives in either full sun or partial shade. This plant’s thick, glossy leaves and fragrant, purple blooms in early spring make it a treasured accent in every landscape. Its seeds are very hard and are poisonous.
Whitethorn acacia (Vachellia constricta) is a small tree that is native to El Paso. It has fine lacy foliage and fragrant, ball-shaped yellow flowers that bloom in early spring and again in late summer. Once established, this tree is low water-use and does well in full
sun. But be very careful when deciding where to plant this tree—it has large white thorns!
Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) is a fast-growing, medium-sized tree that uses low to medium water and can be planted in the full sun. It is native to the Southwest and can be found occasionally in the wild. The foliage grows in dense sprays varying in color from dull gray-green to bright blue-green. It has a Christmas-tree like appearance and lends itself to use as a wind break.
Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) is also fast-growing, low water-use and is very heat tolerant. This tree grows tall and slender and is often used in tight or narrow places in the landscape or as a divider between properties.
Italian stone pine (Pinus pinea) is often called an umbrella pine due to its shape. It grows to 50-70 feet tall and is dark green in color. After it becomes established, it is heat and drought tolerant as well.
Alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana) is slow growing in the wild, but given a little extra water, it becomes a medium- to fast-growing tree. It has dark green foliage, can grow up to 50 feet tall and lives happily in the alkaline soil in El Paso.
Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) is a 25- to 35-foot single-trunked tree that needs well-drained soil. Its needles are tiny points or scales and are blue-green or silvery in color. The berries on this tree are small with a blue waxy coating and the bark is thin or fibrous.
Since many evergreen trees do well in our soil and are heat and drought tolerant, they are a wonderful addition to most landscapes in our area.