Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Acacia Anuera

The Acacia Anuera, also called Mulga Acacia, is truly one of the most functional and reliable trees to use in arid landscapes.   Native to the the dry outbacks of Australia, it is no stranger to rocky soil, long droughts, below freezing temperatures and extreme heat. For most homeowners, the heat of the Arizona summer is generally the main concern for plant choice- while the cold winters are overlooked.  Rightfully so, we all dread the summer and 115 degree temperatures !  Many plants, however, tend to have more issues with the cold that the heat here in the desert.  A few nights of of freezing temperatures and the Tree Doctor's phones are ringing off the hook with calls about "coastal" trees like Ficus, Jacaranda, Orchid and many more.  They die back considerably (sometimes 50-75%), losing many years of growth, water and resources in one night.  The sanity of the homeowner is also at stake; trying to rig up lights, blankets, small fires to combat the frost.  I have seen many methods of protecting trees, mostly Ficus.

Now, moving on to the Acacia Anuera.  This tree is fearless to both extremes.  In below freezing temperatures  every leaf remains in tact, on the tree, and with no frost damage.  In 115 temperatures, it's the same story.  It is very rare for a true evergreen tree to remain in tact throughout the season.  In fact, there really are only a handful of them.  So to add to that, this Acacia is also clean, virtually maintenance free, very drought tolerant, and can provide some nice shade without a very invasive root system.  They also add a nice contrast to a design, both in color and texture.

This tree is perfect for residential use or commercial use.  Whether in a parking lot or shading a driveway, they perform consistently for us time and time again.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Paths can be a very important part in any Arizona landscape project. The obvious reason is function, they get us and our guests from point "A" to point "B" safely and effectively. But alas, there is another, very good "pro" to creating paths in the landscape. It gives the design a "flow" and the plants an outline in which to be positioned - all working together. It also guides our eyes along the terrain, allowing us to wonder and look beyond where we are standing into the garden.
So weather the path is used frequently or not, sometimes it just makes sense to incorporate one into the design.

The above path is from a recent landscape design in Chandler, Arizona.
The Flagstone is called "chocolate" and the steps are kept as large and as close as possible for easy strolling. This particular path actually leads to a very nice paver patio with seating and movable fire pit. The whole project turned out quite unique and the path really gets a good bit of credit in my book.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I am "Cereus" -Two Interesting Arizona Cacti

Pictured above are two of my favorite cacti for Arizona landscape design. To left is a Mexican Fence Post Cactus - Pachycereus, marginatus - and to the right is a Totem Pole Cactus - Pachycereus schottii f. monstrosus. They are columnar cacti which means they grow vertically, and have "spears" as you can plainly see. Cereus is the genus of both and any cacti with that the genus are generally going to be columnar and upright growing.

The Mexican Fence Post pictured at left was planted as part of a xeriscape design in Scottsdale.
These columnar cacti are great for those people who may not "love" cacti as much as I do. They are not very thorny, (only small spines on the edges but I can grab them with my bare hands easily) they are usually quite symmetrical and balanced, and they have a darker green color with an interesting white stripe. Definitely unique and great for a focal point or as a tree substitute in a smaller landscape. I really love to cluster boulders around them along with some Angelita Daisy or other small flowering plant.

The Totem Pole pictured at right was planted as part of a desert landscape design in Fountain Hills, Arizona. This "cereus" cacti is great for the quirkier of folks. Its is thornless, which is a plus for those that are just starting to appreciate cacti. It has very random shapes and really no two ever look alike. Totem Pole are also a great focal point, great near the house, and again I like to surround them with boulders and small flowering plants.

Both of these cacti are so useful in Arizona landscapes. They give character, size, and a really unique shape to work with. Both are very low water use and can also be maintained easily by removing "spears" as they get too tall or wide. Cuttings of these cacti are easily harvested and transplanted around the yard or given to friends and neighbors. Cereusly, try them out.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Pictured above are a few Acacia Salicina, AKA "Willow Acacia". I took these particular pictures in Gilbert, but it is not unusual to see them used throughout newer (1-20 years old) developments in Mesa, Chandler, Scottsdale, and others, both residential and commercial. Very often, I would say 1/3, or more, they look like the ones above. For some reason they are used as parking lot and street trees a lot. I just don't get it.

OK, so before I go on breaking down just how bad of a choice planting these trees in Arizona Landscapes can be -especially in above mentioned situations- let me say that every tree has it's place and I am not knocking the tree, the way in which it is used. The trees don't choose where and by whom they are planted !

Cons to Acacia Salicina for city use:

1. Require a lot of trimming/maintenance (which also means lots of man-power, dump trips, etc)
2. Branches are quite likely to break in the wind because of rapid, erratic growth
3. VERY shallow (and invasive) root system (you can see the surface root top left, just waiting for a combination of rain and wind - hmmm... Arizona Monsoons? This is one of the most common trees you see blown over during "micro bursts" or even moderate storms)
4. Inconsistent growth rates, inconsistent structures in general. Not a plus for a city street tree or providing shade.
5. Consistently produce pollen, pods, cycle through leaves, creating a need for more maintenance, clean-up, gas blowers, dump trips, etc. (mess level - 8.5/10)

So after all this hard work, keeping it in line, cleaning up, dealing with emergency service bills ($) for broken branches and fallen trees, here is the toughest part to swallow.......drum roll......
A lot of these trees, after all the investment our tax dollars (or personal dollars) and the energy of the maintenance crews put in..... A very large amount of them will have to be replaced, thus requiring costs of removal -labor, hauling, dump again, costs of buying a new tree, labor to plant it. And finally our city's or our neighborhood's maturity and character (which is SO essential, especially in the rapidly growing, culture struggling to keep up Valley we live in) starts all over after all this work ! And it's quite possible the replacement could be another Salicina !

Now I am feeling bad for harping on the tree. It didn't decide to come from Australia to Arizona. Somebody realized they were easy to grow, fast growing, and inexpensive. ($$) This is similar to what seems to have been a Eucalyptus craze in the eighties. And the more current Sissoo over-use :)

I will end with some pro's: fast growing, beautiful weeping look, great for farms or riversides, especially in Australia :) See, isn't that better !

Adam Bruce

PS - I don't want to be cynical often in this blog, but this has been bothering me for about a decade. Please hire a professional to help you select trees and locations, it makes a big difference for all of our futures.

PSS - Another culprit with strikingly similar issues is the Chilean Mesquite (there are many types of Mesquites that grow well here and are reliable, it's just this particular one and it's over-use that is many times a true waste of resources)

Phoenix landscape design Scottsdale landscape design Chandler landscape design

Monday, April 4, 2011

Arizona Landscaping; Some Very Special Caciti/Succulents

In this one picture, a lot of the different textures, shapes, and colors available to an Arizona landscape designer are shown. Let me 1st tell you what all is pictured above, from nearest to furthest away with a short description and then I will rant about it a little:

1 - Left corner Aloe, a "Blue Elf" I think (just the tips are shown) - dark and light green contrast, flowers orange/yellow at the tips of interesting "stalks".

2 - Next to the right is the Agave Parryi (such a useful Agave in designs) provides an almost perfectly symmetrical shape and, as you can see, brilliant (and year round :) blue color.

3 -Next to the right - the fuzzy looking vertical ones - Cleistocactus strausii or "Silver Torch". Again, provides year round color (white of course), beautiful pink flowers in the spring, and an a unique shape and texture as well.

4- Behind the Silver Torch is an Argentine Giant. They have an AMAZING flower in the spring that makes everyone drop their jaw ... everytime. There is a picture in our potrfolio of the Trico Cereus, which is quite similar

5 - To the far left you have the native Ferocactus wislizeni or Fishhook Barrel. With its red "hooks" and yellow fruit, round shape AND orangish flowers. Yes, it brings a lot to the landscape.

6- In the background you have the Green Desert Spoon (wispy one), a Purple Prickly Pear, and some more Agave.

So... the point I am trying to make here is that there is plenty of character, color, texture and style to create a really beautiful, diverse landscape using all cacti/succulents whilst NOT using all the water from the Colorado River to grow a few Hibiscus or Ficus that will freeze and need replacing/ heavy trimming like this year (I am not anti-Hibiscus or totally against using tropical plants here and there. I even have large Ficus that was already there when I bought my house. Just using those as a comparisons)

Guess how much trimming the above grouping of cacti need? Zero. Water? Minimal to None once established. This means no dump trips, no waste, a lot less money/time, fuel etc etc. They also gain consistent, real VALUE and character for the landscape as they mature.

Also, these are all pretty slow growing varieties that don't really ever get to big to control. If the Prickly Pear or Aloe gets a little big for the space, you can cut a piece off and RE-USE it somewhere else, or give it as a gift to your favorite sister or something. Pretty awesome right !

If your interpretation of "Arizona Landscaping" is what you see at Sky Harbor airport, or in the medians.... Please go to Arizona Cactus Sales and look around or call us to design something special just for you. The more I learn about Cacti, the more I fascinated I become.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Landscape Lighting/Saguaro/ Fountain Hills

This Fountain Hills landscape was recently designed and installed by Ultimate Landscapes. The landscape lighting really turned out great. (Especially because this home is in Fountain Hills and it's darker at night!) We planted to the large, specimen Saguaro pictured above along with many other unique cacti and succulents. To find that particular Saguaro, the homeowner and I met at a salvage yard in Phoenix. This one struck both of us immediately, I think the homewoner experienced "love at 1st sight" even :)

Above is pictured a slate sidewalk and porch. This front area has a pretty strong slope (hard to see in the pic) and after racking our brains, we came up with this little nook instead of doing a retaining wall. It now blends in and looks like it was there all along.

The lighting pictured is all manufactured by FX Luminaire. Unlike plastic / metal kit lighting, the FX system is comprised of architectural grade components engineered to be specified and installed by professionals. The effects shown on this page cannot be performed with “kit” lighting. There is a big difference. These lights will usually go 10-20 years without much maintenance other than the occasional bulb change. They cost ~$120 per fixture installed are well worth it.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010


"Why, YES, of course!" says Queen creek Olive Mill. And now I am hoping to get on board. You see I have an Olive tree that I absolutely love, however, I have always seen the actual olives as either: 1. a mess OR 2. a cost to spray so the tree does not produce olives. After learning to make Spanish Tortilla from my brother (long story) and picking up on the passion of good Olive Oil and cooking from a dear friend, I gained a whole new and long overdue appreciation for Olives. So I wondered, "What can I do with all these Olives? There must be SOMETHING!" I started to research to learn about what type of Olive tree I had and what purpose the fruit could serve. I had a tough time finding any good info. Even the all powerful google didn't seem to know. Then I remembered a nice visit to the Queen Creek Olive Mill this year for lunch. I had a great time there sampling wine and olive oil. I was truly just reveling in the fact that a local business here in Phoenix was actually producing foods all itself and promoting sustainable farming, etc. In my travels I had seen many places like this but never here in my own town!
OK, I am beginning to ramble. Just check it out. I will be trying to have them press my olives this year and I guess they split the oil with you. Exiting. No mess, an nice excuse to be outside in the yard, AND a really great holiday cooking bonus! Happy Holidays!


PS: ON a landscaping note, Olive trees are no less than AMAZING. Very clean (you can get fruitless Olives too), very nice, versatile style, low water, easy to maintain, totally reliable, and..... get this.... they can lived over a thousand years old, needing less and less water as they mature. Planting them is really, really good for the future of this valley ! Why they are not used more by cities, homeowners , and businesses always surprises me. (I must add, that there are some allergy issues, so look into that before planting)

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