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Description

The Desert willow grows into a large deciduous shrub to medium size tree with a low branching habit, ranging from 15-40 ft. in height and spread. Long narrow linear leaves are 5 in. long and drop under moisture stress as well as during winter. Colorful trumpet-shaped flowers are white, pink or purple with purple and yellow throat markings. These flowers are fragrant and occur for several weeks from mid spring into summer. Some plants produce large numbers of long bean-type seed pods that persist on branches during winter.

Desert willow is native to high and low desert regions from Southern California to Texas and south into Mexico. It has proven to be a highly adaptable plant for use in Inland Empire gardens and landscapes, tolerating heat, cold, wind and summer drought. It has a graceful and open foliage habit that is useful for courtyard and southwestern style garden plantings. Young plants grow quickly and benefit from pruning to control form.

In recent years nurseries have introduced a number of new cultivars that offer a range of plant sizes, growth habits, flower colors and fewer seed pods. Some of the popular cultivars are: C. l. 'Burgundy' is a robust selection, 20-25 ft. tall with striking pale and dark purple flowers; C. l. 'Warren Jones' grows to 20 ft. in size, has an open branching habit and shaggy bark, and light pink flowers have ruffled edges; C. l. 'White Storm' is a small and delicate selection to 15 ft. tall that produces pure white flowers.

Water Needs

The Desert willow is well adapted to all parts of the Inland Empire where it can be sustained with normal winter rainfall and low amounts of summer water. Periodic deep water is recommended in summer; this will sustain the best flowering performance and help maintain good foliage character. The chart below provides a baseline irrigation schedule for this species. It should be noted there are several winter months marked by an asterisk (*) when rains can provide sufficient moisture and irrigation is not needed. The high and low range of moisture indicates it can grow with varying amounts of water depending upon exposure conditions and size.

Irrigation Schedule and Graph

Low Water Use Plants

Irrigation Schedule 2

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
Runs per Month 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x
Inches per Run 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1"
 
Inches per Month 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2"

Range of supplemental summer water: 7"-14"
Range of supplemental winter water: 0"-10"

 
0"-2"
0"-2"
0"-2"
1"-2"
1"-2"
1"-2"
1"-2"
1"-2"
1"-2"
1"-2"
0"-2"
0"-2"
  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
For more information on how to use this Irrigation Schedule and Graph, follow this link.

For information how to calculate your irrigation system’s schedule and precipitation rate, please follow this link.

Plant Properties

Plant Type: Tree, Native
Foliage Character: Winter deciduous, Drought deciduous
Habit: Upright, Open, Mounding, Low-branching
Growth Rate: Moderate
Height: 15 ft. - 40 ft.
Width: 15 ft. - 40 ft.
Water Needs: Low 2
Foliage Color: Bright green
Flower Color: Pink, White, Purple
Flower Season: Summer, Spring
Soil Adaptations: Well-draining soil, Sand, Deep soil
Exposure Adaptations: Heat, Frost, Drought, Aridity, All day sun
Function: Wildlife value, Specimen, Shade Tree, Screening, Raised planters, Parks and open space, Foundations, Flowering accent plant, Background plant, Attracts bees, Attracts butterflies

Maintenance

Prune when dormant in winter as needed. While this is seen in built landscapes as either a single trunk or a multi-trunk tree, desert willows are really best grown as multi-trunk or low branching trees. Desert willows purchased as a single trunk tree often develop a significant lean in the first few years after planting and just look funny. Multi-trunk or low branching trees may be selectively pruned by removing branches when young to set up a nice, semi-open form. Desert willows can be coppiced if needed, by cutting the trunk(s) all the way to the ground, preferably in the winter. In the spring, multiple vigorous shoots will emerge and quickly form new branches. A single trunk desert willow was planted outside the Waterwise Community Center offices. It developed a severe lean as described above. After being cut to the ground, it regrew as a beautiful multi-trunk specimen which looks better than ever before. With the exception of some specific cultivars, most desert willows hold on to their dried seed pods into the winter after the tree looses its leaves. I consider them ornaments and wildlife food. They bother some people. These people can spend their time pruning them off if they really want to (S).

References

Associations

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