Ironwood leaves die in spring?


This spring, all four of my young ironwood trees lost their leaves. The leaves turned yellow just as spring growth happened all around them. I thought somehow my trees were dying, though I didn’t see any reason why. About a month after the leaves started dying, I saw new growth. All four trees have now grown new foliage.

While I’m not sure why this happened, I’m glad the trees are still healthy. I found this information at
“Branches that produce flowers often drop their leaves during bud formation, and re-leaf when summer rains begin”

My young trees have never flowered, but perhaps their leaves had remained on the tree long enough to need to be replaced. Ironwoods remain my favorite desert tree due to their size, leaf color, wildlife habitat, and shade. Some day I hope to have a large wildflower area with three mature ironwood trees as the backbone. I’m glad these trees are okay. They grow slowly and would be hard to replace.

DIY Landscape design

8 Steps to DIY xeriscape landscape design

Design ideas

Creating a landscape design isn’t as hard as it may seem. I did one for a friend last year and want to share the steps I used.

1. Map your yard

My friend owns an acre lot and wanted a landscape design for her front yard that included a circular drive. We used a tape measure to calculate the size of the exterior of her house, the fence line, and distance to the front of her lot. Then I printed out 10 square per inch graph paper and drew these features onto the paper. For her big yard, I glued a few pieces together to get a square big enough.

DIY Landscape design

Here’s the design I drew for my friend with a gravel circular drive.

2. Select theme plants

This is important. A well designed landscape sticks to a theme and uses repetitions of certain theme plants to create uniformity. Unplanned landscapes with one or two of a variety of plants don’t look great. I recommended to my friend to pick a favorite tree, three favorite bushes, and a couple favorite cacti to begin. For example, she already had two mesquite trees, so she chose mesquite for her theme tree.

My preference is obviously for a native desert theme, but you can create a landscape with any theme. The “theme” plants should all contribute to whichever look you’re trying to attain.

Sonoran desert theme plants

Sonoran desert theme plants

3. Add hills, hardscape, and walk ways

The circular drive was already a must. I added a river bed, walkway leading to her side gate, hills, and informal courtyard area around the main entrance.

Driveway idea

Driveway idea

4. Draw plants onto design

Add plants! I like to avoid planting trees in a line. Consider where you want shade, where you don’t want roots, and what looks natural. Cluster bushes in groups of at least three, odd numbers look good. Notice how landscapes that have been professionally designed use a variety of plants but always in multiples that repeat throughout the landscape. Feel free to copy planting ideas you’ve seen elsewhere!  Use bushes to fill in and make a landscape lush. Aim for three times as many bushes as trees, if you have the space. Finally we added cacti. Since they are smaller, we filled them in where they could be seen from the front and along walkways.

5. Plan water system

Either you already have an irrigation system in place or you plan to build one from scratch. Either way, it is important to plan before you plant so you can consider water requirements and your irrigation system’s capabilities. For this yard, we planned the entire front yard on one zone (meaning all plants get watered on the same schedule). So all plants needed similar water requirements. We decided the back yard would have a zone for higher water plants, since they wanted to plant some non-native pine trees along the side of the house in back, and so we planned that one higher water line would come through a hole in the block fence and allow three citrus trees near the fence in the front yard.

6. Build from the bottom up

Irrigation lines first, then hills and hardscape like cement, fences, or crushed granite walkways. For hills of any significance, I’ve seen most yards need a small tractor or bobcat and some extra fill dirt. Plants come next and decorative rock last.

7. Buy plants and plant in stages

If you are doing a large yard yourself, you may want to plant a section at a time to allow yourself to see how the plants do. Especially since in my opinion, a nice landscape has A LOT of plants. You can plant your trees and a section of bushes, then see how they acclimate through the hot or cold season– they may take extra watering through the first summer. If you have a plant that doesn’t seem to do well in your yard, better to lose 3-5 than 10-15 plants due to stress. Cacti can also be finicky when getting established, as I’ve learned watching them sunburn or rot from over-watering.

Landscape in progress

Landscape in progress

8. Add rock and finishing touches

When your plants are in the ground and thriving, then you can add landscape rock, boulders, potted plants, furniture… watch wildlife…

Any beautiful landscape will require ongoing maintenance: checking water lines, some pruning, perhaps replacing or moving a plant. But I love native desert xeriscape because with little water and care the plants can create a lush Sonoran oasis.

Native plants increase wildlife habitat

Plant selection, Wildlife

I’ve discovered a bonus of creating a native landscape: wildlife! I love wild animals. I think of them as low-maintenance pets. I enjoy sitting on the porch and watching birds visit my landscape. In the back yard, I covered the drainage holes in my block fence with grates, which keeps out snakes, rabbits, and gophers, while allowing birds and lizards in.

Here is some of the wildlife I’ve experienced.

Native bee house

House for native bees

Quail roam through my yard at will. This summer a young quail hen practiced laying eggs in a Wildlife_bannerpotted plant on my front porch. I love it when I see quail chicks in the spring. Quail use various native bushes for food and cover. They love eating wildflower seed before your flowers can sprout.

White-winged doves visit frequently. They like drinking from water puddles in the yard.

Hummingbirds love fairy duster flowers. The neighbors next door had a hummingbird nest in one of their trees. There are three birds that constantly fight over my yard as territory.

Migrating birds. Many more kinds of birds travel through Arizona during migration. I’ve had lots of bird nests in trees in my yard. I enjoy watching the eggs hatch and babies grow.

Butterflies visit my garden and flowering plants. I’d love to add a few more like milkweed to increase butterfly habitat in my yard. Here is a list of native plants used to create a butterfly garden.

Native bees are welcome visitors. I learned at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum you can build them homes to encourage them to visit.

Lizards and geckos. This year our yard has tons of baby lizards. They are only about two inches long and they are so cute! The lizards keep the outdoor cricket population under control. In order to avoid poisoning our lizards, we have not sprayed our home (outdoor foundation) for bugs for the past two years. I haven’t noticed any more bugs inside than before. If you are outside at night, you may also see western banded geckos.

Tortoises. To complete your native Sonoran desert habitat, why not add a tortoise? Although desert tortoises are not available for sale, did you know you can adopt one?

Snakes generally aren’t welcome in your yard. But if you see a non-venomous snake kindly escort it out without killing it.

Rabbits can be pests. They are welcome in my (unfenced) front yard, but not in the back. I put 1/4 inch wire cage around young plants to protect them from bunnies. My veggie garden is in the back yard.

Round-tailed ground squirrels aren’t welcome in my yard (even if they are native). These guys eat roots out from underneath cacti when they get hungry and dig tunnels everywhere. Rat poison has worked to keep them from colonizing my back yard, and our neighborhood population isn’t high enough to decimate any of my front yard plants.

Ants can bite, but they are termites’ mortal enemies and will keep them at bay. They also provide food for other wildlife. I prefer to allow a healthy stable number of ant colonies remain in the yard.

Termites hide underground and aren’t seen often, but they are there. Rock mulch seems to make the ground more hospitable to termites and less to ants.

Black widows love the cracks in the block wall fence. The easiest way to control them is to go out at night and squash or spray them.

Scorpions love to hide in organic leaf litter and grass thatch. I believe that having a native landscape instead of a lawn decreases scorpion habitat. One more reason to plant native!