Hardly anyone wants to live in a desolate desert. Everywhere people settle they usually cultivate the land and plant things.
The Arizona desert is no different. We moved here because it's a desert, but who wouldn't want to make it more livable for people, pets, and plants? We've experienced many types of harsh weather here that can make life very unpleasant: scorching sun and extreme heat, freezing cold winter nights, monsoons that can cause flash flooding, and regular wind with damaging gusts and dust storms.
So how do you tame the desert? Trees! They can't take away all the harsh weather, but they can make a huge difference for everything and everyone around them. This isn't a quick fix, but it is an enduring and economical one with benefits too numerous to name them all! Here are a few:
protection for small animals (eg. hummingbirds, chickens) from aerial predators
Have you heard about VOCs (volatile organic compounds)? How about forest bathing? VOCs are often associated with harmful off-gassing and chemical fumes such as from many cleaning products. But there are good VOCs as well. Researchers in Japan discovered that spending a little time in a pine forest - dubbed forest bathing - boosts your natural killer cells, an important part of your immune system that fights things like viruses and tumors. An impressive number of other benefits have also been discovered. Many plants produce beneficial VOCs and so do open bodies of water. Ever notice how good you feel in certain environments? Why not create that in your backyard?
Who hasn't enjoyed shade from the hot sun under the shelter of a tree? Many plants need full or partial shade, especially on the desert. Companion planting can have a symbiotic effect on both plants and trees. Sufficient vegetation can create enough shade that when you stand downwind - even in the sun - it can feel like you're standing in front of an air conditioner. Deciduous trees loose their leaves in the fall - so after cooling things off in the summer they allow the sun in to heat things up in the winter.
Trees can not only filter pollution from your air, they can also dramatically reduce wind - which your plants and animals will appreciate (wind dries things up faster [eg. skin, soil, plants] and windchill makes life more cold and challenging). Evergreens are best for accomplishing these functions. Consider planting them where they won't block your winter sun but they will block cold north winds. Evergreens also make the best privacy screen, but deciduous trees may be sufficient for some needs, especially if planted thick enough.
All these reasons combined allow trees to create resilient microclimates around them. This is naturally illustrated by mesquite trees as described here.
Many trees are planted for their beauty and even many of these are edible and/or medicinal. Some people have a hard time wrapping their head around this. You can massively expand your culinary experiences with edibles that aren't available in most grocery stores (there's a variety of reasons for this such as delectables that aren't easy to mass produce). Plants of all sorts including trees have been used for medicine throughout the ages and continue to be used by those who learn about the many advantages of herbs.
Trees also provide food and shelter for wildlife such as pretty birds with a cheerful song and beneficial insects that pollinate plants and eat pests. If you think about it, all life is dependent on plants and trees are the king of the jungle.
You could probably guess that at Sabbatical Ranch we like trees! And we've recently been planting trees - 16 to start with.
We've started with evergreen trees that will benefit everything else we want to grow here. But not just any evergreens. We started with natives that can survive on their own without constant babysitting. In fact, all they need to start with is regular water and once they're established they will require no care at all unless we ever want to prune them and/or harvest some wood. We also like stacking functions so our first selection of trees can accomplish all of the benefits outlined above, plus resist nuisance critters such as javelina. Too good to be true? Here's our first mix:
A couple of notes about the pictures: Piñon pine do not like organic matter so they (we planted six of them) didn't get mulch. I'm not a big fan of fences, including the fences often put around trees to protect them from critters. These trees resist most critters, but not necessarily all critters. I found this innovative approach online of laying the fence on the ground rather than encircling the tree with a standing fence. The idea is that critters don't like walking on the wire. We'll see how it works.
If you read everything above you can probably see how this mix of trees can accomplish all of the functions above. But maybe you're wondering about the edible and medicinal qualities of these evergreens. That's probably what would be the least familiar to the most people.
Have you ever heard of pine nuts? Have you ever tried them? They're some of the most uniquely flavored and delicious nuts you'll ever eat! A handful of pine trees produce nuts, but piñon pine nuts are widely regarded as the best - prized for their taste and dense nutrition.
Juniper berries are a culinary spice packed with nutrients such as vitamin C. They also contain medicinal compounds that have been shown to provide anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties and may protect against chronic conditions, including heart and neurodegenerative diseases. Juniper berry essential oil has powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Arizona Cypress offers a number of medicinal qualities and is reportedly a powerful mold and mildew fighter (similar to cedar which is commonly used for outdoor building because it's rot-resistant). Many parts of pine trees are edible and/or medicinal, but they're not something you would eat a lot of. I could continue but I think you get the point.
Carefully selected and well-placed trees can serve many purposes that enhance your quality of life!
“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all it contains; let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness.” (Psalm 96:11-13)
Dedicated Christian, patriot, family man, founder of Sabbatical Ranch