Fresh mangoes, ripe avocados, and delicious bananas right from your desert backyard?
Heck yes, man!
This week we planted four tropical trees in our front yard, and I am stoked to share with you how we did it! Because we live in Arizona, I thought it would be impossible to grow tropical trees here. We’ve got heat all right, but pretty much zero humidity.
I imagined the only way I would be able to grow tropical trees here was to create some impossible micro ecosystem of misters and fountains powered by an air conditioner. Yeah, that ain’t gonna happen.
Luckily for me, a friend recommended that I follow The Vegan Athlete. I had a blast learning all about how Arizona can be the perfect place for tropical trees. His amazing videos led me to none other than the famous Shamus O’Leary in Phoenix, who is the master at growing these kinds of trees in the desert. I had to meet this guy! Besides, who can pass up meeting an Irishman from Chicago who grows tropical trees in Arizona? That’s some life story right there.
I spent a beautiful Sunday morning learning from Shamus and soaking in all of his wisdom. You see, there are a few things you need to know before sticking a tropical tree in the ground. If you do some good prep work, and care for the tree well during the first few years, it can grow into a large, well-producing tropical tree paradise. Right in your dry, hot, desert of a back yard. Here are the four trees we planted. (Avocado trees coming in September!)
Things to know when planting a tropical tree in the desert:
- You’ll need to dig a BIG ‘OL HOLE: Most people plant a hole the size of the bucket the tree comes in, when in fact you really need to dig a hole twice that size in length, width, and depth. For example, if your tree comes in a 15 gallon bucket with a 15 inch diameter, you need to dig a hole that is 30 inches wide, 30 inches long, and 30 inches deep. (Set the dirt close to the hole; you’ll be using it soon.)
- Make your hole a square instead of a circle: A circular hole will encourage the root to climb around again and again in a spiral, but a square hole will encourage the roots to grow out to the corners and then out further. Wider roots = stronger tree, so be sure to dig a square hole.
- Be prepared with the right amendment: A tropical tree needs a safe place to grow, but they also need to acclimate to the local soil. When planting, you’ll be mixing back in the hole a 50/50 mixture of your native soil and a combo of the following: 1 part lava sand, 1 part lava rock, and 2 parts of mulch (your choice). Shamus had this mixture conveniently in bags for me to use when planting.
- Add some root-boosting ingredients: Spending a small amount of money on some extra nutrients for your tree will go a long way! We add 2 TBS. mycorrhizal fungi, about 1-2 pounds of worm castings, and then when we water for the first time, we mix about 1 cup of fish emulsion to a 5 gallon bucket of water, and pour around the tree.
- Pack, pack, pack… pack it down: Because it’s a guarantee that the ground will settle, you’ll need to be sure to pack your 50/50 soil mixture back down before you place the tree in the ground. You don’t want the feeder roots to settle too much (you’ll see why this is so important in the next step).
- Plant the tree about 3-4 inches ABOVE the ground level: Resist the urge to plant that sucker deep in the ground. You see, your tree’s root has feeder roots at the top, and you want those little guys to have access to mulch and compost. You definitely don’t want to bury those guys in your regular soil.
- Cover with a hunk of compost and mulch: Once your tree is planted, you’ll need to place on top of that composted material, then cover that with mulch. Good mulch can be straw, leaves, or wood chips. As time goes on, this will break down naturally and become more food for the tree. Your job will be to keep stacking new stuff on top of the tree. 🙂
- Create a berm around the tree: When watering, the last thing you want to happen is all of that water to run away from the tree out into the yard. Your solution is a berm. It will keep the moisture next to the tree and on that mulch you’ve been placing. It will create a perfect, moist environment for the tree. It will also reduce your watering costs, which is always a plus!
- Water with a garden hose filter:
Have you ever attempted to grow tropical trees in a desert climate? Tell me your tips!
Also, watch my latest update on my avocado tree!