Take a walk through a neighborhood in Fountain Hills, and you’re bound to see a beautiful ficus tree growing in someone’s yard. Their sturdy trunks and dense green foliage are tempting to homeowners who want some extra shade and more green in their landscape. The tradeoffs, however, make this non-native tree a lousy choice.
Ficus requires some pampering to get established. Since they’re not native to the desert, they require intensive watering to get their roots well-established. If you’re lucky to get your ficus through its younger years, it’ll eventually grow large enough that you won’t need to water anymore. That doesn’t mean it won’t remain a water hog when sharing with other nearby trees.
“I have the biggest ficus tree I’ve seen in Fountain Hills,” says Vicky Derksen, a local homeowner. “In years when the winter temperatures dip into the upper 20s, the leaves freeze, and they all fall off. And it’s not pretty like the aspen trees up north. The leaf clean-up from the yard and pool is overwhelming.
“When the new leaves grow back, the branches’ last three feet or so are dead. Getting a landscaper to climb up there and cut off the damaged branches costs a lot of money. Damage like this happens every time the leaves freeze.”
For less mature trees, those brief freezing temps are too much for a young ficus. They usually don’t survive a colder winter if they aren’t well-established yet.
Ficus trees shed leaves every day of the year, adding more work to yard maintenance.
“I struggle to keep up with the leaves that fall every month of the year. And there are berries on top of the leaves. The soft berries leave stains on the patio and stick to the bottom of our shoes. Then the berries dry into tiny hard balls and get into our pool, plugging the vacuum.”
A healthy ficus tree will keep growing until it overwhelms its space.
“I have seen ficus trees in people’s yards planted two feet away from the house,” said Vicky. “I’ve also seen them in tiny front-door courtyards. That’s going to cause trouble in the future. My tree is so huge that it’s growing over the roof of my house, over my pool, and over the top of two nearby citrus trees. I’m lucky the roots haven’t invaded the pool.”
If ficus trees aren’t controlled when they’re smaller, they grow too large for the homeowner to trim on their own.
Trees native to the Sonoran Desert are a better choice for the desert landscape. They’re better adapted to the arid climate and summer heat. They also provide preferred food and lodging for local wildlife. While even native trees can be messy, they only create debris seasonally. Here are some excellent choices for your landscape:
Blue Palo Verde
Foothills Palo Verde
For more information on choosing the right tree for your yard, visit AZ.gov’s Department of Forestry and Fire Management.