12 Drought-Tolerant Trees for Your New Mexico Xeriscape

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Written By Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

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Home » New Mexico » 12 Drought-Tolerant Trees for Your New Mexico Xeriscape

New Mexico is famous for its deserts, so when looking for a tree for your yard in NM, you often want drought-tolerant trees suitable for xeriscaping, meaning requiring little to no watering once established.

Not only can xeriscape gardens look beautiful, they are arguably one of the easiest landscapes in the world to maintain.

With xeriscaping, it’s important to understand that what can be grown without irrigation in one New Mexico growing zone may need irrigation if grown in a different region.

Let’s check out some drought tolerant trees for your New Mexico xeriscape in all the NM climatic zones.

Drought-Tolerant Trees for Xeriscaping in New Mexico’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lowlands and Foothills

The arid and semi-arid lowlands and foothills are the most important areas to plant a xeriscape garden because these areas are where water is the most scarce.

It is also where the heat is the most intense, making growing many non-xeriscape trees more challenging there.

Fortunately, many trees can be grown successfully there without water once established.

1. Honey Mesquite – Prosopis glandulosa

Honey Mesquite Prosopis glandulosa in New Mexico
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Honey Mesquite is a slow-growing deciduous shrub or small tree native to most of New Mexico’s arid and semi-arid lowlands and foothills.

They will grow as a shrub in hotter and drier areas but can also grow to the size of a small tree in areas that receive more rainfall or if irrigation is provided when young, although some pruning may be required to maintain their shape in tree form.

Honey Mesquite is best grown in full sun in any well-drained soil type except clay. It grows exceptionally well in highly alkaline soils and calcium carbonate-rich soils.

These trees also tolerate urban pollution and reflected heat from asphalt, making them a great xeriscape tree for cities.

However, Honey Mesquite is not overly cold-tolerant and cannot be grown higher in the mountains.

The edible legumes can be made into flour, jellies, fermented beverages, or eaten fresh.

  • Other Common Names: Glandular Mesquite, Texas Honey Mesquite, and in Spanish Algarroba and Mezquite
  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 35 ft tall*, 10 – 40 ft spread *height depends on irrigation
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers appear in April and can re-bloom in August after a summer rain; edible legume seed pods mature in August

2. Desert Willow – Chilopsis linearis

Desert Willow Chilopsis linearis in New Mexico
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Desert Willow is a gorgeous native New Mexico flowering tree found throughout the arid and semi-arid lowlands and foothills where other trees seldom grow.

These desert-adapted trees are perfect for xeriscaping since they will perform poorly in areas that receive more than 30” of rainfall annually.

Desert Willows should be planted in full sun in any soil type, provided it is well-drained; it cannot grow in wet soils or in shade. They also tolerate highly alkaline, poor soils, heat, and urban pollution, making perfect low-maintenance street trees in cities.

The added bonus with these trees is they bloom prolifically with beautiful tropical-looking trumpet-shaped pink and purple flowers each spring and throughout the summer after a rain.

These are followed by long, thin, legume-like seed pods that remain on the tree for winter interest.

If you want to learn more about this beautiful tree, you can learn to identify Desert Willow.

  • Other Common Names: Bow Willow, Flowering Willow, Flor De Mimbre, Mimbre, Willowleaf Catalpa, Willow-Leaved Catalapa
  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 30 ft tall, 10 – 20 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Blooms in May and June but continues blooming sporadically throughout the summer after a rain; seed pods mature in late summer and persist all winter

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

3. Palo Verde Trees – Parkinsonia spp

Palo Verde Parkinsonia spp
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Palo Verdes are interesting trees native to the American Southwest’s deserts with photosynthetic green trunks and branches.

These fast-growing and highly drought-tolerant trees would all perform well in NM. Still, the best would be Jerusalem Thorn (Parkinsonia aculeata – native to NM) and Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida).

Palo Verdes are drought-deciduous, shedding their leaves most of the year until it rains when their leaves return. However, their photosynthetic branches allow them to grow all year, even without leaves.

These trees grow best in full sun and tolerate any soil type, provided it is well-drained. However, they prefer neutral to alkaline soils, a perfect fit for NM.

Because Palo Verdes don’t have leaves for much of the year, they are typically paired with other drought-tolerant trees for additional interest in the landscape.

These trees are not overly cold-tolerant and can only be grown in southern NM.

  • Other Common Names: Jerusalem Thorn, Horse Bean, Mexican Palo Verde, Jellybean Tree, Barbados Flowerfence, Retama, Blue Palo Verde, Blue Paloverde
  • USDA Growing Zones: 8 – 11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 25 ft tall and wide (Jerusalem Thorn), 25 – 35 ft tall and wide (Blue Palo Verde)
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers bloom from March to May, depending on the species; legume seed pods mature in summer

4. Texas Persimmon – Diospyros texana

Texas Persimmon Diospyros texana - Grid 2 Square - 800 x 450
Images by Homer Edward Price, CC BY 2.0 and Wyatt915, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Texas Persimmon is a large shrub or small tree with unique and interesting twisted and contorted gray or whitish branches that peel, revealing grays and pinks below.

These trees thrive naturally in dry, rocky areas with 30” rainfall or less annually, making them well-suited to xeriscaping. They often grow on limestone and other alkaline soils, making them perfect landscape trees for hot and arid southern New Mexico.

The height of Texas Persimmon is determined by available moisture and nutrients. If you want a taller tree, simply water it and feed it past the establishment phase. However, do not overwater or overfertilize since this tree thrives on neglect.

Female trees produce large edible berries that can be messy but provide excellent wildlife values and are also made into jellies or preserves or eaten fresh.

While nearly evergreen further south, the Texas Persimmon would likely be deciduous in southern NM.

  • Other Common Names: Mexican Persimmon, Black Persimmon, and in Spanish, Chapote and Chapote Prieto
  • USDA Growing Zones: 8 – 11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 40 ft* tall, 10 – 40 ft spread *height depends on available moisture and soil quality
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Urn-shaped flowers appear in March and April with new leaves with male and female flowers on separate trees (dioecious); up to 1” fleshy edible berries mature on female trees from July to September

5. Evergreen Ash – Fraxinus uhdei

Evergreen Ash Fraxinus_uhdei
Image by Alejandro Bayer Tamayo, CC BY-SA 2.0

Evergreen Ash is a popular landscape tree from Mexico that is often planted as a street or shade tree for its fast growth, tolerance of heat and soil type, and low water use.

Unlike most ash trees, it has nearly evergreen leaves that typically fall off when the new leaves come in.

The branches of Evergreen Ash are not especially strong and susceptible to wind damage. Its roots are a bit aggressive and could damage pavement, so make sure it has room to grow.

These trees grow best in full sun to partial shade in alkaline soil but will tolerate any soil, provided it is well-drained to prevent root rot.

However, Evergreen Ash is not very cold-hardy and can only grow in southern NM.

Fragrant Ash is a lovely cold-hardy native NM tree for xeriscaping in the northern foothills and mountains but may require some irrigation in the arid lowlands.

  • Other Common Names: Shamel Ash, Majestic Ash, Mexican Ash, Tropical Ash, and, in Spanish, Fresno Blanco
  • USDA Growing Zones: 8 – 10
  • Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 80 ft (to 130 ft) tall, 40 – 60 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous flowers bloom late winter to early spring; papery, winged fruits mature in spring and summer

6. Mediterranean Dwarf Palm – Chamaerops humilis

Mediterranean Dwarf Palm Tree Chamaerops_humilis
Image by David J. Stang,, CC BY-SA 4.0

We often see palm trees in New Mexico’s deserts. Hence, people sometimes assume they are drought-tolerant when most are not, and even with irrigation, many won’t grow there due to the low humidity.

Mediterranean Dwarf Palm is one of the exceptions. It will grow well in high heat, low humidity, and poor and alkaline soils, and it’s highly drought-tolerant, making it a great choice for xeriscaping in NM.

With its blue-green fan-like leaves, this short-stemmed palm makes a lovely accent tree in parks and yards and a street tree in urban areas where it tolerates air pollution.

While more cold-hardy than most palms, Mediterranean Dwarf Palm is still only suitable for southern NM, the foothills, or low mountains down to USDA Zone 7. To help protect them from the cold, don’t prune off the old leaves until after winter.

You can also learn how to identify Mediterranean Dwarf Palm.

  • Other Common Names: European Fan Palm, Mediterranean Fan Palm
  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 11
  • Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 15 ft (to 20 ft) tall, 6 – 10 ft (to 20 ft) spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers emerge from April to May; inedible fruits ripen in early fall

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

Drought-Tolerant Trees for Xeriscaping in New Mexico’s Mountains and Foothills

The foothills and lower mountains in New Mexico are still quite dry, and choosing xeriscape trees will lower your water and maintenance bills.

The foothills are a unique zone where some of the trees above can be grown there, but the ones below will also grow well there in a xeriscape.

The mountains of New Mexico receive more precipitation and have milder summers, making xeriscaping there much easier. The trees below would work well there, but also look around your local environment.

Do spruce, fir or Douglas Fir, pine, oak, maples, and other trees already grow there naturally? If so, you can also grow any of those in your own xeriscape.

7. Alligator Juniper – Juniperus deppeana

Alligator Juniper Juniperus deppeana Sacramento Mountains New Mexico
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Alligator Juniper is a gorgeous juniper with distinctive bark cracked into squarish plates like the skin on an alligator’s back. Many specimens also have the most eye-catching blue-green or silver-blue leaves.

This native NM evergreen tree grows naturally in open woodlands on dry, arid foothills and low mountain slopes. It would be highly suited to xeriscaping in those areas, excluding only the higher mountain areas with their longer winters.

When grown in the more arid southern lowlands, sometimes they may require irrigation during the dry season if they start looking stressed. But be sure not to overwater as this could weaken them, making them susceptible to wind damage.

You can also learn how to identify Alligator Junipers.

In the southern lowlands, you could also try growing One Seed Juniper. While they don’t grow as tall, they may handle the high heat and low humidity better without irrigation.

  • Other Common Names: Checkerbark Juniper, Western Juniper, Oakbark Cedar, Thickbark Cedar, Mountain Cedar, and in Spanish, Tascate, Tacate, Tlascal
  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 40 ft (to 65 ft) tall, 20 – 25 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Male trees release pollen in spring; berry-like seed cones mature on female trees in late summer of the following year (two-year cycle)

8. Netleaf Hackberry – Celtis reticulata

Netleaf Hackberry Celtis reticulata in New Mexico
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Netleaf Hackberry is another deciduous tree native throughout most of New Mexico, where it grows naturally in valley bottoms as well as slopes and bluffs.

This tree prefers growing in full sun to partial shade in any moderately moist soil. However, it is highly tolerant of heat, cold, wind, drought, short-term flooding, and rocky, poor, dry, salt, acidic, or alkaline soils.

In most of NM, it would make a great xeriscape tree requiring no irrigation once established.

However, depending on location and exposure, some irrigation may be required during long, hot, dry spells in the most arid southwest corner. However, that could be avoided by planting it in an area with afternoon shade.

It produces sweet, edible fruits that are loved by wildlife and sometimes made into jellies or added to savory dishes.

Trees are prone to suckering and galls but are otherwise healthy and low-maintenance.

  • Other Common Names: Western Hackberry, Douglas Hackberry, Netleaf Sugar Hackberry, Texas Sugarberry, and in Spanish, Acibuche and Palo Blanco; in Latin, it is sometimes called by its synonym Celtis laevigata var reticulata
  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 30 ft tall, 10 – 25 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers appear in March and April; fruits mature in late summer and persist into winter

9. Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa

Ponderosa Pine Pinus ponderosa
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Ponderosa Pine is a tall, iconic pine with long, elegant needle-like leaves and attractive cross-checked red and black bark that grows naturally in the foothills or low mountains of New Mexico, where the air is fairly dry since they do not tolerate humidity.

These trees grow best in full sun in deep, moist, well-drained soil but are highly tolerant of dry, alkaline soils and drought, making them a perfect fit for most of NM except the hottest areas of the southwest.

In most of NM, irrigation past establishment is unnecessary. Still, in the more arid USDA Zone 8, occasional irrigation may be necessary during particularly long, hot, dry spells to prevent leaf drop.

For more information, you can also learn to identify Ponderosa Pine.

Pinyon Pine is also highly drought-tolerant and grows at lower elevations and may be more suited to xeriscaping in USDA Zone 8.

  • Other Common Names: Western Yellow Pine, Bull Pine, Black Jack, Western Red Pine, Western Longleaf Pine, Filipinus Pine
  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
  • Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 100 ft (to 236 ft) tall, 25 – 30 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Pollen cones mature April – June; seed cones mature the next August or September (two-year cycle)

Drought-Tolerant Trees for Xeriscaping Anywhere in New Mexico

Finally, here are some drought-tolerant trees suitable for xeriscaping almost anywhere in New Mexico, excluding only the highest mountain peaks.

10. Arizona Cypress – Hesperocyparis (Cupressus) arizonica

Arizona Cypress Cupressus Hesperocyparis arizonica in New Mexico
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Arizona Cypress is a fast-growing native New Mexico evergreen tree with gorgeous blue-green leaves that thrives in full sun and intense heat without irrigation in areas that receive only 10 – 12” of rain annually.

These trees are very popular ornamental accent trees in parks and residential areas for their low maintenance and low water use.

Arizona Cypress can remain as a small tree, or if irrigated for a while after the establishment phase, you could grow it into a taller tree and then cease irrigation once the desired height is reached.

These trees will grow in almost any soil type, including strongly alkaline and high in Calcium Carbonate, providing they are well-drained. However, they will not tolerate heavy clay or other poorly drained soils.

Arizona Cypress performs very well throughout NM, excluding only the highest mountainous areas.

For more information, you can learn to identify Arizona Cypress.

  • Other Common Names: Roughbark Arizona Cypress, or in Spanish Sabino, Cedro, Ciprés, and Táscate
  • USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 80 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Pollen is released in spring; seed cones mature late summer the following year (two-year cycle) but typically persist on the tree for several years

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

11. New Mexico Olive – Forestiera pubescens var. parvifolia

New Mexico Olive Forestiera pubescens
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

New Mexico Olive is a native shrub that grows naturally in the dry foothills and low mountains in the state’s northern half, but it’s highly tolerant of all of NM’s climate and could be grown anywhere in the state.

This will remain as a shrub in some areas but can also be pruned into a small tree.

New Mexico Olive has white bark and small yellow flowers that bees love. If you have both a male and a female tree, the flowers will be followed by edible but bitter berries with fantastic wildlife values.

These trees grow best in full sun to partial shade in fertile, well-drained soil, but they will tolerate any soil type, including moderately alkaline, provided it is well-drained. If you have poor soil, simply topdress with compost each spring.

While New Mexico Olive requires no irrigation once established, continued irrigation will help it grow taller and faster.

  • Other Common Names: New Mexico Privet, Desert Olive, Wild Olive, and Stretchberry. Forestiera neomexicana is a Latin name often used, but plant authorities consider that a synonym.
  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
  • Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 15 ft tall, 10 – 15 ft spread
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Small yellow flowers emerge in early spring; dark blue berry-like drupes ripen in summer

12. Gray Oak – Quercus grisea

Gray Oak Quercus grisea in New Mexico
Image by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Gray Oaks are beautiful semi-evergreen shrubs or small trees native throughout much of NM. It would perform well anywhere in NM except the highest mountains and the hottest parts of the southwest.

The leathery gray-green leaves have a waxy coating that helps them survive in high heat and intense droughts without scorching or dropping.

Gray Oak leaves may remain until spring or, sometimes, in autumn, they turn a gorgeous crimson-red color.

The available moisture determines the size of Gray Oaks in NM. If you want a shrub, stop watering once established. For small trees, provide irrigation until they reach the desired size.

These trees are best grown in full sun to partial shade in acidic to alkaline, moist or dry but well-drained soils.

You can also learn to identify Gray Oak.

Gambel Oak is another NM native suitable for xeriscaping in the mountains but requires irrigation and shade in the lowlands.

  • Other Common Names: Shin Oak and Scrub Oak
  • USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 8
  • Average Size at Maturity: 5 – 35 ft tall*, 5 – 30 ft spread *size depends on access to water
  • Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous flowers appear in March to May; acorns mature in autumn

Establishing Drought-Tolerant Trees That Thrive in a New Mexico Xeriscape Garden

New Mexico is synonymous with xeriscaping, or it should be. Water is scarce, and humidity is low, making xeriscaping a critical factor when landscaping for aesthetic purposes.

Fortunately, as you have seen, there are many trees to choose from, depending on your climatic zone.

Often, when xeriscaping, choosing native is best because they are already adapted to the hot, dry climate and often highly alkaline soils. However, some lovely non-native trees will also work well too.

If you are new to xeriscaping, it is important to understand a few simple but essential things. Check out how to establish trees in your xeriscape garden to learn some basics to ensure successful establishment.

Then you will be rewarded with years and years of low maintenance, low cost, money saving, and low to no irrigation landscaping.

I hope this has inspired you to plant a low-maintenance, money-saving, eco and wildlife-friendly xeriscape yard of your own. Enjoy!

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Photo of author

Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences. Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees. She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing. When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.

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