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10 Shade Trees for New Mexico (Including Fast-Growing)

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New Mexico is a beautiful and incredibly diverse state, but one thing it is known for, no matter where you are, is lots of sunshine. And when you have lots of sun and heat, you will also want shade.

However, not all shade trees will grow well in most of NM’s high heat, low humidity, and alkaline soils, so it is important to do a little research.

Following is a list of ten shade trees for New Mexico, including fast-growing ones, that you can grow in any of the New Mexico hardiness zones.

10 Shade Trees That Grow Well in New Mexico

1. Texas Live Oak – Quercus fusiformis

Texas Live Oak Quercus fusiformis
Image by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Texas Live Oak is one of my favorite oak trees, with wildly contorted branches that spread wider than tall. This iconic ‘mighty oak’ makes for a wonderful shade tree and a nice focal point for your yard.

They are slow to moderate growers, and because they spread, they shouldn’t be planted right next to buildings so they have ample room to grow over time.

Texas Live Oaks are best grown in full sun to partial shade and will tolerate urban pollution and any soil type, including highly alkaline and saline, provided it is well-drained to prevent root rot.

Never prune the lower branches to raise the canopy, as this can result in sunscald injury or death. Otherwise, they tolerate heat exceptionally well and are mildly drought-tolerant once established. They can be grown anywhere in NM except the high mountains.

For more information, see how to identify Texas Live Oak.

Other Common Names: Escarpment Live Oak, Plateau Live Oak, Plateau Oak, Heritage Live Oak, and Bay Live Oak

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 11

Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 50 ft (to 82 ft) tall, 25 – 40 ft (to 100 ft) spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous flowers emerge in spring; acorns mature in early fall of the same year

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees

2. Arizona Sycamore Tree – Platanus wrightii (Fast-Growing)

Arizona_Sycamore Platanus wrightii _in_Summer
Image by Raquel Baranow, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Arizona Sycamore is a fast-growing tree native to New Mexico along the Rio Grande Valley. Being native, it will handle the high heat in most years without suffering the leaf scorch other sycamores would.

These large trees have rounded crowns of pretty leaves resembling maple trees but with fuzzy hairs on their undersides that flash silvery highlights in the wind.

The added bonus is their attractive mottled bark and ball-shaped seed pods that add winter interest after the leaves have turned yellow and fallen from the tree.

Arizona Sycamores are also incredibly fast-growing, 3 – 5 feet per year, but they require moderate irrigation to help them grow fast and look healthy, making them unsuitable for xeriscaping.

These trees are best grown in medium moist humus-rich soil in full sun or partial shade and will tolerate highly alkaline soils. They can be grown in all but the highest mountains of NM.

Other Common Names: In Spanish, Aliso, Sicomoro, and Álamo

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 85 ft tall, 20 – 60 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers bloom from April to May; seed pods mature in early fall

3. Rio Grande Cottonwood – Populus deltoides ssp wislizeni (Fast-Growing)

Rio Grande Cottonwoods Populus deltoides ssp wislizeni in New Mexico
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize – Trees growing naturally in a valley bottom in the foothills in summer and in winter on the White Sands National Park sand dunes.

Rio Grande Cottonwood is a type of poplar tree native to riparian areas of New Mexico, the American Southwest, and northern Mexico.

In NM, they grow naturally along the Rio Grande Valley and even on top of some of the sand dunes in White Sands National Park, where the water table is close to the surface.

Their broad triangular gorgeous green leaves provide dense shade for the hot, dry summer before they turn a beautiful shade of yellow in the fall.

Rio Grande Cottonwoods are some of the fastest growing trees native to North America, growing 5 – 10 ft per year in the first few years, providing rich shade incredibly fast.

These are very cold-hardy trees that tolerate the alkaline soils, high heat, and low humidity anywhere in NM very well, provided they have access to groundwater or are provided irrigation. They are not suitable for xeriscaping.

Other Common Names: Valley Cottonwood, Wislizenus Cottonwood, and in Spanish, Alamo, and Guerigo.

USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 65 ft (to 85 ft) tall, 20 – 60 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Dioecious trees flower in April; cottony capsules mature on female trees in late spring or summer.

4. Mexican White Oak – Quercus polymorpha (Fast-Growing)

Mexican White Oak Quercus_polymorpha
Image by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Mexican White Oak is a fantastic choice for its dense canopy of leaves and incredibly fast growth, allowing you to create necessary shade quickly. It will grow as much as 4 ft per year if given some irrigation during the dry season.

In parts of New Mexico, they may even be semi-evergreen, retaining their leaves most of the winter and providing shade throughout the sometimes very warm fall.

However, Mexican White Oak is not very cold-hardy, making it suitable only for the southern half of NM in the lowlands or foothills.

These trees are best grown in full sun to partial shade in medium, moist, neutral to alkaline soil.

Once established, Mexican White Oaks are very drought-tolerant and suitable for xeriscaping. So, once you have achieved the growth and shade you want, you can cease irrigation. Learn how to establish trees in a xeriscape garden here.

You can also learn to identify Mexican White Oak.

Other Common Names: Monterrey Oak, Netleaf White Oak

USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 65 ft tall, 30 – 50 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous flowers emerge from March to May; acorns mature in autumn

5. Arizona Ash – Fraxinus velutina (Fast Growing)

Arizona Ash Fraxinus velutina in New Mexico
Image by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Arizona Ash is a lovely drought-tolerant tree that is native throughout much of New Mexico.

These fast-growing trees (more than 2 ft per year) have wide umbrella-like canopies of compound leaves that provide excellent shade.

Arizona Ash is highly tolerant of any soil type, including alkaline, sand, clay, and acidic, and it can be well-drained or poorly drained. It is also highly tolerant of urban conditions and makes a great street tree, where it also provides a lovely yellow fall color display.

Even though they love to grow in full sun, the desert sun can sometimes scorch them when young. Consider planting it with other trees or next to a tree you plan to replace, allowing it to grow a few years before cutting down the old tree.

If you want to see this tree in its native habitat, you can learn to identify Arizona or Velvet Ash.

Other Common Names: Arizona Ash, Modesto Ash, Desert Ash, Leatherleaf Ash, Smooth Ash, Standley Ash, Toumey Ash, Fantex Ash, and Fresno (Spanish).

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 11

Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 50 ft tall, 20 – 60 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous male or female flowers bloom in spring; seeds mature in summer if male and female trees are both present

Available at: Nature Hills

6. Raywood Ash – Fraxinus oxycarpa ‘Raywood’ (Fast-Growing)

Raywood Ash Fraxinus oxycarpa 'Raywood'
Images via Oregon State University – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Raywood Ash is a beautiful shade tree popular for its small dark green leaves that turn a luscious red wine color in the fall.

Unlike some ash trees, these moderate to fast-growing trees prefer slightly alkaline soils and can tolerate highly alkaline soils and droughts, making them a great choice for New Mexico. During a long extended drought, occasional watering is all that may be necessary.

Raywood Ash should be grown in full sun in fertile, well-drained soil. To keep them healthy, provide an annual top dressing of compost each spring.

However, they are somewhat sensitive to heat, so it is best not to plant them next to asphalt or in the hottest parts of the southwest corner of NM.

Raywood Ash is a mostly sterile cultivar of a Eurasian tree, which means they are highly unlikely ever to become invasive.

Other Common Names: Claret Ash

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 45 – 50 ft (to 80 ft) tall, 25 – 30 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Red flowers bloom in April but are mostly sterile and do not produce fruits or seeds

7. Navajo Globe Willow – Salix matsudana ‘Navajo’ (Fast-Growing)

Navajo Globe Willow Salix matsudana 'Navajo'
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, and via Sierra Vista Growers – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Navajo Globe Willow is a gorgeous, fast-growing tree with green-yellow leaves that flash their white undersides when the wind blows.

The ‘Globe’ part of their name is for their perfectly rounded form and thick canopy of leaves that cast a dense, cooling shade.

Navajo Globe Willows are best grown in full sun to partial shade in moist, well-drained soil of any type, including highly alkaline and saline.

These trees are known for their requiring less water and tolerating more extreme dry heat than other willows. However, in New Mexico, they will still need occasional irrigation during the dry season unless they have access to groundwater.

While Navajo Globe Willows typically grow taller in other climates, 35 – 50’ heights are more common in the more arid southwest.

Weeping Willow will also grow in NM but requires more moisture, making it more suitable for riparian areas or the state’s northern half.

Other Common Names: Navajo Peking Willow and Globe Willow

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 10b

Average Size at Maturity: 35 – 70 ft tall, 35 – 70 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Inconspicuous flowers appear in spring; capsular fruits mature in late summer of the same year

Available at: Nature Hills

8. Valley Oak – Quercus lobata (Fast-Growing)

Valley Oak Quercus lobata
Image by WeirdNAnnoyed, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Valley Oak is a lovely wide-spreading oak with long, drooping branches, typical lobed oak-style leaves, and thick cross-checked bark that adds winter interest and is fantastic for shade.

These fast-growing trees can grow up to 4 ft per year when young and can live up to 600 years.

Valley Oak thrives in dry Mediterranean-style climates, making it a good choice for most New Mexico, excluding the high mountains with too long winters.

These trees prefer moist, fertile, well-drained, and acidic to mildly alkaline soil, so it is not suitable for all New Mexico soils. And while it grows in dry climates, it does so with access to groundwater or irrigation during the long dry season to keep it healthy.

Unlike most oaks, Valley Oak acorns are sweet and edible. However, they are not self-fertile, so two trees will be necessary to produce acorns.

If you want more information, you can learn to identify Valley Oak.

Other Common Names: California White Oak, White Oak, Bottom Oak, Water Oak, and Roble (Spanish)

USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 11

Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 80 ft (to 115 ft) tall, 30 – 50 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Trees flower in March – April; acorns mature October to November

9. Pecan Trees – Carya illinoinensis

Pecan Tree Carya illinoinensis
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, and via Fast-Growing-Trees – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

New Mexico is world famous for its pecan production, often leading the country in the commercial production of these tasty treats.

However, what is less known is that many NM homeowners also plant pecan trees as dual-purpose shade and nut-producing trees.

Pecans make great shade trees and are medium to tall trees with long ascending branches and graceful compound leaves.

Not all pecans, however, are suited to growing in NM. Choosing the right pecan cultivar for NM will reward you with beautiful, disease-free trees that cast rich shade and provide bountiful harvests.

Cultivars are available that will thrive in the hot southern lowlands with their mild winters, hot summers, and usually alkaline soils. Other cultivars will do better in the cooler northern parts of NM with their milder summers and more average soils.

All pecans require some irrigation when grown in the more arid parts of the state or if high nut production is desired.

Common Names: Hardy Pecan

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 75 ft tall, 20 – 40 ft spread

Flowering / Fruiting Season: Flowers appear April – May; pecans are ready to harvest September – November, depending on the cultivar

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

10. Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa

Ponderosa Pine Pinus ponderosa Growing in a Desert Climate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Ponderosa Pine is a tall native New Mexico evergreen tree that grows naturally in the high foothills and low mountains and thrives in dry soils with low humidity.

Its preference for dry climates also makes this tree a perfect choice as a shade tree in the southern lowlands, where it will still grow fairly tall at a moderate rate.

Ponderosa Pines will grow well throughout most of NM. Once established, irrigation is usually not necessary except in the more arid parts of USDA Zone 8, where occasional irrigation may be necessary during the long dry season to keep them looking healthy.

These trees will grow their best in full sun and deep, moist, well-drained soil. However, they are hardy trees that also tolerate dry, alkaline soils and will withstand the strong winds that can blow through the lowlands.

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

Other Common Names: Western Yellow Pine, Bull Pine, Black Jack, Western Red Pine, Western Longleaf Pine, and 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)

Available at: Nature Hills

Shade Trees That Thrive in New Mexico

New Mexico is a gorgeous state known for its plentiful sunshine, so shade trees are a must-have in many areas to help beat the summer heat.

And even though the climate and soils can be challenging, many shade trees will thrive, no matter where you live in NM. All you need to do is do a little research to make sure you choose the right tree for your yard.

Some trees people may consider shade trees that I strongly discourage planting due to their highly invasive nature in NM include Siberian Elm and Russian Olive (Eleagnus angustifolia). Choose one of the lovely native or non-invasive ones above instead to help protect our rich biodiversity.

I hope this has inspired you and helped you find the right shade tree for your yard. Happy tree planting!

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