Trees for Tucson

December 1, 2012 |

Did you dream about how great it would be to have a big shade tree in your yard during last summer’s heat? Now is the time to plant that tree. Warms days and cool nights in Tucson are perfect for tree planting, according to Rocky Yosek, operations coordinator at Trees for Tucson. Although trees can be planted from October to April, winter months are “a great time to plant a tree even if there’s a freeze because the roots are protected underground.”

Trees for Tucson is a project of the nonprofit Tucson Clean and Beautiful, and is funded by Tucson Electric Power (TEP) and Trico Electric Cooperative. Four thousand low-cost shade trees are made available every year to TEP and Trico customers. Over 80,000 trees have been distributed through Trees for Tucson since the program’s founding in 1989.

Homeowners may order trees by going to the Trees for Tucson website at   and downloading a PDF order form or by emailing and requesting a PDF order form. The cost of each tree is $8 for homeowners. Some guidelines apply. Owners of homes built in 1980 or after or older homes with double-pane windows may purchase two trees a year. For homes built before 1980 and with single pane windows, up to four trees can be ordered. Yosek adds that this is for the one calendar year only. Home owners can order additional trees in following years.

Shade trees are a desirable component of a home owner’s landscaping plan. They provide shade and cooler temperatures for homes which means energy use is lower in our torrid summers. Trees also provide homes for birds, beautify the neighborhood, and reduce carbon emissions and air pollution.

This year these shade trees are available from Trees for Tucson: desert willow, blue palo verde, red push pistache, ironwood, and desert museum palo verde. Yosek says the red push pistache is a popular tree these days. “This tree is being planted in city parks now. It is very attractive and has no thorns.” He adds that the desert willow still remains the most popular tree. “At least 50% of my orders are for desert willow,” Yosek says. Velvet mesquite is not on the list currently due to low stock at nurseries, but will probably be available by spring. Velvet mesquite produces edible seed pods which can be milled into flour. The flour adds a sweet, nutty flavor to favorite bread and pancake recipes.

Reduction of the “urban heat island” effect is another benefit of tree planting. An urban heat island is caused by acres and acres of urban asphalt and concrete which absorb heat during the day and release it very slowly after dark. This heat retention makes it difficult for cities to cool off at night. According to the Southwest Climate Change Network at the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment, temperatures in urban Tucson “increased approximately 3 times more than rural temperatures” over the past 30 years.

“Tucson’s urban temperatures are approximately 5.5 degrees F warmer than they were in the last century, with more than 3.5 degrees F of the warming occurring in the last 30 years,” according to a Southwest Climate Change Network report.  The situation in Phoenix is even worse. Between 1948 and 2000, “urbanization has increased the nighttime minimum temperatures in central Phoenix [Sky Harbor International Airport] by approximately 9 degrees F and the average daily temperature by approximately 5.5 degrees F.”

Yosek adds that Trees for Tucson also offers a community tree-planting program and a school tree-planting program.

Individuals in a community can ask neighbors to participate in landscaping with trees. Instead of planting next to a private home, the trees are placed to provide shade near neighborhood buildings, in common areas, and along streets.  Yosek adds that the Sonoran Environmental Research Institute (SERI) has targeted low-income neighborhoods where local residents are recruited to plant trees, and then helped by SERI to order trees. SERI pays for the trees and delivers them for planning.

School tree planting programs can be initiated by principals, teachers, or parent groups. Students get involved in learning about the environmental benefits of tree, and in planting the trees.  Yosek says that last year several schools participated in the Trees for Tucson program, among them Doolen, Apollo, Challenger, Flowing Wells, and Altar Valley Middle Schools, and also Roskruge K-8 and Meredith K-12 schools.

Learn more about Trees for Tucson at


Category: Community