This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

How to make Phoenix a cooler and shadier place - plant a tree, and care for it


I love Phoenix, but it has one serious drawback - it's hot. And I mean crazy hot, like "can't touch your steering wheel if your car has been outside in the sun" hot. It's not quite enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk (I once tried), but it's close. My California friends will visit in the winter, and in the meantime they just offer their sympathy to me for having to live somewhere that gets so hot. Of course, for my friends in Minnesota I explain that it's like the cold there, except that you don't have to shovel heat, like snow. Luckily, there's air conditioning, and shade.

Unfortunately, Phoenix is in the Sonoran Desert, which has been dangerously hot since the end of the last Ice Age. But Phoenix has actually been getting hotter since the 1970s, when the trees went away.

By the time I got to Phoenix, in 1979, I had no idea that Phoenix had once been a city of trees. I never saw the trees, I've just seen photos of them, and I've talked to people who remember the trees. It really wasn't that long ago that they trees went away. My research shows that the pioneers of Phoenix started planting trees in the 1860s, and for generation after generation Phoenix was a place of shady trees. Yeah, still hot, but it had trees.

Nowadays I see a lot of people who are unhappy about this. And they rant on Facebook, or get angry at their city council for not planting trees, or forward emails. But so many people fail to do the one thing that would make all of the difference - plant a tree, and care for it.

I'm not talking about planting a random tree somewhere in an abandoned lot. Trees need care. As saplings, they need extra water until they're established, even desert adapted trees, like mesquite. And if you plant a desert-adapted tree, keep in mind that it will grow, maybe a little too well, and need to be trimmed, and the leaves will need to be cleaned up every once in a while. I let the leaves from my trees fall into my garden, where they become mulch. If you've designed an outdoor space that needs to be kept completely clean of leaves all of the time, redesign it. Take all of that money, and water, from a pool or a large lawn of grass, and invest it in a tree.

Image at the top of this post: the Evans House in 1904, 11th Avenue and Washington, Phoenix, Arizona. Under the shade of the trees.


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