En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Friday - May 25, 2012

From: Tucson, AZ
Region: Southwest
Topic: Planting, Privacy Screening, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Shade trees for Tucson AZ
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I need to plant some "fast growing" trees or shrubs on my southwest yard in order to reduce the heat in my bedroom. What do you suggest? I live in Tucson, Arizona. Thank you in advance. I'm melting,


You need to realize that even "fast growing" plants are going to take several years to do any good. Lots of people think that putting in plants is cheaper, or even free when they are looking for some sort of sound or light barrier. However, if you consider the cost of the plant (which has the cost of growing it for several years and transportation factored in), the cost for planting (money to a landscaper, liniment for your back), watering, fertilizing, fighting off pests, etc. you might find something quicker will not be as expensive as you first thought. We will, of course, recommend some trees and shrubs, which will grow to a good height, and be more dense to provide shade, all native to Pima County.

But since you are melting now, and we recommend that you wait at least until November through January to plant woody plants, you might want to consider some alternatives. If you go ahead and plant the shrubs or trees now, in Arizona, you can almost expect them to experience transplant shock and die, or at least  be severely slowed in their growth. Blinds or lined drapes inside, and/or a trellis outside, close to the window, with a fast-growing vine can be good interim or permanent solutions. Follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant to learn about growing conditions, sunlight tolerance, water needs, projected heights, etc. This search turned out to be quite a challenge, there were no shrubs that were native to Pima County. In fact, this was also a problem with the selection of trees; the ones that were native to Arizona just couldn't seem to get down to the southern border of Arizona with Mexico. Those drapes are looking better all the time.

Plants for a sunscreen in Arizona:

Acacia farnesiana (Huisache)

Acer glabrum var. neomexicanum (New mexico maple)

Cercocarpus montanus var. glaber (Birch-leaf mountain-mahogany)

Juniperus deppeana (Alligator juniper)

Olneya tesota (Desert ironwood)


From the Image Gallery

New mexico maple
Acer glabrum var. neomexicanum

Smooth mountain mahogany
Cercocarpus montanus var. glaber

Desert ironwood
Olneya tesota

Vachellia farnesiana

Alligator juniper
Juniperus deppeana

More Shrubs Questions

Landscaping on South Padre Island
June 07, 2008 - I'm in charge of landscaping at my beachfront condo in South Padre Island and find the wind, salt air, and heat challenging for growing almost anything. We would like to incorporate native plants, b...
view the full question and answer

Evergreen Shrubs for the Houston area
March 24, 2011 - Hello Mr. Smarty Plants, I live in the Houston area and I am looking for an evergreen native shrub (no more than 7 feet tall at maturity) for two locations - one would be in full sun and the other ...
view the full question and answer

Wintering a Lemon Cypress tree in Eagan MN
September 29, 2009 - I Have a 2 1/2' Lemon Cypress Tree. I'm wondering if I can leave it outdoors for the winter, if not, how would I winter over indoors?
view the full question and answer

Wax myrtle problems from Driftwood TX
September 04, 2010 - We planted 27 wax myrtles on the perimeter of our property last year and were diligent about watering them throughout the drought. They are in very rocky soil (we had to use a jackhammer to dig the ho...
view the full question and answer

Webs on limbs of evergreen sumac from Austin
May 13, 2014 - We have a mature Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens) that has spider webs on the end of some limbs. The end of the those limbs have died although new growth is coming on further up the limb. We live in th...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center