Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D. in the middle desert zone to tell you about almonds – a tree that can be grown your yard in all but the lowest areas of the Southwest.
A number of plants from the warmer areas of the eastern Mediterranean grow well in our Southwest gardens, and one of my favorites is almonds. There are many trees you can plant in your Southwest yard, but if you are going to the effort of planting and watering a tree, why not make it one that will also provide a nutritious and tasty snack – like almonds.
Almond trees are living beings, so they will need some care, but they need minimal care. They tolerate our alkaline soils, need fertilizer three times a year, and will need water in dry months. The dwarf varieties have a short and compact form, thus they fit well in smaller yards, or in the corner of an already planted yard. The incredibly fragrant flowers grace the trees in early spring and provide ample nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators.
Light. Almond trees require full sun, but appreciate some afternoon shade in our summer. Avoid a spot where they will be exposed to reflected heat and light, like near a swimming pool.
Soil. Almonds grow well in our alkaline soils, not needing extensive soil amendments and constant monitoring like citrus trees. One exception is clay soils. Almonds require well-drained soils. If you live in an area of clay soils, plants can easily drown if you over-water them. Amend clay soils before planting with ample sand and compost.
Water. Almond trees are fairly drought tolerant but if you give them a good soak once a week when they have leaves, they will fruit better.
Fertilizer. The easy thing to remember is to fertilize with the major holidays. Twice early in the year and once early in the fall. For most of the Southwest this is Easter, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.
Harvest. It takes 2 to 4 years after planting for the trees to start bearing. Related to apricots, the edible almond seed develops inside a fuzzy apricot-like fruit or “hull” that is discarded after harvest. The taste of homegrown almonds is far far far better than store bought. Milky and sweet! Almonds are a nutritious, heart-healthy snack that can be eaten raw, roasted, or made into a non-dairy almond “milk.” One bonus of almonds is that the pesky birds can’t peck into the fruits, destroying your harvest.
Post Script – 3 Keys to Selecting Almond Variety:
The key to growing fruit and nut trees in the Southwest is to match their required chill hours with your area. Almonds are one of the nuts that also require a pollinizer plant if they are the standard size. The dwarf and semi dwarf forms do not need pollinizers.
Chill hours are the number of hours below 45 degrees in a winter and are an essential requirement for many fruit trees, like apples, plums, and almonds.
Pollinizer plants are same species a different variety so that they can provide different pollen for each other. (The term “self-sterile” means they need a pollinizer plant.) Pollinator animals do the pollination work for you. Almond example: the variety ‘Texas’ needs ‘Thompson’ or ‘All in One’ as a pollinizer.
Harvest Window. One final thing to consider when selecting variety is the harvest window. Almonds ripen early (August) or late (October). Think about when you want to be outdoors harvesting. Luckily, nuts don’t have to be processed all at once, like tomatoes.
© This article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos in this article courtesy of Pixabay.
Dr. Jacqueline Soule has been writing about gardening in our region for over three decades. Her most recent book, Month by Month Guide to Gardening in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, 2016). It’s a companion volume to Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2014).