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How to Grow Desert Willow — Chilopsis

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Chilopsis–commonly called desert willow or desert catalpa–is a deciduous shrub or small tree that bears trumpet-shaped flowers in summer followed by catalpalike fruit in autumn.

Chilopsis is open and airy. With age, it develops shaggy bark and a twisting trunk. The leaves are linear and mid-green. The flowers are borne in racemes of white to purple-red.

Chiliopsis is drought-tolerant once established. It is a useful border shrub in warm, dry regions.

Chilopsis is a genus of one species. It is native to the Southwestern United States and Mexico.

Get to know Chilopsis

  • Plant type: Deciduous shrub or small tree
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 8 and 9
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 8
  • Height and width: 6 to 25 feet (2-8m) tall and wide
  • Foliage: Linear, enire, often curved leaves to 8 inches (20cm) long; bark becomes shaggy with age
  • Flowers: Racemes of large trumpet-shaped flowers with crimped lobes are yellow-motted, white, pink, lilac, lavender, or purple flowers
  • Bloom time: Sporadically throughout the summer
  • Fruit: Heavy crop of catalpalike fruit through the winter can be messy
  • Uses: Border in warm, dry regions
  • Common name: Desert willow
  • Botanical name: Chiliopsis
  • Family name: Bignoniaceae
  • Origin: Southwestern United States
Chilopsis flower
Flowers of Desert willow tree (Chilopsis linearis)

Where to plant Chilopsis

  • Plant Chilopsis in full sun.
  • Chilopsis will grow in average to sandy soil well-drained soil.
  • Chilopsis can be grown in a container in a greenhouse where it is not hardy.

When to plant Chilopsis

  • Set container-grown Chilopsis in the garden in spring or autumn.

Planting and spacing Chilopsis

  • Space Chilopsis 6 to 25 feet (2-8m) apart.

How to water and feed Chilopsis

  • Chilopsis requires moderate water when young, little water as it ages. It is drought tolerant once estblaished.
  • Feed Chilopsis with a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly.

Chilopsis care

  • Chilopsis is shrub-like but can be trained as a tree.
  • Pruning can keep Chilopsis handsome.

Chilopsis pests and diseases

  • Seedlings are sometimes prone to root rot.

Chilopsis propagation

  • Sow seed in very warm soil.
  • Take soft- or hardwood cuttings in spring or summer.

Chilopsis varieties to grow

  • Chilopsis linearis. Upright, densely branched shrub or tree; grows 6 to 25 feet (2-8m) tall and wide; linear, curved leaves; bears large trumpet-shaped, yellow-mottled, white, pink, lilac, lavender, or purple flowers during the summer. Cultivar ‘Burgundy’ has deep purplish flowers; ‘Cameo’ is pure white with a yellow-striped throat; ‘Pink Star’ is light pink with some purple striping.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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