With our Mojave Desert temperatures warming, it’s time to plant that tree you have wanted to add to your yard.
Recently I tagged along on the tree tour at the Springs Preserve. The preserve displays a variety of interesting trees that would create a lovely canopy in your yard. Carefully selected trees with canopies can reduce energy costs and water demands, cool the indoor temperature, and improve outside air quality. They also offer a shady environment for all of us and a welcome habitat for birds.
The trees at the Springs were selected for their ability to survive the Vegas Valley’s extreme temperatures and thrive in our alkaline soil and intense sun. The preserve’s arborists, horticulturists and plant staff have created an ensemble of trees to meet the criteria for our harsh desert climate.
Trees provide a landscape accent and are living sculptural additions to any home. Properly selected and placed, they are wonderful signatures of taste, style and color. In Las Vegas, most yards are small and homeowners need to select plants sized to complement their lots. A small tree needs to be planted 10 feet from any structure; a medium tree, 15 feet; and a large tree 20 feet away.
Southern Nevada, a part of the shrub-filled Mojave Desert, has an interesting variety of native trees that grow in the washes. They are generally compact, shrubby and use little water. Many of these native trees do just fine in our varied desert soils. Whether the soils are sandy or clay-based, the trees are at home here in Las Vegas.
Now some top choices for our desert landscape. Consider your yard as an artist’s canvas. How do you flatter your house while creating an interesting design and a cooling effect in summer?
I’d like to recommend the Sweet Acacia, which in spring has a sweet perfume with masses of fragrant yellow-orange puffball flowers. The Shoestring Acacia is another favorite since it is thornless. It has a willowy leaf that looks like shoestrings blowing in the wind. Both acacias are hardy and drought-tolerant.
The Desert Willow has narrow leaves, and the gorgeous pink or white orchid-like flowers have a wonderful sweet aroma. They are a real treat as they bloom late spring through November. The magenta-pink flowers of the Western Redbud, which is native to the Southwest, emerge in the early spring. You can see the blossoms now at the Springs Preserve. This small tree is eye-catching in any landscape.
Blue Palo Verde has thorns but I love its airy blue-green branches. The tree canopy has masses of light yellow flowers in the spring. This showstopper is a perfect fit for low water-use landscapes. I also love the Foothill Palo Verde, or Desert Museum variety, as it can be shaped as a small patio tree. Its lacy leaves form a delicate canopy.
The Chilean, Honey, Native and Screwbean Mesquite trees have broad canopies with wide-spreading branches. More contained is the African Sumac. The fast-growing Common Locust is a favorite with its bouquets of fragrant wisteria-like spring flowers. Another attractive small tree is the Texas Mountain Laurel, which has glossy evergreen leaves and beautiful purple blooms. The flowers smell remarkably like grape Kool-Aid. The Chaste Tree, or Vitex, has numerous lilac flowers at the branch tips.
With so many desert-friendly trees, you can frame your home with a variety of colors, shapes and heights. Trees also add environmental benefits in cities, not the least of which is shelter and shade for both humans and wildlife. So, go ahead, dedicated Las Vegans, put down some roots. Plant that tree. Arbor Day is just around the corner.