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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mesquite Bushes Can Be Trained to a Tree

Q. I grew up in a part of Texas where mesquites were bushes not trees.  We have a small backyard here in Vegas with two mesquite trees in it; one large one and one slender one. There is little or no green on them, just wood. There are so many woody branches I am wondering if they will ever give us shade.  Would you please educate me on this?

Native honey mesquite growing in the Mojave Desert just outside of Las Vegas, NV
A. The Texas mesquite or honey mesquite is a shrub that we prune into a tree form. The plant grows well here but is usually not a preferred type of mesquite because of its long thorns. There are improved types of mesquites that are usually preferred.
            With a little bit of care when they are young they can be trained into a tree form.
            In our climate many mesquites drop their leaves in winter and so are considered deciduous to semi evergreen due to winter cold. In warmer climates they tend to stay evergreen during the winter unless there is a cold spell. 

One of the ornamental mesquites in the nursery trade, claimed to be thornless, showing dense canopy and shade, a sign of abundant water.
            We consider our local mesquite to be a riparian species of plant. In other words it puts on growth when water is available and slows down when water is not. When mesquite trees are watered frequently they can put on large amounts of spindly growth, perhaps 8 feet or more each year.
            Mesquite are normally very deep rooted plants in the wild. Being deep-rooted gives them the capability of avoiding long periods of time without water. For this reason they can be very drought tolerant if they have rooted deeply.

Native mesquite growing in the Sonoran Desert near Jerez, Mex, demonstrating sinker roots tapping into deep water from a nearby river.
             If mesquite trees are watered too often, their roots will tend to be shallow and not deep-rooted, a frequent problem in over-irrigated landscapes. They also tend to put on a lot of wood because of frequent irrigations.
            Mesquite trees handle pruning very well and their growth is very adaptable to landscape management. They do well with light fertilizer applications annually. They should be grouped with other desert plants for irrigation purposes.
            After training these plants into a tree form they do not require a lot of pruning. In fact heavy pruning just encourages a lot of new growth. I would remove lower branches just high enough to allow traffic to pass under them.
            Frequent irrigations will cause these plants to be lush and provide dense shade. Watering less often will cause them to become more open and provide lighter shade. Remove branches that are crossing or growing too close together.
            Limbs would be removed at their point of origin, not by hedging or simply cutting them back.

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