Drought-tolerant trees could be next water-saving decision in Las Vegas

Drought-tolerant trees could be next water-saving decision in Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Climate change is here, and there’s a good chance it has already visited your house.

As people put in rock landscapes and take out thirsty grass, the Las Vegas valley is looking different all the time. Since 1999, the Water Smart Landscapes rebate program has resulted in more than 68,000 projects at single-family homes with an estimated annual water savings of 4.4 billion gallons, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

But what about trees? How are they going to survive in a yard full of rocks? The answer might be a key to another smart step in the conversion of your home’s landscape: a drought-tolerant tree.

M L Robinson of the University of Nevada Extension sees the solution all around us. In vacant lots, abandoned yards and desert areas all across the valley, things continue to grow — and offer a lesson for the future.

Acacia tree. (Photo by Seydou Diallo/AFP via Getty Images)

You’ll see blue palo verde trees, mesquite trees, desert willow, vitex (chaste tree) and mastic gum trees, Robinson said. These are trees that survive long after the water is shut off, because they are drought tolerant.

Robinson throws in the Washatonia palm — better known as the Mexican fan palm. He even talks about creosote, a bush that seems to survive when nothing else can take the heat.

When rocks replace grass, it isn’t necessarily a death sentence for the tree that’s already planted in your yard.

Dr. Daniel Herms, vice president of research and development for The Davey Tree Expert Company, said acacias, mesquites and palo verdes are best suited to the Mojave desert. And rock landscapes won’t be a problem since they already thrive here. Herms is featured in the video at the top of this story.

Exotic and familiar choices abound at stores all across the valley, and it might be tempting to try something that might work — given enough water. But Robinson cautions: Just because they sell it here doesn’t mean it will thrive here.

Charred honey mesquite bushes recover from a 2005 wildfire at Big Morongo Wildlife Preserve on April 11, 2007 in Morongo Valley, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Signs that your tree is struggling with the heat will be apparent, but only if you have paid attention to the tree’s health before it falls victim, Herms said. Changes in leaves will be the first indicator of a problem, he said. After that, it’s important to watch for changes in a tree’s usual growth. Damage to the tree’s bark is a bad sign.

Herms said experts estimate 90% of tree problems originate below ground. Among the problems: soil compaction, mineral imbalances, moisture — too much or too little — and aeration are the usual causes.

Herms fields questions from all over the U.S. about climate change, and he’s quick to point to local resources in the quest for answers that make sense in the desert. Among his suggestions:

The university offers its own guidance with a variety of subjects:

Herms notes that it’s important to remember that along with the heat, Southern Nevada is also subject to hard frosts, which is important in considering the types of plants you get.

He also said acacias and mesquite tend to have “unruly” growth, and an arborist who knows how to properly prune these trees could be valuable.

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