Post by guest blogger Dennis Swartzell, a board-certified master arborist, who has a consulting practice where he resides in Southern Nevada. He is Landscape and Arboretum Director Emeritus at the University of Nevada – Las Vegas and current president of the Western Chapter ISA.
When people consider trees in the desert they often have mixed emotions. Some say that trees do not belong in a desert. Others contend that trees are a huge benefit in arid landscapes. My take? Trees are an important part of the oasis experience. The key word here is oasis. If you’re ever been in a desert or even seen a movie take place in a desert, you know your number one priority is to find shade and trees near an oasis, where water is available.
Shade for Your Shelter
If you ask anyone what they want in a desert landscape, the number one answer is SHADE! At home, they want trees that provide shade for their outdoor living space and their driveway or garage. In public, they want shade that makes their daily activities more pleasant. Just follow a car looking for parking in the desert and see where they land…9 times out of 10 they will have parked in—or be circling nearby—a shaded spot.
The real challenge for desert dwellers isn’t finding shaded parking, though—it’s finding suitable species that can both provide shade and survive a harsh desert climate. Many tree species can survive hot, dry conditions, but there are far fewer adapted to both the hot summers and cold winters found in the desert. Species must also, of course, be readily available at the local nursery.
Stumped on how to find a species? Here’s where a certified arborist who knows desert environments well can be a big help. (Want to know more about arborists? Read this recent blog post by my colleague Mary.)
Helping Desert Species Thrive and Survive
Once species have been selected and planted, the next crucial step is planning for routine maintenance. Tree owners must recognize and care for the special characteristics of their arid trees. For example, protecting a tree’s trunk from the harsh desert sun is important—as is keeping some of the lower foliage intact.
Trees also need sufficient irrigation. Virtually all of the trees used in desert landscapes come from other areas so the amount of water they need can vary, and is important to know. The source for irrigation must also be sustainable over the course of the tree’s entire life span. Too often trees are provided just enough water to support them during their formative years and are then left on their own. If we water wisely, we can conserve this precious desert resource while making sure our trees thrive.
The bottom line is that if you can find the right trees and treat them well, they will provide you far more than just a little shade. They can even reduce your energy bills and increase your home value. Just like any good desert adventure, finding and planting the right tree species for you and your climate is best done with a partner—and professional arborists are the perfect fit.