Mesquites add carefree beauty to the landscape

Mesquites make beautiful desert landscape plants that require little care.<br> Courtesy

Mesquites make beautiful desert landscape plants that require little care.<br> Courtesy

Driving around the Mohave County area, you can't help but notice the mesquite trees.

They are probably one of the most popular landscape trees next to the palo verde. The mesquite is basically a carefree tree that does not require a great deal of water after the first year. However, to keep this tree beautiful in your landscape, maintenance is required.

First, let's touch on a little history of this magnificent tree.

The wood of the mesquite is considered harder than oak. The Indians used it for framing their huts and the early settlers as fence posts, wagon wheels and walkways. It is currently being used as flooring in weight rooms since it can withstand the weights athletes drop on it.

The wood also is an excellent fuel source for heating and cooking. It burns hot and is somewhat smokeless. It is well known that mesquite flavoring is popular in barbecuing.

Since the bark of the mesquite strips easily and is smooth, it has been used for making baskets, fabric and shoes, and the sap was used as a glue. The thorns have been utilized as sewing needles and for tattooing. Don't forget the leaves that, when boiled as a tea, was used as an eyewash and to relieve stomach and headaches.

The seedpods are one of the most popular parts of the tree. They are nutritious and can be harvested in September and October. Once sun dried or oven dried, they can be ground in a coffee grinder or food processor. The ground pods (about the consistency of cornmeal) can be used for flavoring in bread, biscuits and tortillas. And don't forget, use it as a rub on meat while barbecuing over hot mesquite coals.

Now, let's get down to the health and care of the mesquite tree. The first year after planting a mesquite tree is when it will require water, after that, turn off the bubbler if there is one next to it. Why? When the mesquite has a continual supply of water, the branches and leaves grow and grow. But underground, the roots are not extending out. That is why, in our severe windstorms, you see so many mesquites uprooted.

When you water a desert plant properly, it sends its roots down and out as far as the water goes. That is why you need to deep water mesquites.

How often you ask? Since mesquites are used as a landscape tree, we want them to look green and full. Therefore, a good rule of thumb in the summer time is to water deeply once a month and, in the winter, probably not at all. But once again, if we have a dry winter with no rain and a lot of wind, a good deep watering every 6 to 8 weeks might be necessary.

Pruning your mesquite tree, as with any of our native plants, should be kept to a minimum. Selective pruning should be done while the tree is young. Once it has reached a desired size, its growth will slow with reduced irrigation. At that time, thin branches within the tree if necessary.

Do not top and chop the tree back. First, you are opening the tree up to disease due to open wounds. Secondly, you will be stimulating the tree to grow faster in order to heal itself. The new shoots and branches that it will produce will never become as strong as the main branches that you have removed, which could be detrimental in a windstorm. And thirdly, the natural beauty of this tree will be impaired.

When planting this tree, remember that it can grow to 45 feet wide. It is best used as an accent tree and should not be planted near a house or septic system. Its roots can become quite invasive. And since it has a tendency to litter, it is not recommended for planting around pool areas.

Hopefully, you have gained some increased knowledge of this beautiful native plant. When looking at it, try and imagine our forefathers sitting under this tree keeping cool on a hot summer day or one of our Native Americans picking seed pods to be ground into medicine or food.

For more information, contact the University of Arizona Mohave County Cooperative Extension at 101 E. Beale St., Suite A, or call (928) 753-3788.