Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
July, 2010
Regional Report

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Native mesquites create a shady bosque in this backyard.

Native Mesquite Bosque

Take a good look around your yard in the midst of summer. Is there an area that could benefit from a wide, umbrella-shaped tree canopy to shade the house, which would reduce energy use as well as create an outdoor respite? If so, consider adding a native mesquite tree. If space allows, consider adding a naturalistic mesquite bosque.

Bosque is Spanish for forest, and in the Southwest, it refers to a collection of mesquite trees, usually found along waterways or washes. Mesquite canopies and seeds provide shelter and food for birds, javelina, mule deer and other creatures.

You can create a shady mesquite bosque in your yard by planting several trees in a group, allowing sufficient space for canopies as the trees mature. I recently visited a home with a wonderfully inviting mesquite bosque in the backyard. The naturalistic setting was alive with bird traffic. The canopies harbor lots of insect activity for foraging and the tree's branches are ideal for sheltering nests.

Native mesquites are deciduous and also drop seedpods. (If you're a neat freak, this tree may not be the best choice.) The pods provide food for wildlife, as well as you and your family if you choose to mill them into extremely nutritious flour. Mesquite pods were an important part of native people's diets, providing protein, calcium, manganese, iron and zinc. Although sweet in flavor, mesquite flour can help people with diabetes control their blood sugar, because it contains fructose, which the body can process without insulin. Also, dry pods can be tossed into a fire to impart mesquite flavor to grilling without burning mesquite wood.

The hard pods are difficult to grind, and only the seeds and pith are edible. Check your area for a group, such as Desert Harvesters in Tucson, with a special hammermill for industrial grinding that makes the process a breeze. They grind pods at various events in Arizona for a minimal fee. Also, check with local groups or botanical gardens that collect the pods for ethnobotanical demonstrations and school projects.

Native mesquite trees
Velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina) is native to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and grows to 25 feet tall and wide. Texas honey mesquite (P. glandulosa) is native to Texas and Mexico and grows larger, reaching 30 feet tall and wide. Both mesquites take full sun, reflected heat, are drought tolerant and cold hardy to 0 degrees. They develop wide, shady crowns and are good plants for wildlife. Both have thorns, although Texas honey mesquite has thornless selections.

When to Plant
In the low desert, wait to plant trees until summer's triple-digit heat abates in September or early October. In mid-elevation deserts with less grueling temperatures, it's okay to plant during the summer monsoon season. Rainfall and increased humidity will help plants establish.

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