Outstanding Small Trees for Las Vegas

The residential lots in Las Vegas are considerably smaller than what you’ll find in many other cities, which means that there’s not usually a lot of room for a giant tree in either the front or the backyard. A tree that comes in at no more than 20’ is probably one of the most common requests that I get at work, so I’ve come up with a list of small trees for Las Vegas that will grow from 10’ to 20’ feet high and that can tolerate our heat, cold and crappy, crappy soil. Most of them also have low water requirements, especially once they’re established, but any exceptions to this rule are noted in the specific details about each tree.

 

Trees Mastic-minMastic Tree
Pistachia lentiscus
15’H x 8’W
Evergreen

This tree has low water requirements, though regular watering can increase its growth rate. Mastics may be pruned into a single- or multi-trunked tree that is ideal near pools or walkways and their relatively broad canopy is a good source of shade throughout the year. While they may produce small red berries that turn black as they ripen, fruiting is rare and won’t normally create a mess, so you definitely don’t want to let it stop you from planting this pretty Mediterranean native.

 

 

 

 

Not sure whether to plant an evergreen or deciduous tree? Find out the benefits and drawbacks of both here!

sophora secundiflora, texas mountain laurel, mescal bean

Texas Mountain Laurel
Sophora secundiflora
20’H x 10’W
Evergreen

This slow-growing native to the Southwest produces purple flowers in the springtime that look similar to wisteria blooms and smell like grape Kool-Aid. Texas mountain laurels can easily be kept as a large, attractive shrub or trained into a single or multi-trunk tree. Intense sun and reflected heat are no problem for these pretty and rugged little trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Texas mountain laurel silver peso sierra

EDIT 11/02/2017: I’m amending this to note that the silver variety of this tree, sold locally as the Silver Peso or Silver Sierra Texas mountain laurel, may be a better choice if you’re looking for a little less maintenance.

The thing is, there’s this caterpillar, the larvae of the Genista moth (sometimes just called a Sophora moth) that absolutely adores the green variety of this tree. I mean, loves it. Can’t get enough of it and will eat the new growth right down to nothing in the spring and fall.  Which means they don’t sometimes look their best during the seasons when they should be shining.

 

Fortunately for us all, that caterpillar doesn’t dig the silver-leafed varieties. I don’t know why and I’m not going to try to get in their heads about it. I simply advise that the silver-leafed varieties are easier to care for because of it and yes, the flowers still smell like grape Kool-Aid.

 

 

 

 

vitex agnus, chaste tree

Chaste Tree
Vitex agnus-castus
20’H x 20’W
Deciduous

Chaste trees are fast-growing and very showy throughout the summer months. Their large purple flower spikes and tolerance for alkaline soils have made these trees a favorite choice for front yards throughout the Valley and a solid pick for commercial landscapes as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

book-leaf mallee, bookleaf mallee, eucalyptus
Rhys Moult /Flickr

Book-Leaf Mallee
Eucalyptus krueseana
10’H x 10’W
Evergreen

This native of Western Australia is an exceptionally fast grower, gaining as much as 5’ in one year. It produces creamy yellow flowers in the late winter or early spring and will provide a distinctive and graceful silhouette for any desert garden. Perfect for tighter spaces or areas where you don’t want to create dense shade.

 

 

 

 

Trees Redbud Western Western Redbud
Cercis orbiculata Greene or
Cercis occidentalis
15’H x 10’W
Deciduous

A native to the Southwestern U.S., western redbuds are virtually impervious to the heat and alkaline-soil conditions that Las Vegas has to offer. These trees offer a showy display of bright pink flowers for a period of about two weeks in mid to late spring, just before their large, heart-shaped leaves begin to emerge. Their larger leaves and stunning fall color make this an excellent choice for a shade tree in a smaller yard.

 

 

 

 

Trees Screwbean mesquite m. dolly flickr-min
M. Dolly/Flickr

Screwbean Mesquite
Prosopsis pubescens
20’H x 20’W
Deciduous

Screwbean mesquites get their name from their tightly wound seedpods, which appear in the summer once the tree has flowered. It should be noted that these trees have some pretty vicious thorns and can be a bit of a mess, so they work best in an area without a lot of foot traffic or where your HOA won’t be on your back. Attractive, fast-growing and drought-tolerant, a screwbean is a great option if you have a back wall that you want to block, as its thorns will serve as a reprimand to anyone who tries to climb over it.

 

mulga acacia

 Mulga Acacia
Acacia aneura
15’ H x 8’ W
Evergreen

Acacias are one of the most reliable plants for desert climates, and the Mulga is no exception. Pretty grayish-green leaves make this tree a standout, while yellow flowers in the late spring/early summer garner even more attention.  These are fast growers and very drought-tolerant, making them ideal as a street tree or in a front yard where an evergreen is required. Acacias do make seed pods, so between that and the flowers, some people may consider them messy, though they require very little maintenance otherwise.

 

 

 

 

 

catclaw acacia

Catclaw Acacia
Acacia greggii
20’H x 15’W
Deciduous

The Catclaw Acacia is another good selection from this durable and fast-growing species. With dark green leaves that provide filtered shade, Catclaws make a good choice for either a yard or as a small street tree. Beware the thorns on the branches, which is where these trees get their name, but light yellow flowers make up for it by putting on a show off and on throughout the summer months.

 

 

 

Mexican Bird-of-Paradise
Caesalpinia mexicana
12’H x 10’W
Semi-Evergreen

Fast-growing and with ultra-showy large, yellow flowers all summer long, the Mexican Bird-of-Paradise is the perfect answer for those who are looking for light shade in a smaller area. Allowed to grow naturally, they will create a multi-trunk tree that puts on large bright yellow blooms during the hottest part of the year. These hardy plants can also be pruned into a single-trunk specimen or kept cut back to form a large shrub. While they may lose their leaves during especially harsh winters when they’re young, Mexican Birds-of-Paradise will generally stay green year-round once they are established.

 

 

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15 Comments

  • Hi, really engines your article. Please, please post one on Ground covers that can survive in Las Vegas! Can’t seem to find anything relatively similar to this regarding tough Ground Cover. And please don’t daybreak Lantanya-those just produce those hard dry dead-looking sticks regardless of how much attention I give them, even though I see them everywhere. Not a fan-there must be something else (besides rosemary). Thanks!!

    • Hi JayJay, Sorry for the late response but I might be able to redeem myself. I can think of a couple of great groundcovers that stay green year-round right off the top of my head and I’m definitely making a note to self to do a post on this topic asap. Prostrate germander (Teucrium chamaedrys ‘Prostratum’) and Santa Barbara daisies (Erigeron karvinskianus) love the heat and make beautiful little flowers during the summer months. You could also try Angelita daisies (Tetraneuris acaulis) for color off and on throughout the year (Star Nursery inexplicably sells this one as Perky Sue. I don’t know why.)

  • Folks: Great web site! It is succinct and highly informative. You have a knack for answering all the questions in a condensed paragraph. With that, my question – I want pool side trees. I have 2, 32 inch diameter holes for planting located 5 feet from the pool. I’d like the trees to peak out between 12 and 15 feet with an 8 to 12 foot spread. A local nursery sold us Crape Myrtles — sheesh – which lead me to you after a ridiculous amount of research. Can you help?

    • Thank you, David! I’m sorry to hear about the crapes. They’re such pretty trees in wetter climates, but they’re awfully thirsty and will lose their looks pretty quickly when they don’t get enough water. Personally I think the best small tree for near a pool would be the Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus). It meets your size criteria and can take the reflected heat they’re almost sure to get from the pool, walls or walkways. In addition to that, they’re pretty drought-tolerant once established, they stay green year-round and don’t create a significant amount of litter (it’s worth noting berries can show up on female trees, but my understanding is that they don’t usually occur at all). I hope this helps 😉

  • Hello…we recently bought a home with concrete all around except for 3 –
    20″ holes and 5 – 24″ holes for plants. We are looking for a couple of shade trees that don’t have a big trunk so they won’t break the concrete. Any suggestions?
    I might use your suggestion that you gave Jay on ground cover…Thx
    Trying to get some color. Thank you, Cheri

    • Hi Cheri,
      So sorry for the delayed response. If you haven’t planted anything in there yet, I’m happy to make a couple of suggestions. Keep in mind that you have a pretty harsh spot there for plants, so be sure to choose wisely and water them appropriately. Small shade trees to consider would be the Pistacia lentiscus or the Xylosma congestum. If you want flowering, maybe put in a Caesalpinia mexicana or Cordia boisseri. I hope this helps. Congrats on the new home too!

  • Message to Jay. My number one choice for Henderson Nevada ground cover is Australian Creeper. Beautiful, evergreen, white flowers,looks awesome in heat of summer little water fast grower. Good luck Bev

  • Hi Martian Gardener,
    I’m looking for evergreen, deciduos trees. I’m removing African Sumacs which are too messy, lots of pruning and attracts pigeons. I’m considering Silver Peso, Silver Sierra Texas Mountain Laurel, Western Redbud and maybe a Chaste Tree. I would appreciate your opinion greatly bearing in mind nothing too messy or maintenance.

    Thanks.

    Will

    • Hi Will,
      Thank you for being patient with my reply. I don’t blame you for wanting to adios those sumacs. They’re great trees for our valley but the mess can be a real pain, especially in the early part of the summer. Your considerations for its replacements are all top-notch though! As far as I know, the main difference between the Silver Peso and the Silver Sierra Texas mountain laurels is that the Peso is grown from seed and the Sierra is grafted to provide more consistent flower color. Texas mountain laurels are not messy at all, they’re drought-tolerant and they stay green year-round. They grow pretty slowly though and they won’t provide much in the way of shade to a large area. When it comes to the redbud, it may seem the western (Cercis occidentalis) would be the way to go but the Texas redbud (Cercis canadensis texanus) seems to be the one that does the best here. Bear in mind that whichever one you choose, redbuds are understory desert trees, which means they’ll look best with a little break from the sun in the afternoon. That doesn’t mean that they can’t take a full hit of sun, but maybe right next to a hot block wall or planted near a bunch of concrete wouldn’t be the best place for one. Finally, the chaste tree is a really nice shade provider and its flower show goes on throughout the summer months if the blooms are deadheaded once their spent. Chaste trees do require regular pruning in order to have a nice shape but they’re fast-growing and they take our heat like a champ. Could be a bit messy but nowhere near the as bad as the sumac, I assure you.

      I hope this helps and that i wasn’t too late to help you make your decision. Enjoy your new tree, whatever it be!

  • Hi Martin… I’m thinking of planting a Mayten Tree in Northwest Las Vegas. I’m looking for an evergreen not to messy and slow growing.
    Can it handle the heat?
    Thanks…. Ward

    • Hi Ward, I don’t honestly have a lot of experience with mayten trees but I did do a little research on them and it doesn’t look like something I would recommend. It appears that they are a high-maintenance trees with a lot of sucker growth and litter. Assuming those are not issues for you my bigger concern is that it doesn’t sound as if they tolerate strong winds very well. We get pretty high winds here in the valley and I see trees tear themselves apart in our windstorms, especially when they’re larger and brittle, both characteristics that the mayten tree appears to have. If you do decide to go ahead with putting it in I wish you all the best and strongly encourage you to have a Certified Arborist take care of the pruning on it throughout its lifetime. That will go a long way towards preventing breakage and will help to build a beautiful tree in the long-term. Thank you for checking in and best of luck!

  • Hi Martian Gardener!
    Just wondering if you have any insight on dwarf chilopsis (I believe it’s called ‘Little Willie’) Have you used this shrub before?

    • Hi Sarah,
      Just looked it up and it’s apparently the Desert Willie. I have no experience with this plant at all. Please let me know how it does if you test it. Willie looks adorable!

      Edited to add: I’m looking for any place where this plant is mentioned aside from the site selling and can’t find any mention of it. Not saying it’s not real but I’d honestly be a little wary about the claim that it would stay 6’high and wide. I’m keeping my long green fingers crossed that it’s true though 🙂

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