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.
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!
Texas Mountain Laurel
20’H x 10’W
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.
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.
20’H x 20’W
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.
10’H x 10’W
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.
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.
20’H x 20’W
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.
15’ H x 8’ W
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.
20’H x 15’W
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.
12’H x 10’W
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.