Mesquite harvest is nearing, and I will discuss harvest further on SavortheSW – my site dedicated to using the plants that grow in our yards here in the Land of El Sol. Meanwhile, lets look at growing a mesquite tree or two to help provide food grown as locally as your own backyard. (Mesquite no-bake cookies are YUM!)
All Mesquite are NOT Equal
There are a number of mesquite species and some are NOT native. This has lead to problems in the urban landscapes. Non-native mesquites from the grasslands of Argentina grow fast – so they were once very popular in landscaping. Problem is that they have very shallow roots and tend to knock over walls, heave sidewalks, get into septic systems, and can even crack house foundations. Now mesquites have a bad name with homeowners and that is a shame.
Our Sonoran Desert native velvet mesquites are slower growing, but it is a far better choice for a number of reasons. Unlike the non-natives, velvet mesquite is well adapted to our climate, and it feeds the native animals. Velvet mesquite leaves serve native butterfly larvae and Gambel’s quail. The pods nourish almost every Sonoran Desert inhabitant, from bunnies and squirrels to coyotes, javelina and humans. The velvet mesquite also has deep tap roots, making it much less likely than the non-natives to blow over in the swirling summer winds that often accompany the monsoon rains.
Since all mesquites can cross pollinate each other, it is now difficult to find pure velvet mesquite. If you go far from town you may get a pure species. Harvest a handful of seed pods for your yard.
Planting Your Mesquite
Find a tree you like the looks of and harvest some ripe pods. No need to remove the seeds from the pods prior to planting. Just put them into the soil, pod and all, right where you want a tree to grow. The hole should be about half an inch deep. Water the soil around the seeds every day or two.
Within a few weeks you may have a mini thicket of tiny seedlings. Pick the tallest one and “rogue” out the rest (weed them out).
Continue to water these babies, but maybe every 3 days – and put on enough water to sink in at least a foot deep. The roots will grow nice and deep to collect that water, and you never have to worry about shallow roots. In the immortal words of my U of A professor Steve Fazio, “Catch ’em young and bring ’em up right.”
Fast Growing Because No Root Breakage
We started a mesquite tree this way at our new house. In three short years it grew into a sturdy and robust 20 foot tall tree. In the same time frame, mesquite trees we planted from 15 gallon containers were scarcely any taller than when they were planted – about seven feet tall.
Care of Mesquite
Mesquite are drought tolerant once they are established, but remember these are babies. Meanwhile, if you have older trees around, they grow more quickly and larger with a thorough soaking of root zone once every month or two during the warm months.
Do not fertilize mesquite trees (or any plant in the pea family). They have a special relationship with bacteria that turn the nitrogen in the air we breathe into nitrogen they can use for growth. If you want to encourage more rapid growth of your mesquite, mulch it with an organic mulch, not rock mulch that your HOA wants. Build a decorative tree well and the HOA can’t complain if you fill it with bark mulch.
Learn More about Southwest Gardening
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Learn more about growing mesquite and other fruits and vegetables in this book: Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute may get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you. Your regular Amazon Smile charity will also benefit.
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