Nevada Landscaping Series

Chapter Two The Fallacy in Buying Big Trees

You decided to hire the services of a professional landscaper after your initial foray into Nevada Horticulture.
He introduces you to the term 'xeriscape', which involves a landscape arrangement minimizing the use of water.

His suggestions are not exactly what you had in mind and they are quite expensive.
The landscaper reminds you of monies you already spent attempting the same project yourself.
 He is the professional and that is what he does for a living.  

He does have a point.  

$10,300 later, your half acre project sports a state of the art sprinkler system, double sided weed matting, a stylish
gray-white colored gravel and an assortment of vegetation guaranteed to survive in Nevada.

Funny though, it looks just like the stuff that was growing in your back yard before the landscaper cleared it off .
He said he needed a clean slate to work with.

Four days later everything is in except for trees.  

The landscaper recommends large trees sold only a few miles from your home.
They need to be placed on the east, south and western exposures. 

Trees enhance property value and provide shade for the home, which would reduce the cost of air conditioning.

He writes up an estimate and you blanch at the price. 

Your wife is already not real pleased at having to forego a  California vacation to finance yard improvement. 
This will not go over well at all.

You ask the landscaper if big trees are really necessary. Wouldn't saplings work just as well?

Sure, says the landscaper; if you want to stand out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood. 
Just look at all the big  trees on properties surrounding you.  You really don't want to mess up the neighborhood esthetics do you?
The potential for depreciation in surrounding property values could become a reality if you opt to cheap out.   

This is not just a matter of throwing up scenery. It is an altruistic endeavor.

Your stereotypical ideas regarding the education of a landscaper are coming into question and you are curious. 
You  couch the question by asking what a person needs in terms of education to call oneself a professional landscaper.

He says that at least four years at any major university would suffice.  He went to an Ivy league school himself.

You say boy, he sure must have wealthy parents.  

Not at all, says he.  He put himself through college by running a lawn and garden service.

You also find out his kids - eight of them, are all going to private schools.

Next door, the neighbors are out relaxing on the deck and seem to be highly amused by all this.  

They also appear to be placing a wager of some kind.  

You can hear bits of the conversation:

- he can't be that stupid, can he?

- honey, he is from California

- something about being good neighbors

- something about enjoying good entertainment


You decide to punt and tell the landscaper you will have to get back to him on your decision.
It should also involve your wife, who is currently out looking at California real estate brochures.

The landscaper looks a bit disappointed and says don't take too long. The big trees are selling fast.

They say pride goeth before a fall so you opt for humility and wander over to talk to the neighbors.

You ask them if per chance they might have any suggestions on the choice of trees - large or small.

As a matter of fact, they do.

See the trees across the street - the ones in front of the white house ?

Why yes, they look ok. They are about fifteen feet tall.  

How old do you think they are?

Oh, you'd say they are about three or four years old.

Not quite, they were planted by your landscaper some twelve years ago.

The neighbors then point to their own trees and ask how old you think they are.

You look and say wow, you don't know... twenty or thirty years of age ? They are impressive.

Wrong again. The largest one out back just turned eleven.

How can that be,  you say.

The neighbors have to be pulling your leg. They used a professional landscaper as well, didn't they?

Well yes they did, although they didn't use your professional landscaper.

Your head is now feeling kind of fuzzy and you start seeing visions of Santa Barbera yourself.

You buck up and refuse to concede utter ignorance and defeat.

Can the neighbors elaborate a bit?


1.  Trees growth depends in large part upon a supporting root system.  Those trees across the street obtained
     their size by having a large supporting root system.

2.  The big trees your landscaper is trying to sell you are all grown from sprouts and growth is rapid.
     Trees, depending on the species can grow to fifteen feet in three or four years.

3.  How does a grower harvest the trees for sale?

     You really have no idea.

4.  Basically they cut all the tree roots to within two or three feet of the trunk, cut the tap root if there
     is one, pull it up and stick what is left in a burlap sack, which is then buried back in the ground until it is sold.

5.  Now, suppose you buy that tree and stick it in the ground. What do you think is going happen?

     Well, you hope it grows.

6.   The neighbors say sure it will grow, Verrry slowly. Because a fifteen foot tree in its natural state needs
      a root system thirty feet or greater in diameter to support growth.
      Your tree with its four foot root ball will take years to re-establish a supporting root structure and since all the
      bottom limbs have been whacked off to an eye pleasing six feet above ground, the trunk may never achieve any substantial
      girth - at least not for many years.
       Look forward to a home surrounded by pygmy trees.

       Now you are getting a headache.  Ok, you concede total defeat.  What would the neighbors recommend?

7.    Go anywhere - out in the park, down by the river, out in the undeveloped areas. Dig up some Sprouts three or four
        inches tall. Take them back and plant two to a hole and wait a year. If both survive, snip out the weakest one.   
        That's all?

8.    Water and fertilize. Do not cut any branches for four or five years.  The tree will more resemble a bush than a tree.  
       That is how the trunk achieves size. Cut off the lower branches over several more years and you will have trees just
       like the neighbors have, and it won't cost you a penny.

9.    The large one out back is a Cottonwood .  The others are Russian Olive and several species of Locust .  

      All are available locally and free if you want to get them yourself.

      So, you just have to decide what it is you want - instant gratification and pygmy trees; or trees like the
      neighbors have which take a extra few years to reach a nice height.

       If you are really set on getting a big tree, you might like to check out  Landscaping Chapter Three and save yourself some

      So... you are saying this landscaping stuff is actually one big racket?

10. No, not at all. This is Nevada!

     Think of a casino.

     A greeter hands you a ticket for a free pull on a slot machine.
     You go into the casino and what is in front?  Penny, nickel and dime machines.

     You play a few dollars and promptly lose it all.

     You tell your wife this is chicken feed.

     You'll make it up on the quarter and dollar machines, which sucks you further into the casino.  

     Must have just been bad luck. You lose on those machines and pull some cash out of the ATM to break the losing
     streak.  You lose that too.  

     The only thing left is the ticket in your hand for a free pull. You hand it off to your wife as a way of
     sharing the guilt. She naturally hits for ten dollars. 

     You feel like an idiot.

     You are down a couple hundred dollars and what did you get for it?  Entertainment!

     You didn't actually think you were going to win anything did you?
     If you want to succeed at any game in this town - landscaping included, you have to educate yourself to the
     reality of the situation in order to increase your odds of success.

     Re-read chapter one on your website if you find the analogy elusive.                  

     Quite the vocabulary.        

     You cogitate a moment and ask the couple what their profession was prior to retirement.

     Landscaping, of course.

     And who landscaped their property?

    Why their son.....

    And he went to all the best schools.

Mystery Tree Mystery August Mystery September, 2006
July August September, 2006

Mystery Tree:               

One of  two planted May, 2006

This is one of two trees purchased from the east coast (I was kind of surprised at that).  
The trees were about fifteen inches tall. Of course, the top ten inches of both  immediately died.

Test your tree identification skills and see if you can identify this.

Hint:  I know there is at least one of these in Nevada and it is listed in the Nevada Register of Big Trees.
It resides in downtown Carson City.  It is a fast grower - 26" in  two months.

08-06 - Jeesh, what lousy guesses.

08-23 - No, it's not a lilac.  I don't think lilacs have thorns.

02-07 -  Kind of funny, I was going to move this off to somewhere else next week and then from April in Washington:

I think those are osage orange seedlings..."

which is 100% correct.  I am a little nonplussed though.  I really should have saved all those other guesses.
Some of them were pretty funny and none of them were even close.