African Sumac

vegasrenie(8)November 12, 2003

In my ongoing quest to find the perfect tree for my backyard (keeping in mind dogs & grandkids) I have fallen in love with the look of the African Sumac. Any feedback on the qualities of this tree? I know it's evergreen - always a good thing. It doesn't look very big - how fast does it grow? Can two support a hammock? Thanks for any feedback!

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Horrendously messy. Check with the city libraries and the water department for recommended trees.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2003 at 8:27AM
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This *is* a recommended tree! Oh dear! How is it messy? When I think of an evergreen tree, I think, "cool! don't have to rake in the fall!!" Laziness rules. What makes them messy?

    Bookmark   November 13, 2003 at 12:14AM
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"Evergreen" does not mean "never loses leaves" and often means "leaves falling continuously in small annoying quantities"

African Sumac females produce LOTS of berries, and self-sow freely.

Here is a link that might be useful: African Sumac

    Bookmark   November 15, 2003 at 11:15AM
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LOL!!! Thanks for the info. I don't mind ongoing maintenance, especially since none of my neighbors and I have pools. Other trees I'm considering are Texas honey mesquite (thorns and all), Autralian Willow, or one California Pepper. The other trees are small enough to allow me to plant for canopy shade, but I realize that a CP tree would have to be alone because of the size.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2003 at 12:27PM
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Look into the Sissoo, and some of the small thornless acacias.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2003 at 10:51AM
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Ohhhh the California pepper is much more messy then the sumac by far .... maybe the worst tree for mess in Southern Nevada .... I have a fondness of Sumacs ... the species here in Vegas Rhus lancea I would guess your talking about .... I have two over my pool ... yes very messy in summer but fairly clean most other times ... the look near water just can't be beat ( for me anyway ) ... don't believe it would be a big maintenance problem in most other areas of the yard .... it is known to be on the cold sensative side as demonstrated in the BIG freeze around 1990 .... they do grow fast and need aggressive pruning if you like a neat natural look to show off the nicely textured bark and multi branching pattern .... I would avoid single trunk plants with compact canopies unless you have something to block strong wind ...... one of my favorite trees and have been using it for well over a decade in the valley ....

    Bookmark   November 19, 2003 at 11:15PM
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What I don't like about the Cal Pepper are the exposed roots, shaggy bark, greedy habits (it's MY yard!!! Nothing else can be here!!), and the berries. But I can't get past it ... I love the Sumac. I'm glad they grow fast, but since they're a moderate size, I'm not too concerned. I plan on getting two multitrunks and planting them about 25 ft apart. Hopefully by keeping them pruned, that should be enough.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2003 at 12:08AM
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Summacs can get quite large with time ... 25 feet will work out fine ....more then enough space.... I have two that are spaced 12 - 15 feet for about 9 year now they overlap a bit making a nice effect but need careful pruning....Good Luck.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2003 at 11:04AM
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When would be a good time for planting? We finally just turned the corner into winter and it's probably not a good time to plant now. How early can I put a couple of these into my yard? I found smallish (about 5 feet) multi-trunks at Star for a good price.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2003 at 3:45PM
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Pre Thanks giving is in general a good time to plant ... Though we are heading into a cold spell but it should not last more then a few days ..... unless we get a extreme winter anytime now until it gets warm is a good time... I would not be concerned about Summacs until temps drop toward 25 F and don't warm up much in the day like less then 35 ... and it has happened before ......

Don't overwater during the winter ... check your root zones every few days with a digging bar to see if you need to water .... hand watering is a good technique by the way if you have the time... you will have to check yourself but I would guess a good soaking at planting time then maybe twice per week for the first month or so ............. Good Day.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2003 at 7:56PM
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azlcd(z8 / TX)

I just got a sissoo from Moon Valley Nurseries. It's pretty, but the trunk is very thin and I don't know if it will make it through the monsoons! Everyone I've asked swears by these trees, but they are supposed to get big, and I'm worried to death about it right now.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2004 at 11:03AM
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We have two very very large African Sumacs, on either side of the yard. They supply a well needed amount of shade, and have an unusual shape about them. I also like that they do not require copius amounts of water. They do both shed leaves and seeds, and we have to go out and rake or blow the yard clean. But the beauty of these trees make it worth my while.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2004 at 8:49PM
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"But the beauty of these trees make it worth my while. "

I think so ...

"Sissoo" ?? .. hmmm .. now what is that ??

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   August 13, 2004 at 2:08PM
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Hw does the African Sumac compare to the Chilean Mesquite Tree? I see a lot of the Chilean's around Vegas and they are a very unique tree.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2004 at 3:58PM
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"How does the African Sumac compare to the Chilean Mesquite Tree? "

In what respects ?? I like both trees ... Mesquites are a bit tougher all around ... more suitable for xeriscapes ... Summacs have the cold sensative thing hanging over them but I have not seen any problems with them in regard to cold in 13 years ... the true Chilean Mesquites can be deciduous to evergreen depending how cold it gets there is a hybrid Chilean that is deciduous ... you can't really tell the two apart that easy ... Summacs would do better with ample water and a more organic soil ... Mesquites do fine with a much leaner soil and too much water causes excessive growth ... neither tree needs much fertilizer if planted as above the Summac could use some as needed ... the Mesquite never needs fertilizer.

Mesquites have really become popular rather recently in the valley with the more recent surge to xeriscaping.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   August 15, 2004 at 5:03PM
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Thanks for that comparison. I am looking for a good shade tree for a patio (plan to stick one on each side of the patio) and I like the canopies on both these trees.

I was also looking at the Mimosa, but I keep hearing horror stores. They are prone to disease, their roots can cause havoc with pipes, sidewalks, etc, and they are constantly dropping debris were a few of the complaints.

I am looking for a tree that can be pruned and shaped, won't grow any larger than 15-20 ft., drought resistant, have roots that won't cause problems with the patio and landscaping, and look unique (not just a one trunk tree with a round tall canopy). Any other suggestions would be great.

How far should either the Sumac or the Mesquite be from a block wall or house or even each other?

    Bookmark   August 15, 2004 at 5:41PM
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"How far should either the Sumac or the Mesquite be from a block wall or house or even each other?"

Thats always an interesting question ... in the next 10 - 15 years ... I would try to keep them 7 - 8 feet or more from patios / walls but in wonderful Vegas even that can be a challenge .. if you have to go closer a bit you can .. mesquite though more of a problem with roots ... deeper invasive roots ... remember though any tree that gets really big can pose a problem .. the question really is .."How fast may the trees roots become a problem ??

On either side of a patio about 20 feet spacing or more would be good they can be closer but there would be no room for you on the patio ?? Ofcourse a lot of this depends on how you shape the plants ....

Hard to match the canopy look of these trees ... you may consider Chilopsis linearis ( more scaggly looking but a native ) ... Vitex a different look even Non fruiting Olive ( a tough handsome tree and underated lately since it's flowering form is outlawed the Non fruiting types are OK ) .... I would pass on Mimosa ( Albizium in our valley ) and stay away from true Willows If one catches your eye ...

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   August 15, 2004 at 6:22PM
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On Mimosas...
My mom has one - as the centerpiece on her patio in sunny, temperate So. Cal.
The darn thing is a total mess. It drops a mess, and the mess is sticky and unpleasant to walk on. It's very pretty at times, but walking on the patio is now painful.

When my mom was considering planting it (and I was an earnest teenager 20 years ago), I looked it up in Sunset and told my mom about the "messiness" of it as described in the holy grail. Her response..."Well, I trust the landscaper, who suggested it...."

Lessons learned the hard way are often very costly.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2004 at 3:36AM
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The African sumac in our front yard has a trunk that's 31 inches d.b.h. and has a canopy spread (radius, not total) of 30+ feet. Unfortunately at that spread it appears the branches start becoming brittle; in the few months we've lived there we've had a few arm-thickness branches break off.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2005 at 2:49PM
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I have had wind break a few of my branches as well ...

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   January 7, 2005 at 5:57PM
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The African sumac (Rhus lancea) is a pretty tree, at a distance. But it is terribly messy and weedy. It will freely seed itself wherever there is water, including in all your potted plants. This may seem harmless, but when you pull your 8 millionth plant out of the garden or a pot or whatever you are ready to chop the darn thing down!

You mentioned the Texas honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa). This is a highly recommended tree. It will seed occasionally but nothing like the african sumac. And I think it is even more beautiful. But it is deciduous.

BTW how big do you want to get? What other needs do you have for this tree? I'll give you good reccomendations.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2005 at 1:20AM
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Would the African sumac self-seed in a rocky "mulch", say 2 or 3 inches of 1/2" crushed rock?

Right now our front yard is mostly hard dirt, scattered weeds and, yes, ubiquitous sumac seedlings. (These trees must form hella dense thickets in the wild!)

We're an irrigation lot right now. We are thinking of converting to xeriscape, but if we do we need to make sure the sumac gets enough H2O. One idea is to put a low block "berm" around the tree -- say, 6 to 8 feet out from the trunk -- to allow us to flood just that area, and to use crushed rock inside that berm to cover the bare dirt and also provide some evaporation-reducing shade on the soil. We were thinking rock instead of organic mulch, such as bark, partly because of the self-seeding issue (I presume seeds would be more likely to volunteer in bark mulch) and partly because stone would go better with xeriscaping than bark mulch.

Thoughts, though?

    Bookmark   January 11, 2005 at 2:52PM
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AzDesertRat(AZ 8b Sunset 12)

Jwutzke, I would in almost all cases recommend or organic mulch such as bark chips or pine needles around the tree over any type of gravel or other inorganic mulch. The bark chips will gradually decompose, improving the soil. The gravel does very little to help the plant. You can pile the mulch up to 6" deep (keep it 12-18" away from the trunk). Any seedlings which have sprouted will be easy to remove. You will need to replenish the bark once or twice a year by piling more. I lose 4-6" of bark every summer in my flower beds. You can also use pine needles instead of bark. If you have a pine tree on your property (or friends or neighbors who do), you can use the needles instead. It may blend in better to the rest of the yard. It will also be free.

You are going to get volunteers no matter which route you take. If you go the gravel method, one thing I would suggest is that you DO NOT use plastic underneath the gravel. You will find that weeds and seedlings will start sprouting from the gravel, and in a while, from beneath the plastic. Some neighbors put plastic underneath their gravel last winter. Within a couple of months, they already had weeds sprouting in the area.

Good Luck and HTH

    Bookmark   January 11, 2005 at 3:42PM
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Thanks for the info. Definitely would not use plastic -- partially because I hate the look (it always comes up, and looks so tacky) and partly because the whole point was to have a watering basin for the tree, to hold water while it seeped into the ground around the tree instead of running off.

You and PaganCat, among others, have responded to alot of my questions over recent weeks -- when all is said and finally done (and I'm talking end of 2005!) I should host a GardenWeb party so you can see the "results".

    Bookmark   January 11, 2005 at 6:04PM
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"But it is terribly messy and weedy."

Messy .. can be ... but it's worth the mess if you like the tree. In fact I have two over a pool !!! ... but I love the lighted trunks at night over the water. LOL ..

Weedy .. never seen that problem here in Southern Nevada ??

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   January 11, 2005 at 8:01PM
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I don't even have one in my yard where I live now, but I am always pulling seedlings up all the time. Somewhere in the neighborhood is one. They must eat the seeds and poop them in my yard.

I used to live in a house with one, and for years every container plant I had would have several seedlings of Rhus Lancea coming up in them. I had to constantly remove them.

I don't know why you in S. Nevada would not experience the same. But in Arizona they are terribly weedy.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2005 at 10:05AM
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AzDesertRat(AZ 8b Sunset 12)

You're welcome Jay. We are all trying to help. Will look forward to seeing what you have done with all of the suggestions you have received.

Going back to your question, I would still use an organic mulch. 3+ years of living in this house, my soil is almost black because of using organinc mulches. You will be surprised on what it can do to your soil. Also gives you another place to dump coffee grinds (which I hope you are doing anyway).

    Bookmark   January 12, 2005 at 3:39PM
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"I don't know why you in S. Nevada would not experience the same. But in Arizona they are terribly weedy. "

Good Question ???

Good Day ....

    Bookmark   January 12, 2005 at 10:32PM
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We have a Mimosa. Its pretty, and the only time its messy is after its blooms are spent. But its also in a corner of the yard that doesn't get much traffic. Its there more for ornamentation than for shade or such. So I don't mind it.

A pretty tree that can be shaped is the Desert Willow. We have a lovely one. Tho, it also is messy. Mmmm, come to think of it, we have lots of messy trees in our yard. We probably have to blow the leaves every couple of months. But I don't mind too much - I like a natural looking yard, and we have the time to take care of it. I know that's not always the case.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 4:21AM
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beaustephenson(9b Phoenix, AZ)

One tree I might recommend, that is if you are open to (so-called) chilean mesquite, is the Argentine Mesquite (Prosopis Alba). Like the chilean, it is fast growing, but it has a much nicer shape--more vase-like and somewhat more upright. Also, the canopy is a little more open, providing filtered light instead of heavy shade. And once you get it to the desired size, just stop watering and enjoy!

Here is a link that might be useful: Information on Prosopis alba

    Bookmark   February 15, 2005 at 2:11PM
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Lambs_place(8.b - So, CA)

I have probably 150 of the Sumacs around the fence line of a 2 1/2 acre plot. They work great as wind breaks and privacy screen. I do little maintenance (leaf raking etc.) In fact the leaves prevent the weeds from growing under the trees.
I use a drip system with 1 gal per hour emmiters, which I turn on about once a week, overnight, in the summer months.
I have gotten very few seedlings, probably because of the natural leaf mulch. I wish i had more volunteer seedlings
so I could plant even more.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2005 at 12:37AM
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SheilaGail_NV(8 NV)

We just put in a Sumac but we didn't know it had seed droppings. We have to remove a beautiful Texas Umbrella because the dogs eat the seeds and they are poisonous. I cannot find any info on how the Sumac seeds would affect an animal. Anyone know? Gee it's pretty. I'd hate to have to dig it up. Thanks for any info.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2005 at 6:43PM
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I have no idea how it would effect dogs .. although it does not sound like a good dietary supplement.

The genus Rhus also contained plants like poison Ivy and Poison Oaks ... although the family Rhus belongs to ( Anacardiaceae ) also contains and is called the "Cashew Family" .

As a landscaper I have never heard of complaints by dog owners. I would check with our local extension service or the vet.

"We just put in a Sumac but we didn't know it had seed droppings."

It also drops lots of leaves despite it's evergreen desciption !!!

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   August 10, 2005 at 11:09PM
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I have a staghorn sumac that provides sheltered shade and very 'dainty' looking; leaves turn brilliant shades of orange/red/yellow here in zone 7 NM in the fall. Only drawback is that it does send up young shoots a ways away from the parent tree but I always have folks who are waiting for the 'babies' so they can grow some! Mine is over 40 yrs. old and came from Iowa and is in light shade part of the day from 50 ft. tall red cedar to the north of it a ways.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 6:25PM
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If anyone is still reading this -- I have several of these, including
a "volunteer" that began growing next to the house about 5 years ago.
I didn't know what it was.

I talked to one of the guys at the _old_ Moon Valley Nursery (on N
7th St.) a month or so ago, and was told that they shouldn't be
planted within 10-15 feet of a block fence, patio, house, or anything
like that. There seems to be a problem with the roots getting under
the foundation and heaving it.

Anyone have any comments on that? I was told to dig them out and go
with something like Ficus instead.

Also, if anyone needs any seedlings, LMK. I'm near Bell Rd. and 7th
Av. You can have them, just come dig them up for me. ;)


    Bookmark   May 19, 2006 at 3:39AM
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Two and a half years later, I have two African Sumacs and a Texas Honey Mesquite. Love them all.

I bought the Sumacs as very tiny babies in 2004 as single trunks (Star Nursery had an overstock, apparently) and planted them. A few weeks later I bought the Mesquite (also a deal) and planted that. Last year I had my backyard Xeriscaped and all three trees were retained and replanted.

The Mesquite is doing beautifully, as are the Sumacs, but the Sumacs are doing something quite odd. I bought them as single trunk, but one of them has become a multi-trunk. I'm very happy and wish that the other would become multi as well, but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen.

The only drawback to my trees is the thorns on the Mesquite. I use a pruner to trim the ones at grandchild height, but otherwise I don't bother.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2006 at 7:46PM
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I planted a young African Sumac mid-April 2004. Its trunk has thickened from about 1 inch to 5 inches in diameter, but I still have support stakes on it because the thick canopy catches the wind, causing the trunk to bend and twist. This is an evergreen, but it sheds about 1/3 of its leaves in the last half of June. Mine is a female, so it puts on thousands of seeds (nice bitter flavor)starting in January. As the seeds age, they go from green to white to brown and eventually fall. My tree is messy, but I don't mind the dead leaves and seeds--it provides an Autumn look that adds character to the backyard. My tree is planted between a pavestone patio and a cinde block wall. I have seen a number of mature African Sumacs in the neighborhood, and only a couple have surface roots. I think the key (and one day I will find out if I'm rightor worng) is to water infrequently but deeply. I have a small backyard (about 14x30), so I am counting on the tree dense canopy to shade my entire South-facing backyard one of these days. I will always like my tree (as long as the roots don't create problems down the line). By the way, did you know that Sumac spelled backwards is Camus--French author of "La Peste"--a story that is set in Africa?(Read into that what you want!

    Bookmark   June 23, 2007 at 11:47PM
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I have 2 African Sumacs that came up wild in my yard in Vegas. I transplanted them. They look like huge bushes and I just love them. Haven't seen any babies anywhere, darn,or any seeds. They are so beautiful, I don't care how messy they are. I need some ideas of what to plant around my pool that isn't too messy. I have 2 sage bushes and what a mess. Always have purple flowers floating around. Any ideas?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2007 at 5:17PM
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Hi, can anyone tell me when I can prune and how much to prune on a 20ft+/- multiple Sumac. I have two, and one is light and airy the other is full and seems to be overgrown. I want to prune it, but I'm not sure of how much or when the best time is.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2007 at 5:36PM
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We have a African Sumac planted by our landscaper in a small courtyard next to our house. It has grown considerably in the last 5 years. It is probably only 5-10 feet away from the house and is up against a block wall. I'm beginning to see roots extend out of the ground and towards the house. I read an earlier entry regarding the roots, but want to know if anyone has had any experience with the roots causing problems .

    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 2:46PM
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I also have a question about the roots. I'm thinking of planting a Sumac in a fairly small raised cobblestone bed off the patio. Will aggressive roots be a problem as the tree matures?

    Bookmark   September 27, 2008 at 12:04AM
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I recently planted an African Sumac, and the leaves are starting to turn yellow. Is this something normal when the temperatures get colder or could I be doing something wrong?

    Bookmark   October 31, 2008 at 9:42PM
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The Berries of the sumac are safe. Birds eat them all the time and they have been used to make beer.
Sumacs can't support the weight of snow and will break. See the link I provided.

Can anyone tell me how to best prune the african sumac? It grows very fast.

How much water does it need in the summer time in Las Vegas, NV?

Here is a link that might be useful: African Sumac

    Bookmark   December 24, 2008 at 2:41PM
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It depends on how you're watering...If the African Sumac is on a drip system, which is common in Las Vegas, it is suggested that you water deeply (usually an hour or two) every week or two depending on the weather. Here is a link from the LVVWD on drip watering:

Also an observation I've noticed is that the more water an African Sumac receives, the faster the growth. This can mean more pruning unfortunately. African sumacs may require thinning in the canopy especially in a high wind area. This will allow wind to pass through without knocking your tree down.

Here is a link from LVRJ on African Sumacs:

All in all, I love African Sumacs in Las Vegas! One of the best trees for shade, fast growth, and screening neighbors on the other side of a block wall:)

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 12:51PM
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A Terrible, Messy tree that drops its leaves in the hottest part of the year. Here in Las Vegas I ripped one out of my front lawn because of the daily mess it left during June, July, August. Combined that with the Las Vegas hot desert winds & you've got a mess. My entire sub division has these trees lining the streets, the landscapers are blowing tons of these leaves up & down the streets every morning in the summer.
Get a Nice Ash tree, Shiny green leaves, very neat, tolerant of summer, winter seasons, nice growth rate.

Here is a link that might be useful: World Website

    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 3:21PM
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I live 50 miles sw of las Vegas in Sandy Valley and it does freeze out here in the winter, Star Nursery in Las Vegas told me the sumacs would survive the freeze and may turn a little brown but would be okay? Anyone know for sure if this is the case?
Thank you,

    Bookmark   June 28, 2011 at 2:01PM
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If anybody would like some African Sumacs, please dont go buy them. I have them in all sizes. They are very, very fast growing and you can come have as many as you want right out of my back yard. Free, free, free.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 1:33PM
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