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November 04, 2003
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Anyone who's spent any time here in Southern Nevada in the past year has to know that we're in a drought. When I was in Providence Rhode Island a few weeks ago, I told people that we were having a drought in the Mojave Desert, and they either gave me a really confused looking stare, or they chuckled. Hah! What could be drier than a normal average of 4.25 inches per year? I told them - 2 inches of rain in a year. Some folks just looked at me and said - we get 2 inches in an hour. If you're originally from parts of the east, you know that's true.

But you're here now, and you're dealing with water restrictions. Of course, it's only right that we should be. Have you seen Lake Mead? Not an encouraging sight.

So we're in this drought, and now we've got all these inducements to change our water-wasting ways. If you're a homeowner, you probably know that the water district has a rebate program for people to get rid of turf and grow something more desert-appropriate in their yards.

The word that we commonly hear for this kind of desert landscape is ''Xeriscape''. I think it comes from combining the Greek word for 'dry' with 'landscape'. Unfortunately, too often it turns into zero-scape. As in - nothing alive, just rock. How uninviting can you get? Does looking out on a completely lifeless pile of stone say ''home'' to you?

When landscape people came up with the term Xeriscape, they sure didn't mean just rocks. This begs the question - what is Xeriscape?

I've heard it described as ''water smart'' landscaping. I guess that's as good a definition as any. Not ''no water'', just really careful, judicious use of irrigation. It does mean way more than simply not letting the sprinklers water the sidewalks.

If you've finally decided to bite the bullet and try to change your landscape, it can first mean changing your perspective, at least to some extent. Are you really satisfied only if your yard looks like a green carpet, or would you rather see colors, and different textures, and even some changes in elevation? That is what you can get with Xeriscape, if you're willing to try it.

Next, it has to do with selecting plants. If you're going to water smart, then you want to use desert, or desert-adapted, or at least drought-tolerant plants. So many people say - I don't want just cactus. That makes perfect sense to me. Who would? But even if you're going to use only native plants, you'd still have more choices than only cacti, like the beautiful desert willow tree, for instance, or one of the many different yuccas that grow naturally here. Then there are all the gorgeous purple-flowering indigoes (you'll probably find them listed as 'Dalea'). - And all cacti don't have terrible spines, remember; some are quite smooth. I will grant you, though - a true Mojave yard might seem kind of - spare - to our garden-adapted eyes.

There are other deserts, and horticulturists have been examining plants from those other dry areas that might do very well here. Cassias, which are also called 'senna', come from all over the globe. Great foliage and yellow flowers. It was the first thing I planted at my house when I moved. And think about all the dramatic ornamental grasses you can choose. Sure, they're not for a golf course, but so many of them are just awesome! When you want something that isn't so tall, there're the little shrubby things like lavender cotton - santolina - that gets covered in yellow flowers. Even shorter than those are the succulent ice plants; they're kind of a ground cover, and they produce flowers in a whole range of colors.

You don't need to hear an exhaustive list of plants from me; you can look them up in the western garden book. Or you can check out the native plant nursery at CCSN, and look at the other nurseries and the garden stores around town.

Before you go out to buy even your first desert plant however, create an idea of what you want that new desert garden to look like. And think about how you're going to irrigate it. Your sprinklers probably won't be the best method.

Think about putting plants with the same water needs together. Your yard can contain a green area, a shady area, an area with bright colored flowers, even a stark area. Whatever you choose to do, you can be water smart without having a blank area.

So what is Xeriscape? It's colorful, varied, welcoming, and thrifty with our limited water supply. Have a good time with it.

For KNPR's Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O'Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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Archives

NormJul 28, 2014 | Lose that Lawn
We know, it's a desert out there including every place there's a lawn. Norm Schilling reminds us all the ways he wants you to consider losing the lawn... permanently.

AngelaJul 14, 2014 | Protect Fruit Trees from Birds
If you put a good deal of care into growing fruit trees, there are likely some birds who will take advantage of your effort. Here's Angela O'Callaghan.

NormJul 10, 2014 | Palm Care, Part 2
To keep, or not to keep. Norm Schilling ponders his palm trees, on this edition of Desert Bloom.

NormJun 10, 2014 | Palm Care
Norm Schilling has mixed feelings about how we use Palms in our yards. Full grown palm trees transplanted into the entry way of a mall is a common sight that tells Southern Nevadan's "something" is nearly open for business. He reminds us that those palms come with challenges.

AngelaJun 3, 2014 | Hot Weather Plants
As temperatures across the Valley begin to climb, you might be wondering what will survive in your garden in the months ahead and what probably won't. There are some 'sweet' options. Here's Angela O'Callaghan

NormMay 20, 2014 | Desert Color
Norm Schilling just got back from Belize and has some ideas for lush leaves in your desert yard. He reflects on some well suited plants to provide color and variety in this edition of Desert Bloom.

AngelaMay 6, 2014 | Emerald Ash Borer
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NormApr 22, 2014 | The Right Plants
Our current warm spell gives the impression that some plants can thrive when they aren't really suited to our desert. Norm Schilling has some examples.

NormMar 24, 2014 | Spring Garden Party
Spring is here and the garden is blooming . . . so invite some friends to enjoy the rewards of gardening!

AngelaMar 10, 2014 | Lady Banks
If you love roses, but don't care for thorns, you may want to call on 'Lady Banks.' Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormFeb 26, 2014 | Signs of Spring
It may be February, but if you are paying attention, signs of Spring are visible. Dwarf peach and Mexican plum trees are in bloom. Vibrant Red Spraxis can be seen among the falling Almond blossom. Watch gardening expert Norm Schilling transplant an offshoot. Check out the slide show of photos taken from his backyard.

AngelaFeb 18, 2014 | Mulch is for Winter
Rewards for using mulch in your landscape can be had year-round. Mulch is about mulch more than just "good looks" according to Angela O' Callaghan. In any climate, and certainly in a desert, mulch is an ecologically sound way to conserve our limited soil moisture and to control weeds.

NormFeb 4, 2014 | Investing for Spring
Temperatures are scheduled to stay cool this week, but Norm Schilling finds his yard is ready for Spring. He reflects on techniques to keep older trees healthy even as the surrounding yard may change. Bigger, older trees may need more water.

AngelaJan 13, 2014 | Freezing Temps
If your garden looks like it's been zapped by Jack Frost, there's still a chance that all is not lost. Delicate desert plants can suffer chill damage even when the temperature stays above freezing. Well-established plants should survive.

NormDec 31, 2013 | Leave the Leaves
Just because most of the leaves have fallen from the trees, it doesn't mean you have to rake them all up. Norm Schilling says it's better to use the leaves as mulch to protect the plants and make rich soil. Some woody plants can be pruned now, while others should wait another month or two.

AngelaDec 13, 2013 | Winter Greens
It is the season to enjoy some winter gardening. In Southern Nevada, a cold-snap does not have to mean that your garden is done for. Angela O'Callaghan gives a few cold facts.

NormDec 3, 2013 | Winter Watering
After a recent rain followed by a cold snap this week, Norm Schilling digs in to figure out how much water is needed this time of year. Touch the leaves to get a feel and don't water much at all for the next few months.

AngelaNov 18, 2013 | Herb Gardens
Our desert environment may be hard to handle for many plants, but it is possible to grow your own herbal remedy. The healing properties of some herbs are still widely recognized. Even though we rarely have to rely on them to deal with our infirmities, Angela O'Callaghan says many herbs are pretty and simple to grow.

NormNov 5, 2013 | Fall Color
Our second Spring is in full bloom. Norm Schilling shares his favorite plants that are bringing color to the yard right now, including Chocolate Flower, Mexican Bush Sage, Autumn Sage and ornamental grasses.

AngelaOct 29, 2013 | Pumpkins
Halloween just wouldn't be the same without the jack-o-lantern. But there's more to the tradition of decorating squash than meets the eye. Angela O'Callaghan says pumpkins are more than decorations for a single day. They're food, and a very good food at that.

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