March 02, 2004
I was teaching a class the other day, and the topic of rain came up. We
were, at that moment, looking out the window at a torrential downpour
splashing on cars and creating big puddles, so it wasn't too surprising that
water would be on everybody's mind. What was surprising to me, though, was
the comment someone made to the effect that this meant there was no more
drought. As if our water problems were solved by a few days of
precipitation! Hmm, if that were the case, we'd all be in great shape,
But the fact is - even a couple of inches of rainfall won't make much
difference in our water situation. Figure it this way - on average, we get
four and a quarter inches of rainfall each year. Between straightforward
evaporation and the amount of moisture that plants lose, we give up 82
inches in a year. So every year we're down 78 inches. An extra two inches
won't make up for that.
And, just in case that weren't drastic enough, think of poor Lake Mead - the
source of almost all our water for drinking, showering, car washing. (Let me
just point out that in other places, a drought means at least restricted car
washing, but I digress...) Lake Mead is down by something like 75 feet. That's
nearly the height of a seven story building. A couple of days of rain won't
do much to solve the problem. What will really make a difference will be a
walloping big amount of snowfall putting water into the Colorado river. And
not wasting what we have.
This might sound like I'm dismissing the rain, as if it didn't have any
benefit. That's not what I'm saying at all. For one thing, I like to think
that a heavy downpour scrubs away the dust and smog from the air. When we
get a sustained precipitation, our landscape plants get deep watering, which
is the best kind. A lot of people irrigate too often, but for an
insufficient length of time. The result is that a lot of the water just
evaporates before it does much good. So rain can substitute for a good, deep
A lot of our Mojave wildflowers respond wonderfully well to the occasional
big rainfall. Last week, I was out in Death Valley taking some company from
the East Coast out to see the desert. Since I was being a tourist myself, I
was driving relatively slowly. A friend who knows these things had already
told me - we were going out too early to see any of the fabled Mojave
wildflowers, so I had no hopes in that regard.
But as we were moving along, amazed at the rocks and the sand and the sky,
out the corner of my eye, I started to see some different color! I slowed
down some more and saw bright yellow desert sunflowers! These're about 7
inches tall, as opposed to garden sunflowers, which approach 6 feet, but
vivid, fluorescent yellow. We got out of the car, took some pictures, and
kept driving, but this time we're driving even slower. And indeed, next we
saw low growing white and green. So I stopped the car and started looking at
these little primroses and some other tiny white flowers. None of these
plants were bigger than 2 inches across and maybe that tall, so you can
imagine how small the flowers were, but there were a lot of them.
Well, as we were standing by the roadside taking pictures of these cute
little dickenses, a park ranger came up and started talking to us. In the
course of the conversation, she mentioned that the flowers were appearing
much earlier than usual. She said that they'd had some rain back in November
and the effect was to bring out more of the wildflowers, and earlier than in
other years. The flowers in Death Valley are adapted to a region with an
average yearly rainfall of an inch and a half. They don't just respond to a
little extra water; they explode with delight!
Maybe our rainfall will mean that the wildflowers in places like Red Rock
Canyon will also be spectacularly lovely this year. Not that I'm encouraging
everyone to go and be astounded by Nevada's natural beauty, but if you're
going to be out and about in some of our wild places, drive a little slower,
and prepare to be impressed.
Speaking of impressive, the Spring Bulb and Flower Show will be happening on
March 13 at the Garden Club Center at Lorenzi Park in Las Vegas. You can be
sure there'll be something you'll love, and maybe you have something you'd
like to enter. You can call the Master Gardener Help line for information.
For KNPR's Desert Bloom, with my umbrella ready, this is Dr. Angela
O'Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
See discussion rules
|Mar 24, 2014 | Spring Garden Party |
Spring is here and the garden is blooming . . . so invite some friends to enjoy the rewards of gardening!
|Mar 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.
|Feb 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.
|Feb 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.
|Feb 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.
|Jan 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.
|Dec 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.
|Dec 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.
|Dec 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.
|Nov 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.
|Nov 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.
|Oct 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.
|Sep 30, 2013 | Fall Pruning and Mulching |
Pruning for aesthetics and mulching for rich soil quality are on his to-do list before he gets started in earnest on fall planting. Find out where to find mulch and mulch more on this week's edition of Desert Bloom.
|Sep 17, 2013 | The Best Place to Garden |
The Mojave Desert isn't the easiest place to cultivate a garden, but we do have a few advantages here. In fact, Angela O'Callaghan says Southern Nevada is the BEST place in the world to be a gardener, partly because dry air helps keep our plants healthy.
|Sep 3, 2013 | Sacred Datura |
Sacred Datura is a native, but poisonous, desert plant that offers stunning blooms. Often seen at the side of the highway, it's found a home in Norm's yard.
|Aug 20, 2013 | Drought |
Living in the desert means - learning to live with less water. The more thought you put into watering, the better off your plants will be.
|Aug 6, 2013 | Casualties of Summer |
Ever the optimist, Norm finds something to learn from the casualties of summer.
|Jul 22, 2013 | White Prickly Poppy |
Is a poppy by any other name just a weed?
|Jul 9, 2013 | Agave |
Agave is well suited to our desert climate. Norm Schilling shares his collection.
|Jun 25, 2013 | Summer Vegetables |
Growing your own food in triple-digit weather is challenging, but not impossible.