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March 02, 2004
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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, wouldn't we!

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 irrigation.

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.

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Archives

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
Raising a healthy shade tree in the Mojave is not always easy. And if one particular insect makes its way here, it could get even harder. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

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.

NormSep 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.

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