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April 05, 2005
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When I've talked to people from other parts of the country about living in a "desert", the first thing that they usually mention is how hot they expect it to be. Of course, we know better, don't we? I love telling people that the biggest desert on earth is Antarctica. Talk about Xeriscape! We think we have limited landscape options!

No, heat is definitely not the definitive element of a desert. Lack of precipitation makes a desert. Lack of water makes the air dry; and that, of course is what limits the amount, and types, of vegetation that can naturally survive. And no matter that we've had record amounts of rainfall; our water supply is still way down, and we still need to conserve. Drought - desert - of course we need to conserve water.

But all that aside, another aspect of a desert climate that many people don't think about is the astonishing wind that regularly sweeps over the mountains and down, across the landscape. Since we have relatively little plant material, and not much in terms of big plants - not too many large native trees here in the Mojave - there's not much to hold the soil in place. The paltry fertility of southern Nevada soils gets even lower with wind erosion. The desert is actually shaped by the wind to some degree - look at the dunes in areas where the soils are sandy. And all around here - at Red Rock, in certain spots along I-15, you can see rock faces with horizontal etching. That shallow scarring results from windstorms carrying tiny rocks, whipping them across the surface of larger ones.

And, have you ever been told that our air quality will improve as soon as we get a day of good, fierce wind? The first time I heard that, I was baffled, but it does seem to happen - a storm blows up, carrying our dust and our pollution to wherever - maybe Utah?

So here we are, living in a place with little water and big winds. The wind stirs up, creating the soils and removing them, shaping the rocks, and drying out the already dry air. It just makes sense that such an influential force is going to affect the plants that are exposed to it. Not only by making our desert even more arid. I don't want to sound as if I'm minimizing the terrific adaptations you can find on desert plants. Things like cactus spines, downy coverings on lots of leaves and waxy coats on others - all of these help plants conserve water despite the dry air - and those are phenomenal. But that's not the only way plants are affected by the remarkable winds of the desert.

Some plants will anchor themselves really securely into the ground - like the deep taproot of sagebrush, which also allows it to probe for water far below the soil surface. In fact, one of the ways that you can keep a plant from being thrown about by the wind is to water it deeply whenever you water it - not often, but deep; encourage the roots to grow down.

A lot of plants don't try to tough it out against the wind, though. So many flowers are wind pollinated. Some plants produce seeds that look as if they have wings to spread and fly away. Desert willow and saltbush rely on the wind to propagate. Now that dandelion has started to make its appearance locally, everyone's going to get to see how those seeds blow in the wind. The newest member of the invasive weed list, green fountain grass, does the same thing.

But some plants are even more extreme. Take a look at tumbleweed. This is a plant that literally goes whatever way the wind is blowing. Such a disappointment to discover that it's Russian thistle! Actually it's not a disappointment - I've been pulling it out all over the place. Nasty, spiky stuff. What happens with Russian thistle is - when it produces flowers and seeds, the whole plant dries out. It's a big shrubby thing attached to the earth by a relatively thin stalk that breaks, and the dead plant tumbles away with its dry flowers and its gazillions of seeds. As the tumbleweed goes traveling along on the breeze, it spreads its seeds everywhere.

Blowing in the wind. It's more than just a folksong.

On a completely different couple of topics: If you're a teacher interested in participating in the Junior Master Gardener program, we're holding a training session. Call the office for more details. And, start marking your calendars, because the last week of April is Arbor Week. Henderson is really committed to this. The big event will be at the City Park, the morning of April 29.

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

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Archives

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.

AngelaSep 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.

NormSep 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.

AngelaAug 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.

NormAug 6, 2013 | Casualties of Summer
Ever the optimist, Norm finds something to learn from the casualties of summer.

AngelaJul 22, 2013 | White Prickly Poppy
Is a poppy by any other name just a weed?

NormJul 9, 2013 | Agave
Agave is well suited to our desert climate. Norm Schilling shares his collection.

AngelaJun 25, 2013 | Summer Vegetables
Growing your own food in triple-digit weather is challenging, but not impossible.

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