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April 05, 2005


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.

See discussion rules.


AngelaFeb 19, 2015 | Tricky Spring
If you're thinking that our warm weather means your plants are safe from a late frost, you're probably right. But then again, you never know. It only seems that Jack Frost has skipped a visit to Southern Nevada this year. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormFeb 14, 2015 | Selective Pruning
Norm Schilling guides gardeners to keep up as Spring approaches. Selective pruning will keep things on track in the yard.

NormJan 21, 2015 | Prepare for Spring Now
Don't look at the calendar. Look at your plants to tell you what do to in the yard right now. Your plants think Spring is near, so use this time to transplant and prune. Desert Gardener Norm Schilling tells us what to look for.

NormDec 30, 2014 | Winter and Citrus
Citrus can thrive in Southern Nevada - even in our cold - when you choose the right varieties. Norm Schilling tells us how.

AngelaDec 13, 2014 | To Prune or Not to Prune
As winter draws near, leaves begin to fall. And the bare view may prompt some excessive pruning. It's tempting, but your plants may appreciate a little restraint. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormDec 6, 2014 | Prepare Your Plants for Cold Weather
It's not cold . . . yet, but Norm says be ready and your yard will appreciate it. Don't let a cold snap cost you your investment in plants in your yard. Norm Schilling has some ideas to get ready.

AngelaNov 25, 2014 | Evergreens
As we head into the holiday season, more attention is given to 'evergreens.' Too many cones on a pine tree might be a sign of weakness. Angela O'Callaghan tells us all about evergreens on Desert Bloom.

NormNov 14, 2014 | Fall Colors
Even in the desert, Fall colors can brighten your landscape. Here's Norm Schilling with Desert Bloom.

NormOct 28, 2014 | Fall Colors - Web Only Edition
With glorious weather for our yards to fall back into bloom, Norm has some additional suggestions for color to add to the profusion of blooms for this time of year. (Web-only content)

NormOct 7, 2014 | Second Spring
The call it a "second spring" Norm Schilling has some plan ideas to make Fall colorful in your yard. He has a checklist of plants looking their best, because now is the time to plant in Southern Nevada.

AngelaSep 30, 2014 | Fountain Grass
A weed by any other name is still a weed even if it doesn't look like one. If only everything in our gardens thrived as well as weeds. Here is Angela O'Callaghan.

NormSep 15, 2014 | Desert Heat
Norm describes a significant casualty of the desert heat. There's going to be a big gap in Norm's Yard and a lesson on the reality of our desert landscape.

AngelaAug 12, 2014 | Organic Pesticides
Choosing a method for ridding your garden of an unwanted guest, be it bug or weed, is not always a simple choice. But the more you know, the better it goes. Here's Angela O'Callaghan

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
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.

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