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March 18, 2013
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DESERT BLOOM: Celebrity Death Match

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Angela

While many plants are hard-pressed to grow in our desert environment, others want to take over. Here's Dr. Angela O'Callaghan:

Horticulture is full of surprises. In fact, I often say that those of us who study plants and their effects on people need to avoid ever using the words “always” or “never”. Just when we’re sure we have everything under control, along comes a something totally unexpected. I have an example I’d like to share. 

We live in the driest part of North America, and of course, we need to be frugal with water. While I’m a devout believer in water-smart horticulture, my own garden has some idiosyncrasies. Most of the garden has desert landscaping – with lovely Mojave natives and plants from other deserts as well. They thrive with little water in our bright hot sun. Many of them haven’t been all that happy with our recent winter, but I’m certain they’ll come back to life with warmer weather.

So it’s mostly desert, but I had to create some exceptions, the most important being my little fruit and vegetable area. Most vegetables are from areas that receive considerably more rainfall than we get in Southern Nevada, so any vegetable garden needs to get a fair amount of water.

In that general part of the yard, I’ve been watching what I call the “celebrity death match” among three plants for the past few years. Each of them tends to be pretty aggressive, even invasive, and I’ve tried to keep them in check. But I’ve been only partly successful.

Bermuda GrassYou might have already guessed the identities of at least one or two – Bermuda grass is one of them. I used to think Bermuda was the most awful grass on the planet earth, but since it’s the only thing that’ll grow in some rangelands, it can be important fodder for livestock or wildlife. Nothing is all bad, apparently.

Another aggressive and invasive member of my trio is mint. The previous owners planted it next to the house. Is there anyone who hasn’t heard that mint – peppermint, spearmint, the list is enormous – should be grown in pots, otherwise it’ll take over a whole landscape? That’s generally true, but it’s a good idea to expect the unexpected.

MintWhen I was outside this morning, looking over the winter vegetables, I glanced at the celebrity death match area.

The third member of the threesome was one I never expected to compete well against the other two. It’s Vinca minor, also known as creeping myrtle – no doubt you’ve seen it, smooth oval leaves and purple flowers. A master gardener gave me some cuttings about a dozen years ago and I planted them in a protected spot, hoping they’d survive.

They did. Each year, creeping myrtle’s expanded her territory. When I’ve looked at the three competitors, I’ve noticed that there were interesting dynamics, which is why I called it celebrity death match: most times the mint was muscling out the grass, but sometimes the Bermuda shot stolons up through the mint. The vinca just let its runners grow on the top of the mint and the grass, as if it were merely rising above the competition.

Vinca minorThis morning, I saw just how effective that strategy’s been. I was trying to find some mint for tea. Yes, I had to paw my way through the creeping myrtle to reach a few scraggly looking shoots of spearmint. And yes, I could pull out the occasional long streamer of Bermuda, but the happiest plants in my garden, elbowing out the other competitors, was the Vinca minor.

I don’t exactly know how to feel about this. I’m not wild about any plant that can take over, but anything that overwhelms Bermuda grass is welcome. On the other hand, how robust must a plant be if it can outcompete mint!

I’m guessing that when the temperatures rise, the vinca will probably slow down and the spearmint’ll come back to prominence, but who would’ve expected this?

See discussion rules.

Archives

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.

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.

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