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March 18, 2013

DESERT BLOOM: Celebrity Death Match



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.


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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