Nevada Public Radio Listen Live

Facebook Twitter Follow Nevada Public Radio

Support Nevada Public Radio
April 09, 2013

DESERT BLOOM: Desert Color



When we look around at the majority of landscapes that're growing here in Southern Nevada, there's not a great deal of variety. It's easy to find heavenly bamboo (which is neither bamboo nor heavenly: it really suffers in the summer). Texas Ranger is as common as here as privet hedges are in other parts of the country, and I like lantana, but after a while it looks like gardens are designed by cookie cutter.

This is, of course, not the case with some of my friends who've won the annual landscape prize from the water authority. Those gardens display a remarkable desert plant palette, full of color and texture, using little water.

But it's not essential to be a gardening guru to find a plant that's different, eye catching and easy to maintain. Some desert natives fit the bill nicely.

GlobemallowOne of my favorites is a small shrub called "globe mallow" - its proper name is Sphaeralcea ambigua - Dr. Pat Leary at CSN also calls it "sore eye poppy". I've never rubbed my eye after touching this plant, and I don't plan to, either.

Around early spring it begins to produce coral-orange colored flowers, just under an inch across. The blossoms of the majority of true desert natives are yellow, so this is a welcome visual change. And it flowers well into the summer, when many other plants have dropped theirs.

Globe MallowThis plant always looks a little wild and rangy, but the flowers help it fit into a planned landscape. It doesn't get much more than five feet tall and across, so it won't overwhelm even a small yard.

The leaves are fuzzy, which protects it from blistering sunlight - you won't see any scorched leaves on this plant. The soft leaves make it a desert plant you can touch without being impaled on a spine or a thorn.

Globe mallow has even more going for it - it can grow well in sandy soil, in clay soils, and in soils in-between. As long as it's growing in a spot that's well drained, it won't complain. If you plant it in a muddy, airless hole, on the other hand, it's doomed. That's the case with most plants, now that I think of it.

Sphaeralcea loves our high pH soil, and not surprisingly, it tolerates drought (being a desert native). Its low water use lets it fit perfectly into xeriscapes. Since it evolved in the desert where the soil's infertile, it doesn't need too much fertilizer. A little bit of compost or compost tea goes a long way.

Of course, nothing's perfect, not even a plant like this. For one thing, you can't flat-top it to create a globe mallow hedge. It's also not something you can prune into a beach ball or a cube. Keep the pruning shears far away.

Fortunately, like so many other shrubs, its natural shape is usually round and flowing.

It grows quickly, but that also means it doesn't live forever, just a few years. Fortunately, it can re-seed itself, so a fresh plant, or fresh plants, will probably sprout up in the general area where the parent plant was growing.

texas rangerThat's a survival mechanism for the species; quite a few perennial plants can reseed. Texas Rangers will produce babies that can grow into shrubs in no time.

Sometimes that quest for survival can turn a desert ornamental into a potential invader. I've found that at least one of the euphorbia, a spurge we call "gopher plant", needs to be kept on a short leash. It's bright and green throughout the summer - just looks so cheery - but its seedlings pop up and threaten to take over.

Gopher PlantIn addition to ruthlessly pulling up unwelcome seedlings, a way to keep the problem of uninvited plants down is to limit watering. Lots of water means fast growth, because plants'll take up all the water that's provided to them. Desert plants aren't meant to grow quickly. Enjoy the new slow-growing introductions to your desert garden.

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.

Web hosting facilities provided by Switch.