April 09, 2013
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
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
One 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
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.
This 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
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
That'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
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.
In 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
|Jan 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.
|Dec 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.
|Dec 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.
|Dec 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.
|Nov 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.
|Nov 14, 2014 | Fall Colors |
Even in the desert, Fall colors can brighten your landscape. Here's Norm Schilling with Desert Bloom.
|Oct 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)
|Oct 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.
|Sep 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.
|Sep 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.
|Aug 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
|Jul 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.
|Jul 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.
|Jul 10, 2014 | Palm Care, Part 2 |
To keep, or not to keep. Norm Schilling ponders his palm trees, on this edition of Desert Bloom.
|Jun 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.
|Jun 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
|May 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.
|May 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.
|Apr 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.
|Mar 24, 2014 | Spring Garden Party |
Spring is here and the garden is blooming . . . so invite some friends to enjoy the rewards of gardening!