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April 09, 2013
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DESERT BLOOM: Desert Color

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Angela

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.

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Archives

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.

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.

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