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.
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|Feb 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.
|Feb 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.
|Feb 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.
|Jan 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.
|Dec 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.
|Dec 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.
|Dec 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.
|Nov 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.
|Nov 5, 2013 | Fall Color |
Our second Spring is in full bloom. Norm Schilling shares his favorite plants that are bringing color to the yard right now, including Chocolate Flower, Mexican Bush Sage, Autumn Sage and ornamental grasses.
|Oct 29, 2013 | Pumpkins |
Halloween just wouldn't be the same without the jack-o-lantern. But there's more to the tradition of decorating squash than meets the eye. Angela O'Callaghan says pumpkins are more than decorations for a single day. They're food, and a very good food at that.
|Sep 30, 2013 | Fall Pruning and Mulching |
Pruning for aesthetics and mulching for rich soil quality are on his to-do list before he gets started in earnest on fall planting. Find out where to find mulch and mulch more on this week's edition of Desert Bloom.
|Sep 17, 2013 | The Best Place to Garden |
The Mojave Desert isn't the easiest place to cultivate a garden, but we do have a few advantages here. In fact, Angela O'Callaghan says Southern Nevada is the BEST place in the world to be a gardener, partly because dry air helps keep our plants healthy.
|Sep 3, 2013 | Sacred Datura |
Sacred Datura is a native, but poisonous, desert plant that offers stunning blooms. Often seen at the side of the highway, it's found a home in Norm's yard.
|Aug 20, 2013 | Drought |
Living in the desert means - learning to live with less water. The more thought you put into watering, the better off your plants will be.
|Aug 6, 2013 | Casualties of Summer |
Ever the optimist, Norm finds something to learn from the casualties of summer.
|Jul 22, 2013 | White Prickly Poppy |
Is a poppy by any other name just a weed?
|Jul 9, 2013 | Agave |
Agave is well suited to our desert climate. Norm Schilling shares his collection.
|Jun 25, 2013 | Summer Vegetables |
Growing your own food in triple-digit weather is challenging, but not impossible.
|Jun 11, 2013 | Protect Your Plants |
Your plants will tell you if they can't take the heat.
|May 28, 2013 | Weeds |
One person's flower is another person's weed. So, what's the difference?