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
|Dec 13, 2014 | To Prune or Not to Prune |
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|Dec 6, 2014 | Prepare Your Plants for Cold Weather |
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|Nov 25, 2014 | Evergreens |
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|Nov 14, 2014 | Fall Colors |
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|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 |
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|Sep 30, 2014 | Fountain Grass |
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|Sep 15, 2014 | Desert Heat |
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|Aug 12, 2014 | Organic Pesticides |
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|Jul 28, 2014 | Lose that Lawn |
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|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 |
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|May 6, 2014 | Emerald Ash Borer |
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|Apr 22, 2014 | The Right Plants |
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|Mar 24, 2014 | Spring Garden Party |
Spring is here and the garden is blooming . . . so invite some friends to enjoy the rewards of gardening!
|Mar 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.
|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.