Nevada Public Radio Listen Live

"Marketplace"
Facebook Twitter Follow Nevada Public Radio

Support Nevada Public Radio
August 20, 2013
Podcasts

Listen

Angela

Lake MeadLiving in the desert means - learning to live with less water. Fortunately for us, the water recycling efforts of the water authority make it seem as if there’s no end of water for our use! When I first arrived in the great American Southwest, I asked my cab driver about water shortages. He answered, “No, we have the lake.” I was a little stunned, especially since I’d seen pictures of the big white bathtub ring around Lake Mead, indicating how far the levels had dropped.

I try to tell people that although we occasionally get torrential rain, this area is still dry. Even if this region hadn’t been in the midst of a drought for a decade, it’s still the Mojave Desert. We humans, as well as our pets, can go into the house and get something cool to drink, but plants, being rooted in the ground, just don’t have that option. Since almost all of our local landscapes came with irrigation already installed, it can be easy to forget that as trees and shrubs grow, their water needs grow as well.

How many of us could go out to our yards today and see trees that’ve been growing in place for five years or more? How many of us would see that they’re still receiving only the water provided by a couple of drip emitters close to their trunks? It’s highly probable - the tree needs a lot more water than it’s receiving, and obviously this can be a source of major problems.

I often talk to people about how essential good soil drainage is for plant health, which is definitely true. Although poor drainage is actually a major cause of landscape plant death, the opposite – a lack of water getting to roots – can also kill or injure them.

The first indication of water shortfall is usually that the leaves, whether they’re on a tree, a shrub or a tomato, will become brown and crunchy. Sad to say, that isn’t the only symptom; water shortage can look like any number of problems. It may be that a stem is noticeably barren. Sometimes leaves aren’t uniformly brown and dry, but rather have patches of dead tissue. Or -the plant might be growing abnormally slowly.

None of these symptoms is unique to a watering problem. A barren stem might be mistaken for an insect infestation. Examine that branch closely, and if there aren’t any critters on the leaves or under the bark, then think about water. 

Patches of dead leaf tissue might be the result of an infection by bacteria or fungi, but that’s not too likely. We don’t have particularly big disease problems here in the Mojave since it’s so dry here.

A slow growing plant could need fertilization. Has it been given fertilizer in recent memory? If not, perhaps it’s time to fix that. On the other hand, it could simply be reacting to temperatures over 100°.

In the desert southwest, really, drought stress is more often the likely cause of plant discomfort than any of these, and it’s easier to remedy.

How does one check for watering problems? First, feel the soil. Is it dry? That’s a pretty good indication.

Take a look at the irrigation system. Are there enough emitters? One or two gallons per day will not support a mature tree in a well-drained soil, especially during the summer. Even a young tree may need a little more than that. A plant’s water need depends on the trunk diameter (that’s called the “caliper”) as well as the variety. A mature cottonwood, for instance, can easily transpire over 100 gallons daily.  Usually the tree’s root system will extend through a wide area searching for water, but roots can’t grow in dry soil.

For landscapes in the summer desert, water shortage is an especially big issue. Take a look at your plants, and if they need more water, either add emitters, or start watering by hand.

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

See discussion rules.

Archives

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.

AngelaJan 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.

NormDec 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.

AngelaDec 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.

NormDec 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.

AngelaNov 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.

© 2014 NEVADA PUBLIC RADIO   
Web hosting facilities provided by Switch.