Nevada Public Radio Listen Live

"Car Talk"
Facebook Twitter Follow Nevada Public Radio

Support Nevada Public Radio
September 17, 2013

DESERT BLOOM: The Best Place to Garden



As we welcome Fall with seeds in hand, we're reminded that gardening in the desert is not 'all' bad. Here's Angela O'Callaghan:

Southern Nevada is the best place in the world to be a gardener. There. I bet you never expected to hear anybody say that. This isn’t the same as saying it’s an easy place. That would be crazy, and definitely inaccurate. 

If you pay attention to our soils, you know they’re notoriously infertile, and salty, and have a pH that’s too high for a lot of plants. And the winds can be so fierce that leaves become shredded and wind up looking like streamers. And the sun is as bright and intense as anywhere on earth. It can and does burn plants, along with their leaves and fruit.

Still, it is a terrific garden spot for several reasons.  

Water, for one thing. Yes, we don’t have any to spare. But we do have a terrific water recycling system here, and as long as we’re relatively frugal with it, there’s an ample amount for most gardens, especially veggie gardens. Being frugal means using drip irrigation for vegetables. Drip was invented for growing vegetables in the desert. It really isn’t the best for trees and shrubs, but that’s another story.

There’s one absolute definition of a desert – it’s dry. We’re always dealing with that problem, whether it’s our skin flaking or our gardens wilting. On the other hand, that dry air helps keep our plants healthy. We have remarkably few foliar diseases here in the Mojave. In other places, fungi are major pests. Gardeners around the country are either spraying fungicides that’re marketed as “disease controllers”, or looking for organic ways to curb fungal diseases. Most pathogens need much higher humidity than you find in this climate, saving us a lot of grief.

I started thinking how lucky we are when I was planning my fall/winter garden, looking at seed catalogs. How many places have a climate that permits gardening almost the entire year round? This environment has at least three growing seasons, one for warm season plants, and two for cool. You can even break them down into five or more.

Here’s what I mean, starting with autumn.

Golden BeetsOnce the raised beds are cleaned up, and all the summer plants have been pulled out and put in the compost bin, it’s time for the cool season crops. These are anything you’re growing for roots, like turnips, beets and carrots; or leaves: spinach, lettuce, kale; and the oddballs, such as broccoli and kohlrabi. In early October, you can seed them directly. If you wait until later, maybe Halloween, you’re better off putting them in as transplants.

These’ll grow and produce even through the winter, as long as you make sure to protect them from the coldest night time temperatures. They won’t grow terribly fast, but generally produce enough to harvest a fresh salad every day.

LettuceIn late winter, replenish the salad bowl by planting more fast growing lettuce and other leafies.

TomatoesNext - the spring garden. Around March, tomatoes can be transplanted, so they’re producing through May and June. When temperatures rise above 90°, most tomatoes get poached on the vine. You can cut them down and they’ll re-grow a second crop around September. Or –protect them from the sun with shade cloth. They won’t produce terrifically, but some.  

PeppersIn April, put in the peppers and eggplant. They tolerate heat pretty well, and you can have ratatouille through the summer.

Only a few food plants thrive in July and August, but those that do are great! If you like okra, you’ll be in heaven. Same thing with all the melons and winter squash, like butternut. As long as they have water, and nighttime temperatures are above 60° they’ll give fruit at least through September.

So at the end of summer, you can be harvesting tomatoes again, as well as squash, cantaloupes, and chilies.

PumpkinIn October harvest pumpkins, and begin again with leafy vegetables - the dark green ones we know we’re supposed to eat, and the bright fresh salad that makes dinner look like spring!

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

See discussion rules.


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.

NormNov 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.

AngelaOct 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.

NormSep 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.

AngelaSep 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.

NormSep 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.

AngelaAug 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.

NormAug 6, 2013 | Casualties of Summer
Ever the optimist, Norm finds something to learn from the casualties of summer.

AngelaJul 22, 2013 | White Prickly Poppy
Is a poppy by any other name just a weed?

NormJul 9, 2013 | Agave
Agave is well suited to our desert climate. Norm Schilling shares his collection.

AngelaJun 25, 2013 | Summer Vegetables
Growing your own food in triple-digit weather is challenging, but not impossible.

Web hosting facilities provided by Switch.