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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.


AngelaFeb 19, 2015 | Tricky Spring
If you're thinking that our warm weather means your plants are safe from a late frost, you're probably right. But then again, you never know. It only seems that Jack Frost has skipped a visit to Southern Nevada this year. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormFeb 14, 2015 | Selective Pruning
Norm Schilling guides gardeners to keep up as Spring approaches. Selective pruning will keep things on track in the yard.

NormJan 21, 2015 | Prepare for Spring Now
Don't look at the calendar. Look at your plants to tell you what do to in the yard right now. Your plants think Spring is near, so use this time to transplant and prune. Desert Gardener Norm Schilling tells us what to look for.

NormDec 30, 2014 | Winter and Citrus
Citrus can thrive in Southern Nevada - even in our cold - when you choose the right varieties. Norm Schilling tells us how.

AngelaDec 13, 2014 | To Prune or Not to Prune
As winter draws near, leaves begin to fall. And the bare view may prompt some excessive pruning. It's tempting, but your plants may appreciate a little restraint. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormDec 6, 2014 | Prepare Your Plants for Cold Weather
It's not cold . . . yet, but Norm says be ready and your yard will appreciate it. Don't let a cold snap cost you your investment in plants in your yard. Norm Schilling has some ideas to get ready.

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.

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