Nevada Public Radio Listen Live

"BBC World Service"
Facebook Twitter Follow Nevada Public Radio

Support Nevada Public Radio
December 13, 2013

DESERT BLOOM: Winter Greens



So many things make gardening in the desert southwest surprising and interesting. Everyone knows it’s not like growing plants in any other region. We have our five seasons, while most other gardeners have to be content with only one. Summer’s definitely the toughest time, but the other seasons allow us to grow almost anything!

Spring here is like spring anywhere, except that begins around February. When I lived in the great American Northeast, we didn’t dare plant anything until mid-May. I remember putting tomato plants into the ground on the 4th of July and hoping to get a few fruit before the first frost in October!

No, the Mojave is a gardener’s paradise. Honestly!

This past fall, I started my seeds for the leafy greens – mustard, spinach, lettuce - and got them planted around the end of October. Actually, they’re in a small raised bed and some 14-inch pots. I was able to start harvesting the end of November.

Our middle of winter is not the “dead of winter” as in other places. Not only is it a great time for thinking about spring and looking at catalogs, it can be yet another growing season.

Two factors make it possible to have a garden of greens during the winter. One is the way many of these plants grow. Take lettuce, for instance. The outer leaves are the oldest ones. I harvest the outside leaves and permit the inner part of the plants to continue growing. It’s not necessary to take out the entire plant! Since I don’t do a lot of food preservation, I only need to take some leaves every day. Besides, what can you do with lettuce besides eat it fresh?  

The other element for success in a winter desert garden is protection.

Floating Row CoverUltra-light fabric, called “floating row covers” can rest on the growing plants overnight, and that keeps temperatures two or three degrees warmer. Many plants will normally survive temperatures down to about 28 degrees Fahrenheit, although it does stress them, and causes considerable damage to leaves.

This row cover protection can mean the difference between freezing and thriving. It’s the winter equivalent of shade cloth, which we use to shield plants from sunburn.

In past years, when winter temperatures dropped below freezing for many nights in a row, I’ve added heavier materials to shelter crops. I bought a roll of dense clear plastic at the hardware store. I suspend the plastic on pvc pipe or rebar and it’s like a mini greenhouse. It’s not hard to work with; can be put up or taken down easily. When daytime temperatures hover in the 30s I keep it up and might even lay row cover on the plants themselves. That’s double protection, like insulation in the roof.

This year, I’m doing something different with plants that’re absolutely not winter crops. My tomato plants looked puny most of the summer, in part because I had an irrigation malfunction. Since I felt they deserved a chance to come back, I didn’t pull them out as I normally would in September. They came back. All through November, they produced fruits. More than they did throughout the whole year. Every morning I’ve been harvesting green tomatoes and putting them on the windowsill. As long as they’ve reached a certain level of maturity, they turn red and tasty! When it gets cold, I’ll have to decide whether to dig them up or cut them down and let them come back next year. Tomatoes are perennials, but rarely produce as well in subsequent years. Might be worth a shot, though.

In 2014, I’ll be offering an expanded version of my “Growing in Small Places” series. This year I’ll present a different topic every month. Call the Master Gardener help line for details.

Finally, I’d like to thank the members of the Desert Green Foundation for giving me the 2013 Bill Tomyasu Award for service to Nevada’s horticulture industry. This was a high honor, and I am so grateful. It puts me in distinguished company.

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.

Web hosting facilities provided by Switch.