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June 03, 2014
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DESERT BLOOM: Hot Weather Plants

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Angela

Tomato PlantsOnce it starts getting warm here in the beautiful Mojave Desert, some gardeners throw their hands up in acute despair.  After all, the temperatures will rise well above 100° and we probably won’t be seeing much rain until October. Summer always looks like a terribly tough time for Southern Nevada horticulturists and their plants. Few edible plants will really thrive under these conditions, but that’s not to say there aren’t any. Some fruits and vegetables will brave the heat, as long as the intrepid gardener gets water to the growing plants.

Sadly, the list doesn’t include tomatoes. Or, not usually. Tomatoes aren’t generally their best when temperatures get much over 85°, if they produce at all.

No, I’m talking about different fruits altogether. Think about delicious cantaloupe.

Melons and their cousins like warm, even hot, weather. You can seed these vines in the ground as soon as the soil’s consistently above 60°. When it’s any cooler than that, the little seedlings won’t take up water. As a rough guide, look at nighttime temperatures. That’s as low as the soil temperature can get. When the melons are fully ripe, they’ll almost slip off the vine into your hand. Even if they’re a little overripe, who’s going to complain? They’re amazingly sweet, and it’s not like you’re shipping them across the country.

Hard-shelled squash, like pumpkins, are related to melons. If you get them started when the soil warms up, you should have pumpkins by Halloween – how’s that for convenient! You probably shouldn’t try growing the world’s largest pumpkin unless you have a lot of land; the vines become gigantic.

All the members of this family suffer when they get dry, so irrigation’s critical. And they’re all a little gluttonous when it comes to soil fertility, but if you amend the soil with compost or a slow release fertilizer, they should be fine.

When I think of hot weather, I think of okra. As far as heat and drought tolerant plants go, okra’s one of the best. You don’t need to put in a lot of them; a single plant produces enough for a lot of gumbo. It’s not that I’m so enamored with the taste and texture, but the flowers are really attractive, like hibiscus. They’re related, also to cotton! By the way, although you don’t eat cotton, the flowers are pretty, and it’s got an interesting seed package – a boll of cotton!    

Sweet potatoes, which some people insist on calling yams, but they’re not, are another great vegetable for high temperatures. If you have one with some sprouts popping out, put it in the ground when the soil’s warmed up. They have lovely foliage, so you can use it as a groundcover, or even let it grow up on a trellis! Through summer and fall, you’ll have a sweet potato vine. Come Thanksgiving, you should have your own little crop of sweets, which is perfect since the leaves die back in the winter. You’ll be digging up the whole plant, though, so don’t put them around anything that shouldn’t be disturbed.

Peppers, especially hotter peppers, appear to tolerate higher temperatures than their cousins, tomatoes, but even tomatoes aren’t hopeless. As I said before, in the dead of summer, it’s likely they won’t be as terrific as they were back when temperatures were under 90°. You can keep them growing through July and August if you provide some shade and never let them get dry. If you’d rather use the summer for melons and okra, then try this.

Around the end of June, cut your tomato plants down to about five or six inches, water them, and cover the soil with a good layer of mulch. They’ll start growing again, and by the end of September you should have a new crop of tomatoes that’ll go until the first frost. They won’t be the fabulous fruits you had before, but they’ll still be more flavorful than what you usually see in the supermarket.

Remember, when you’re outside in the summer garden, drink fluids and use sunscreen. For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension

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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
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AngelaJul 14, 2014 | Protect Fruit Trees from Birds
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NormJul 10, 2014 | Palm Care, Part 2
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NormJun 10, 2014 | Palm Care
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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
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AngelaMay 6, 2014 | Emerald Ash Borer
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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.

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