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Among the problems that people have when they start gardening, especially when they start gardening here in the glorious Mojave desert, is a terrified feeling that they'll have to do everything on their own, and that there's just no help for them. And that everything's going to die.
And really, nothing could be further from the truth. Even if you don't feel comfortable calling the master gardener helpline (and I can't believe that somebody wouldn't), but even if you don't have those issues, you might prefer looking at books and pictures before talking to an individual.
Yes, there are books that you can refer to if you want a hand with growing things here in lovely Southern Nevada. OK, there's not many, but you can look to a few. Before I start, I'll admit that many of the books put the bulk of their focus on other parts of the southwest, but that doesn't mean they can't be useful to us.
When I started asking around the office about what book our gardeners found most useful, the majority of people answered "Sunset." For the uninitiated, that means the "Sunset Western Garden Book". It covers everywhere from Washington State down to New Mexico. In fact, Sunset has created its own climate zones based on the overall weather that an individual area has. We in the Las Vegas area are in zone 11, by the way.
Among the nicest things about the Sunset book? The pictures are clear, and the descriptions are comprehensible. The editors are very careful about what they suggest for planting, also. They call our office for input about new plant recommendations, and are very thorough. It's from Sunset Publishing, and you can get it almost anywhere that you'd buy books. On the down side, as I said, it covers a relatively huge area, and it could stand to have a few more pictures. One of our senior members recommended How and Why of better gardening by Manning. I respect her opinion, although I haven't seen the book.
There are some others that refer specifically to desert gardening. Three are from Fisher Books, which is located in Tucson. George Brookbank wrote "Desert Gardening - fruits and vegetables; The Complete Guide" which gives a lot of good information. He not only talks about specific crop plants, but also about preparing the soil, using fertilizers, and how to select varieties that have at least a chance of survival. "Plants for Dry Climates - How to select, grow and enjoy", by Duffield and Jones gives a lot of information on landscape plants.
The pictures and descriptions are really good, but before you decide to use a plant that's recommended in this book, please call the help desk to make sure it's appropriate for here. "Landscape plants for dry regions" is similar to the book I just mentioned, but it also has additional information on potential problems with each plant. That can be so important. If you're going to use these books, though, you'll have to look up plants by their scientific names. I think that's a great idea, although not everyone does.
If you're interested in native desert plants, you should take a look at some books put out by the Southwest parks and monuments association, particularly Flowers and shrubs of the Mojave Desert and Shrubs and trees of the southwest deserts. Both of them are by Bowers and illustrated by Wignall. Unfortunately, they only have line drawings, no photos. .
Because we had so much rain this winter and spring (but let me iterate - we're still in a drought) but with the rain we seem to have a lot more weeds popping up in yards than in previous years. I don't think it's my imagination. There's a terrific book that you might want to take a look at calledd "Weeds of the West" from the Weed Science Society of America. If you are concerned about weeds at all, this is a terrific book. It has wonderful photos of the plants at different growth stages so you can identify them more easily, and the index uses both scientific and common names.
Of course, you might be interested in some more rarified topics, rather than general gardening or the weed problems that can plague us. I think it's fascinating to check out plants that have been used for medicines, even here in the desert southwest. When I was out at Red Rock Conservation area, I picked up a very informative book entitled "Medicinal Plants - of the desert and canyon west" by Michael Moore. Nobody's recommending that you give up going to the pharmacy, but it's remarkable that there are plants growing outside that early inhabitants actually relied on for their survival and well being!
So, that's a quick list of a few books a new gardener, or an old gardener looking for something new, might examine.
For KNPR's Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O'Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Happy reading.