When we look around at the majority of landscapes that're growing here in Southern Nevada, there's not a great deal of variety. It's easy to find heavenly bamboo (which is neither bamboo nor heavenly: it really suffers in the summer). Texas Ranger is as common as here as privet hedges are in other parts of the country, and I like lantana, but after a while it looks like gardens are designed by cookie cutter.

This is, of course, not the case with some of my friends who've won the annual landscape prize from the water authority. Those gardens display a remarkable desert plant palette, full of color and texture, using little water.

But it's not essential to be a gardening guru to find a plant that's different, eye catching and easy to maintain. Some desert natives fit the bill nicely.

GlobemallowOne of my favorites is a small shrub called "globe mallow" - its proper name is Sphaeralcea ambigua - Dr. Pat Leary at CSN also calls it "sore eye poppy". I've never rubbed my eye after touching this plant, and I don't plan to, either.

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Around early spring it begins to produce coral-orange colored flowers, just under an inch across. The blossoms of the majority of true desert natives are yellow, so this is a welcome visual change. And it flowers well into the summer, when many other plants have dropped theirs.

Globe MallowThis plant always looks a little wild and rangy, but the flowers help it fit into a planned landscape. It doesn't get much more than five feet tall and across, so it won't overwhelm even a small yard.

The leaves are fuzzy, which protects it from blistering sunlight - you won't see any scorched leaves on this plant. The soft leaves make it a desert plant you can touch without being impaled on a spine or a thorn.

Globe mallow has even more going for it - it can grow well in sandy soil, in clay soils, and in soils in-between. As long as it's growing in a spot that's well drained, it won't complain. If you plant it in a muddy, airless hole, on the other hand, it's doomed. That's the case with most plants, now that I think of it.

Sphaeralcea loves our high pH soil, and not surprisingly, it tolerates drought (being a desert native). Its low water use lets it fit perfectly into xeriscapes. Since it evolved in the desert where the soil's infertile, it doesn't need too much fertilizer. A little bit of compost or compost tea goes a long way.

Of course, nothing's perfect, not even a plant like this. For one thing, you can't flat-top it to create a globe mallow hedge. It's also not something you can prune into a beach ball or a cube. Keep the pruning shears far away.

Fortunately, like so many other shrubs, its natural shape is usually round and flowing.

It grows quickly, but that also means it doesn't live forever, just a few years. Fortunately, it can re-seed itself, so a fresh plant, or fresh plants, will probably sprout up in the general area where the parent plant was growing.

texas rangerThat's a survival mechanism for the species; quite a few perennial plants can reseed. Texas Rangers will produce babies that can grow into shrubs in no time.

Sometimes that quest for survival can turn a desert ornamental into a potential invader. I've found that at least one of the euphorbia, a spurge we call "gopher plant", needs to be kept on a short leash. It's bright and green throughout the summer - just looks so cheery - but its seedlings pop up and threaten to take over.

Gopher PlantIn addition to ruthlessly pulling up unwelcome seedlings, a way to keep the problem of uninvited plants down is to limit watering. Lots of water means fast growth, because plants'll take up all the water that's provided to them. Desert plants aren't meant to grow quickly. Enjoy the new slow-growing introductions to your desert garden.

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

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