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'Cold' Las Vegas Weather Is Veggie Garden Time

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Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr

Fall is coming and in most of the United States, that means the end of planting season.

In Las Vegas, it’s just the start.

If you want a vegetable garden, fall is the best time to plant.

There are some secrets to planting this time of year, though.

Norm Schilling, owner of Schilling Horticulture, answered some our questions and some of yours about how, where and when to start planting that garden.

Since many southern Nevadans come from parts of the country where spring is planting season, obviously the cooler climate is why it’s a good time to plant here. Any other reasons?

The main reason fall is considered the best time of year to plant here is because our most challenging season for most plants is summer when we have really hot, dry and windy weather.

By planting in the fall, the plant has a nine month period basically to establish a root system before it gets hit with that summer heat.

I always hear our soil isn’t good to plant in. I believe it. But tell me why – and are there soil additives that can change the chemistry of the soil to make it more hospitable to plant life?

It’s not entirely true. Our soil is great for desert plants. We have desert soils, which are low in organic material and high PH. The desert plants naturally grow and thrive in that kind of soil conditions. If you’re trying to grow more traditional plants, what I call moderate water use plants, then no it is not ideal.

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One of the biggest challenges with our soil is the high PH which makes some nutrients unavailable. If you are trying to grow more moderate water use, more traditional plants, from fruit trees to roses to traditional blooming perennials the non-desert plants. The best long-term holistic healthcare practice is to use an organic mulch, wood chip on top of the soil, but also upon planting to work some well decomposed organic matter into the soil.

What are some techniques for ensuring desert plants will grow well?

Let the soils dry out because desert plants naturally occur in soils that dry and if they stay wet, it introduces pathogens that they don’t have the defense system to fight it off because its not part of their natural environment, their natural evolutionary history.

Some people believe you can’t water plants too much in the desert – but is that actually true?

Lin Mills told me that more plants die of overwater here than from any other cause because we see the poor thing sitting out there in 110 – 115 degree heat and we think ‘Oh my God! They must be thirsty’ and we go out and we give them water, more water, more water and they drown.  

There are some plants that I will water three or four times a year. And they’re beautiful, happy, healthy desert plants.

African sumac, Palo Verde, Mesquite, Desert Willow. They’re all desert trees and they will actually perform better be stronger, live longer be happier healthier specimens with less water.

I talked about tree planting –It’s digging a hole and throwing in the tree, sure. But there are certain dimensions and measurements to take into account. Can you talk about that for a bit?

Whatever plant you’re planting you should over dig the whole in width and the standard rule of thumb is three or five times the width of container. The depth should be no deeper than the existing root ball of the plant.

That’s an advantage of buying smaller, younger plants. You don’t have to dig as big or deep a hole.

What about palm trees? Should they be planted in the fall or spring – and what kind of care should they have in the fall?

Most palm trees are cold hardy here, all except for the little pigmy date palms. And the queen palms. Don’t plant ‘em. They don’t like it here. They don’t like the sun, the soil, the wind. Most species of palms that you can get here and plant here should do fine in the winter.

There is one palm that I think is beautiful and does exceptional well here is the Mexican blue palm. It looks like the other fan palms, the big tall ones that you see, but the foliage is super blue and its slow growing so it stays in your yard. Most of the big Mexican fan palms and California fan palms eventually you just end up with a telephone pole in your yard and foliage way up 20 – 30 feet in the air.

On good gardening:

But in the end, if you’re looking for an ornamental, beautiful landscape, one of the keys I think in gardening is put a plant where it wants to be and give it room to grow and then go drink some wine.

And it’s the desert plants that just thrive here and often times have the longest bloom season as well as really cool textures and forms and amazing colors of foliage along with those long bloom seasons.

From Desert Bloom: Second Spring

Resources: 

Master Gardener Hotline - 702-257-5555 

Master Gardeners of Southern Nevada

Desert Companion on tour: Norm Schilling 

Mountain States Wholesale nursery

High Country Gardens 

Guests

Norm Schilling, Schilling Horticulture

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