Planting A Garden? How To Save It From The Desert Heat And More


Natalie Cullen

It's midway between the cooler temps of winter and the blistering desert summer, so Las Vegas residents are starting to plant gardens.

But most residents aren't from here, and have little experience gardening during the intense heat of a Mojave Desert summer.

To help you out, horticulturists Norm Schilling and Angela O'Callaghan answer all the tough questions about gardening.



On an orchid that has lost its flower:

Angela: The plant is not dead as long as the leaves are green. You want to make sure it never gets too dry. It needs to have ample moisture. Remember it’s from jungles and when the time is right it will produce another flower.

Is it too late to begin a garden?

Norm: Is it a bit late in the year to plant most veggies. Typically a lot of this stuff should have gone in the ground even a couple of months ago. But it’s never too late to prep a garden and much of the work in successful veggie gardening has to do with soils, irrigation, building a raised bed. I think people should put a lot of investment in the front end to a successful growing environment.

Angela: In the not too distant future, it’s going to be 110 degrees. Usually what we tell people is -- if you’re going to plant something like bok choy and lettuce, they’ll grow for now but soon they’re going to bolt. They’re going to produce a flower stock and the leaves are going to become so bitter, they’ll cross your eyes.

Support comes from

Plant those things in February. Anything you’re growing for leaves or for roots – think late winter, early spring and they can grow through April beginning of May.

On weed control:

Norm: Pull them before they go to seed. Some weeds produce really tiny flowers, like spurge which is a ground cover plant and it produces lots of little seeds. The basic premise is do a little bit of weeding on a regular basis. You can see the weeds producing flowers and the main idea is to get them before that.

Angela: See there is no such thing as a ‘weed killer.’ We have our plant killers that we aim at weeds. You pull the weeds. You know it’s a weed if you didn’t plant it and it wasn’t there and if you don’t like it and if it’s growing in between something that you did plant.

I would encourage you to put mulch over your soil because they block the light from getting the seedlings. So, if you’ve got seeds that don’t have any light, the seedlings are not going to come through. So you’re not going to have such a problem with weeds.

Caller Robin asked how to take care of her ferns:

Angela: With any fern, they evolved around water so they tend to need a high-humidity environment. They need very rich, soft soil. They don’t like really particular rocky soil. Don’t plant it in full sun. Even indoors our humidity can be less than 20 percent. You want to make sure they never, ever dry out and make sure you fertilize them occasionally with nitrogen so that you have nice green leaves. Provide moisture with misting.

Norm: Plants that come from real moist climates typically come from climates that have much more acidic soils than we have. So it’s not just the soil our water is alkaline. So one of the things you can do when you water them is for every gallon of water that you use add four tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice which is going to acidify that water.

Caller Leslie asked about what is wrong with her roses. The leaves are starting to curl, they’re not dry and brittle, and have a ‘modeled or mildew’ look to them:

Angela: Roses are incredibly hardy here but they do have some serious enemies. They have aphids which can cause the leaves to curl. The can also develop what is called powdery mildew. It’s not something that kills the plant but weakens it. You can use neem oil to spray that on leaves. It’s the oil from a seed of a tree. It is used to control insects and disease.

Caller Patrice asked about oleander trees that have a lot of yellow leaves and when they should be untethered:

Norm: Oleander trees are about as tough a tree as you can get. When you say a ‘tree’ it sounds like it’s a single trunk, which is an unnatural state for oleanders. In order to do that, they strip out the lower leaves and branches which weakens the trunk. You want to stake it and tie it but you want to have some movement on that trunk because plant tissue is like our own muscle tissue: you got to work it to make it grow.

As for the yellow leaves, oleander like lots of plants when they grow take nitrogen from older leaves to push to newer leaves but I wouldn’t worry about that unless there is a whole lot of leaf loss.

Angela: It also depends on where the leaves are yellowing. If it’s the top part of the leaf, it could be mineral deficiency. If it’s the bottom of the leaves it could be watering issue. Or it could not enough of some other nutrient.  

Caller Terri wanted to know why the flowers she has in her container garden aren’t blooming:

Norm: I understand the desire to go and buy what’s pretty to you but I really think you should make note of the name or keep the tag in the pot because when plants to develop problems… there is no way to really diagnosis what’s going on. With the internet you can search specific problems for specific plants.

And flowering little leafy plants in pots in Southern Nevada is a really challenging undertaking. If you want a lot of flowers, buy some desert plants, look in the desert section and put them in the ground here. The desert plants typically have really long blooming seasons.

Aaron called about his pomegranate which is producing a lot of fruit and getting much bigger:

Norm: There’s a website Pomegranate trees, when they are well trimmed, can be some of the most beautiful ornamental trees with flower and fruit. And with a very beautiful fall color show.

Ephron called to ask why his fruit trees keep dying:

Norm: Fruit trees if at all possible plant them in the fall so they can establish their root system. It’s a really good chance that it’s the hotter weather that’s taking them out. Make sure there’s an emitter on the root ball. If it’s a larger tree, more than one emitter on the root ball. Put some emitters around the perimeter of the tree to encourage the roots to go out and use organic mulch, wood chip mulch it’s going to make a big difference. 



University of Nevada Cooperative Extension

Master Gardeners

Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

High Country Gardens

International Society of Arboriculture

From Desert Bloom: Agave Life Cycles




Norm Schilling , horticulturist, Schilling Horticulture; Angela O'Callaghan, associate professor, Nevada Cooperative Extension specialist in social horticulture.


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