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Summer gardening season in Las Vegas: What to plant and how

Dungy tends to spring onions growing in her garden.
Mickey Capper for NPR
Spring onions in a garden.

It's not summer yet, but the heat is already here. That can bring some complications into the lives of desert dwellers who are trying to keep their gardens and trees alive.

Gardening is, even in this desert, the number one hobby in the world.

But in the desert, we're not only thinking about getting enough water to our plants as global heating scorches the desert, we're thinking about using water as we drift through a drought of more than two decades.

Whether you're a green thumb or every plant you've ever potted tends to dry up, we had two people who can help a lot. Norm Schilling is the owner of Schilling Horticulture in Las Vegas, and Angela O'Callaghan is a social horticultural specialist for the University of Nevada extension. They joined State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann to answer our questions and yours.

What should you plant in the summer?

ANGELA: Agave. I always start off with food. Norm usually starts off at something more ornamental. He's right. Agaves will definitely grow. I say sweet potatoes because they will tolerate our crazy heat. As long as you give them enough water.

NORM: You can dig out of the ground, throw it in the corner for a month. Forget about it. Forget about it for another month, grab it, stick it in the ground and it'll grow. (He doesn’t recommend this method, though.)

Should we change houseplant behaviors due to heat?

ANGELA: Our houses at any time are dry. So we think of the outside as being dry, but the inside has been something we're comfortable with. But for plants, our houses tend to be very dry. So you have to be aware that you're going to have to miss them more often than you might otherwise think. Also, remember, you may have heard me say about a trillion times that the number one thing that kills plants indoors and out is a lack of drainage. So too often people will water a plant and say, ‘Oh, it's not looking so great. I'll water it some more because I live in the desert.’ Unfortunately, what often can happen is that there is a pool of mud accumulating at the base of that plant, whether it's outside or in a pot. So you have to make sure that you're not creating mud because if it's muddy, the roots don't work. And if the roots don't work, the plants are gonna die.

Can I plant a Joshua Tree here?

NORM: Plants transplant better when they're healthy. The Joshuas are wild harvested. We've been in a drought for 20 years. These are stressed plants coming out of the desert into our landscape. And so if they are well dug with their root system and tack which they usually aren't, then they stand a much better chance and you have to keep them pretty moist because no matter what you're doing when you transplant these things, their root systems are damaged right? So you keep it fairly moist but not too moist, because then it'll rot out.

How do I convert my lawn into something more eco-friendly?

NORM: Well, so first of all, really important: find out if you have Bermuda [grass]. And if you have Bermuda, unfortunately, the only way to kill it is to kill it chemically. … If you go to, click on resources, one of those links is how to kill Bermuda. … So the word biodiversity, right? The key there is the diversity. … you can grow some edibles back there, right? … Citrus does really well, pomegranates, and some varieties of figs don't get too big.

ANGELA: There's a lot of ground covers, you had mentioned clover and I would suggest not putting in clover because it does tend to be a little invasive. So there are a lot of low growing plants that will attract pollinators that might be a little overwhelming for you. But there are a lot of low growing plants. We were talking the other day about dymondia, which is not a desert plant but it's low growing. It's got pretty yellow flowers, bees like it. A lot of herbs, a lot of the salvias you know, sage, bees just go crazy for it.

Hear the full conversation above.

Guests: Norm Schilling,  owner, Schilling Horticulture ; Angela O'Callaghan, social horticulture specialist, University of Nevada Extension  

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Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the online editor for Nevada Public Radio. She oversees and writes State of Nevada’s online and social media content.