Norm’s Plant Protection Advice for Freezing Temperatures in Southern Nevada

With the threat of cold this coming weekend, some plants could be damaged…you may want to protect them.  This can be achieved in several different ways.  

  • Pile wood chip mulch over a plant.  This can be held in place by a nursery planting container that has had the bottom cut off, thus creating a tube.  Other materials can be used in place of wood chips.
  • Use a thermal blanket or sheet to cover plants.  These can be purchased relatively cheaply at nurseries and hardware stores.  Pin to the ground using large rocks, or better yet, use landscape fabric pins.
  • Use old-style incandescent-bulb Christmas lights.  This is especially useful on trees.  They radiate some heat, usually enough to make a significant difference in reducing damage and increasing survivability.

Both the wood chips and thermal blankets work by keeping “heat” from the ground on the plants…our soils never freeze, so keeping that warmer air around the plant can make a huge difference.  This is one of the benefits of leaving leaf “litter” (think of it as “leaf mulch”) at the base of plants like Lantana or Aloe.

Cold spells where temps drop below freezing are part of our normal weather patterns.  It is when temps drop down to the mid-20’s or below that I start to worry.  The longer it stays cold, and the less the day warms up following each cold night can make a big difference.  Temps are projected to drop into the mid-20’s and rise only into the low-40’s for 3 or 4 days, so damage could occur.

Among the plants you might want to protect are:

  • Aloes
  • San Pedro cactus
  • Saguaro
  • Smaller (<10″ diam) Golden Barrel cactus
  • Rusellia equisitiformis (Coral Fountain)
  • Ruellia sp.
  • Some citrus (Myer’s Lemon should be fine)
  • Cold sensitive species of Agave
  • Many small species of succulents
  • Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevaria sp.)
  • Young (less than 1-2″ trunk diameter) cold sensitive trees such as:
  • Skyflower (Duranta erecta)
  • Acacia sp.
  • Texas Olive (Cordia boissieri)

Generally speaking, the central and east parts of the valley stay a little warmer, while the north, west and south perimeters get colder.  Also, plants protected by enclosure in a courtyard or up next to a building receive some protection from cold winds.

Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)

Norm’s Garden: Bearded Iris!

This is one of the reasons I love gardening so…along with the challenges come such unexpected and beautiful rewards. I planted these Bearded Iris about a year ago, forgot about them and either forgot or never knew what color flower to expect. Then along comes spring…kinda like Mother Nature on strong coffee, gettin’ stuff DONE!…and I glance over to see this amazing blue flower gracing my garden.

Iris are fun plants. There are over 200 named varieties, and the word “Iris” comes from Greek, meaning “rainbow”. They don’t seem to take much care, and bigger or more beautiful flowers are hard to find. Rhizomes (the “bulb” part of the plant) should be planted with the roots down and the tip up, just below soil surface or barely poking above. Avoid air pockets when planting, by placing a small mound of soil in the little planting hole you’ve created and spreading the roots over the pile. If you plant more than one (Iris looks great in groups of 3 or more), orient the fans (leaf-groupings) away from each other. In clayey soil plant them a bit high, create a little hill of sandy soil mixed with a little of your clay, or both…they like good drainage. Well-decomposed organic matter mixed into the soil will be helpful as well. Plant new rhizomes or divide existing ones in fall (September-November). They like full sun in most climates, but seem to do better here with intermittent, filtered or afternoon shade. Keep them fairly moist, but if soils stay wet they’ll rot.

Like all of gardening, expect some success and some failure. Of the 5 groupings of Iris I’ve planted, two have taken off and flowered, one produces leaves but hasn’t yet given me flowers, and two have died off. One of the ones that died was a variety named “Immortal”. Such irony! 🙂

Spectacular Surprise from Norm’s Adventures! Arctomecon californica (Bear-Paw Poppy)

On a bike ride out Lake Mead Blvd, past the highest point in the road and starting down the slope to Lake Mead, I stopped to turn around and head back home. I took a few minutes to catch my breath, and climbed a little hill right beside the road. To my astonishment I found a population of 20 of the endangered Bear-Paw Poppies in bloom. They have such beautiful rosettes of leaves, covered in fine hairs to help reduce water-loss in this dry environment. What a special surprise and delight!

Arctomecon californica (Bear-Paw Poppy)

Arctomecon californica (Bear-Paw Poppy)

These little guys are frequently referred to as “bear poppies” and “bear-paw poppies”, because of the characteristic form of the leaves. Arctomecon is a genus of the poppy family Papaveraceae. The three species are said to come about only in the western part of the Mojave Desert of North America. All species are known to be uncommon.


Steve’s Underutilized Trees for Small Yards: Foresteria pubescens (Desert olive)

Forestiera pubescens

Forestiera pubescens by Stan Shebs

Foresteria pubescens; Photo TexasAMU

Foresteria pubescens; Photo TexasA MU

Foresteria pubescens (Desert olive, New Mexico privet, Stretchberry)

This tree has an interesting multi-stem form with green leaves and white bark that is clean and smooth like ivory!

  • Deciduous Perennial with brilliant yellow fall color
  • Yellow blooms provide wonderful spring color around St. Patrick’s Day
  • Attracts birds for shelter and provides food source from the blue toned fruit
  • Enjoys full sun to part shade

It is a suitable substitute for Ligustrum species (Privets) because it’s native to the area and thrives, while Privets are likely to suffer at best.


Reference links to check out:

Eye-popping cacti from Norm’s Adventures! Mammillaria tetrancistra

I’m blessed to live near Frenchman’s Mountain (aka Sunrise Mtn) and often hike the canyons and slopes with my 3 dogs. It’s a rough, rocky, nearly soil-less mountain, but I’m continuously amazed by the desert life that thrives in such a seemingly inhospitable place. These two little cacti, Mammalaria tetrancistra, are about the size of golf balls. I bent to pet my dog and when I did they sure caught my eye. Talk about eye-popping! 🙂

They are commonly referred to as fishhook cactus, or corkseed cactus.

According to, the genus Mammillaria is one of the largest of the cactus family, with nearly 200 recognized species.

Steve’s Underutilized Trees for Small Yards: Pinus monophylla (The Single-leaf Pinion)



Pinus monophylla

Steve's Pinus monophylla

Pinus monophylla (Single-leaf Pinion)

The appearance of this tree has been described as “rustic”. It’s hue compliments many types of landscapes.



Pinus monophylla (The Single-leaf Pinion) Photo Credit: Dcrjsr

Pinus monophylla (The Single-leaf Pinion) Photo Credit: Dcrjsr

Steve’s Underutilized Trees for Small Yards: Quercus turbinella

Steve Glimp is our leading Certified Arborist here at Schilling Horticulture. He has studied Conservation Biology, Ornamental Horticulture, and has experience as a Field Botanist. He has created this compilation of trees ideal for small gardens that he believes have been underutilized in Southern Nevada. This series of posts will explore those trees and hopefully help spread some well-deserved appreciation for them!

Quercus turbinella; Photo credit:

Quercus turbinella; Photo credit:

Quercus turbinella
This shrubby tree has been described as “picturesque and very ornamental”.

  • Begins small and shrubby growing to 8-10 feet tall and wide within a few years
  • Can become larger with time and some supplemental water
  • Evergreen
  • Drought tolerant
  • Beautiful intricate branching pattern
  • Food source and habitat for many species of birds
  • Quercus turbinella; photo credit AH Harnes

    Quercus turbinella; Photo credit: AH Harris

    A Primer on Essential Garden Tools: Digging Tools

    Hand pruners, saws and loppers are all tools related to the pruning of plants, and I carry 2 of the 3 on me as I work a garden…the pruners in their sheath on my belt or clipped to my pants pocket, the folding saw in a back pocket.  The other tool I always carry is my digging tool.

    In these posts on garden tools, I suppose the most common theme is my strong belief in paying a little extra to get good quality tools.  The digging tool is no exception.  Over the years I’ve gone through many lesser quality hand trowels, breaking or bending the cutting blade on all of them but one.  That one unbroken hand-digging tool is my Lesche digging knife.



    I believe the Lesche was developed for geologists and other rock-hounds.  It is made of strong steel blade with one side serrated.  The steel blade bends at 90 degrees at the top to create a shield that protects the hand.  The handle is solidly welded to the shield, so it’s unlikely to ever break.  It feels solid and comfortable, and the angle and position of the tool allows great force to be naturally applied to the tip of the shovel/knife.  This is such a solid piece of equipment, you can feel its power in your hand.  The sheath it sits in has a loop that fits on your belt, so it rides comfortably when not in use, and is completely accessible when needed.  While it’s a great digging tool, I also use it to scrape mulch out of the way when planting or doing irrigation repair and it works well to cut sod.  And mine is extra special…the cap at the end of the handle screws off revealing a secret compartment! J I think I paid $5 extra for that; silly, but fun.  A quick look online and I found the Lesche for $35.10 with the sheath.

    The one part of the Lesche digging tool that DID break down, after about 5 years of nearly daily wear and use, is the sheath.  Eventually, after pulling the knife in and out countless times, I cut through the side of it, and it needs to be replaced.  After putting it off for months, I finally hopped on-line and easily found a site where I could order just the sheath…delivered for $12.25.

    Lesche & sheath

    Lesche & sheath

    There are other digging tools that I’ve used.  A large group of such tools are called “hori-hori”, which is Japanese for “dig-dig”.  I used a couple of them for a few years, and liked them.   But they had wood handles which eventually dried and cracked.  I looked on-line and found some for as little as $10 or $15, but am skeptical if they’ll last for more than 3-5 years of use.  Maybe if the wood handle were to be regularly oiled they would, but that’s the sort of thing I tend to not do.

    Just avoid the common pot-metal or thin-steel varieties of digging trowels that are so frequently found in nurseries and home-improvement stores.  The pot-metal breaks easily and the thin steel bends in our rocky and hard soils, rendering them both almost useless.

    A Primer on Essential Garden Tools: Loppers




    Loppers are just an over-sized version of hand pruners, built to be used with two hands rather than just one.  Long handles provide torque to a much larger cutting head than those found on hand pruners. 

    As I mentioned in my post on pocket saws, I don’t use them to prune my plants and trees.  The amount of torque provided by those long handles creates a lot of pressure on the cutting mechanism, resulting in a greater likelihood of at least some bruising of tissue, regardless of how sharp they are.   If I need to make a cut bigger than my hand pruners can easily handle, out comes a pocket saw, not loppers.

    But they’re still an important part of my garden’s arsenal.  They’re very handy for cutting up larger branches already removed to stuff them into garbage cans or to take the weight off of a branch prior to making a final cut with the saw.  A good pair of loppers makes short order out of such work.

    When choosing loppers, I want the same type of cutting action as with pruners; a scissors-type cutting action.  Those with an anvil and flat blade don’t cut anywhere near as well and require more force to use.  I also seek out longer handles, as long as possible while still being comfortable to use.  Mine have handles almost 3’ long, but I imagine shorter people might do better with handles about 2 to 2 ½’ (I’m about 6’ tall).  Longer handles give more torque and power to the cut.  Regardless, just be sure to handle the pair you’re thinking about buying so they’re comfortable for you.

    I have loppers built by a company called Fred Marvin that I purchased several years ago.  As I recall they were quite pricey, more than $40.  However, as with any of my equipment, I’ve not regretted getting a really good quality product.  The handles are solidly manufactured, so they’ll never give way (which I’ve seen with cheaper pairs).  Solidly and simply engineered, they do an amazingly good job of slicing through fresh wood up to 1½” diameter.  For cutting chunks of wood larger than that, out comes the pocket saw again.

    While I highly recommend the Fred Marvin’s, Bahco also makes very good loppers and other pruning equipment.  There are also cheaper products available that are still of decent or good quality.  However, plan on spending at least $25 – $30 for a new pair.  Cheaper than that and they’re probably not going to last and will take a lot more force to operate.  I believe that in some ways the really good quality equipment is actually cheaper and more environmentally friendly; with care and sharpening, I expect mine will last a lifetime.

    Care, sharpening and sterilization are the same as mentioned above in the posts on hand pruners and pocket saws.

    A Primer on Essential Garden Tools: Pocket Saw

    My pocket saw is one of my favorite tools, in part because I really do enjoy pruning, but also because it packs so much power in the garden.  Sometimes also called a folding saw, both names derive from the fact that you fold it up and stick it in your pocket.  They’re small, light-weight and handy.

    Pocket Saw's

    A good quality pocket saw can easily handle cutting branches up to 3 or 4” in diameter and can even prune through wood as much as 6” around if needed.  I use mine for all cuts greater than ½ – ¾”; if my hand pruners can’t easily handle the cut, the saw comes out.

    Many people prefer to make such pruning cuts using loppers, however I always use a saw.  This is because it’s important to realize that every cut made on living tissue is a wound, and just like you’d want a doctor to make clean, precise cuts if he were to operate on you, the same holds true for your patient…the tree or other woody perennial you’re working on.   A saw makes such a cut by removing wood in small, precise quantities with each stroke.  Loppers, on the other hand, use brute force to push the blade through tissue.  This forceful cutting action can leave the tissue left behind bruised and damaged, whereas a saw won’t do that.

    Further, a saw is much more maneuverable than loppers, so you can easily make the cut at the exact angle you desire, thereby making the least damaging wound possible.
    A good quality pocket saw will run you about $24-30.  I’ve used a Felco 600 folding saw for many years, but other brands exist and are just as good.  Silky saws make a very small version that’s even more compact than the Felco.  Corona produces one that advertises razor teeth that’s also quite good, but not quite up to the standards of Felco.  Plan on spending at least $18-20, or you’re likely to end up with a saw that won’t work anywhere near as well.

    When shopping for a saw make certain that it has a mechanism that will lock the blade in place.  Also make sure that you can replace the blade…it’s cheaper and more ecological to do so than to have to purchase a whole new saw when your blade inevitably becomes dull.  Because of the hundreds of cutting teeth, it’s impractical and virtually impossible to sharpen it.

    Pocket Saw close up

    To keep the blade sharp, keep your saw-blade out of the dirt.  Nothing will dull a saw quicker that running it through soil.  If you need to do root-pruning, keep an old saw or saw-blade on hand that you can use for such operations, or use hand-pruners for smaller cuts.

    If you suspect the presence of disease on any plant, always sterilize the blade between cuts, and especially when you move from plant to plant, or else you risk spreading the disease.  A bleach-water solution is often recommended, however it’s very corrosive to the tool you want to keep sharp.  I’ve found that when I use medical sterility solutions they work just as well without damaging my saw.  I use them on my hand-pruners as well. Next post I’ll talk about loppers; when to use them and when not to.