Desert Gardening Book Recommendations

Successful landscaping in the Southwest requires a different set of techniques than used by gardeners in most of the country.  Whether you’re new to the desert southwest, or you’re looking for some fresh gardening ideas, every gardener’s favorite non-gardening hobby is reading about gardening. Here is a collection of desert gardening books we recommend.

A Desert Gardener’s Companion by Kim Nelson

Master Gardener Kim Nelson provides a wealth of information in an easy-to-use seasonal format, covering what to do week-by-week in desert climates.

Nevada Gardener’s Guide by Linn Mills

This book contains easy-to-use advice on the top landscape plant choices.   It also recommends specific varieties, and provides advice on how to plant, how to grow and how to care for the best plants.

Month by Month Gardening in the Deserts of Nevada by Mary Irish

The Month-By-Month series is the perfect companion to take the guesswork out of gardening. With this book, you’ll know what to do each month to have gardening success all year.

Desert Gardening for Beginners: How to Grow Vegetables, Flowers and Herbs in an Arid Climate by Cathy Cromell, Linda A. Guy, and Lucy K. Bradley

Plain and simply packaged, this book does not have gorgeous illustrations or lush photographs, but the information contained within is excellent. From choosing a site to ways to improve soil structure, all the basics that gardeners need for this region are covered. The authors do offer a few suggestions on selecting plant varieties for the desert as well as an appendix devoted to growing calendars for vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

Plants For Dry Climates: How To Select, Grow, And Enjoy by Mary Rose Duffield

Plants for Dry Climates comprises both good landscape design and essential cultural information for nearly 450 plants. It gives readers all the information they need to plan a complete landscape that includes both mini-oasis features as well as arid-landscape plantings.

Sunset Western Garden Book

What plants to grow, how to nurture them, and where they do the very best, it’s all here. The most recent edition of Sunset includes more than 8,000 plant selections for western states. While not all plants in this book are suitable for the desert, this book is a great place to get ideas and understand plant requirements.

Desert Landscaping for Beginners: Tips and Techniques for Success in an Arid Climatby Arizona Master Gardener Press

Desert Landscaping for Beginners contains the latest research-based information from the University of Arizona, written in user-friendly language. Topics covered include selecting and transplanting trees and shrubs, watering desert landscapes, pruning, plant problems and pests, cacti and succulents, wildflowers, roses, citrus, lawns, and the magic of desert plants.

Trichocereus hybrid Flying Saucer blossom

Trichocereus hybrid ‘Flying Saucer’ blossom

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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! 🙂

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.


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