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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A Primer on Essential Garden Tools: Loppers

Loppers

Loppers

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.