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Desert Gardening Tips from a Las Vegas Master Gardener

April 1, 2010

At our March Shamar meeting, guest speaker Linn Mills, a horticulturist for the Las Vegas Valley Water District at the Springs Preserve, offered tips for desert vegetable gardening.

Here’s a bullet-list synopsis from “Dr. Green Thumb.”

• Problems with Las Vegas soils: salty, little organic matter, caliche, alkalinity, dry

• To improve the soil: clear garden of debris, spread organic matter 4”-6” deep over garden, add vegetable fertilizer (for organic use bone meal, blood meal, cottonseed meal), add soil-sulfur to counteract alkali, spade additives in 10” deep, level garden and moisten soil

• *Or *  Use raised beds and fill with good soil for vegetable gardens.  Still spread fertilizer over the soil and blend into soil.

• Choose where to put the garden, what to grow, size for garden, need at least 6 hours of sunlight for your garden, avoid plant competition such as tree roots

• Begin Planting.

Direct Seeding: soak larger seed over night moisten soil prevents crusting, follow directions on the seed packet and save seed packet for future reference, space seeds don’t dump, don’t overplant seeds, have faith they will grow or you’ll have lots of thinning to do, thin out seedlings by cutting, follow spacing on seed packet when thinning, remove plants between the plants you save

– Benefits of direct seeding: plants acclimate better, more varieties to choose from, plants don’t go through transplant shock, costs less, save your seeds in a cool dry place

Transplanting – Pick short, stocky plants with good green color, moist potting soil, not too large for their container, and with flowers or fruit already on them if possible.  No sad looking plants with yellow or spotted leaves.

– Benefits of transplanting seedlings: usually nurseries get varieties proven in the area, makes your gardening space more productive sooner, no thinning

• Henderson / Las Vegas qualifies as Zone 8-9, Sunset Zone 11.

Mulch: controls weeds, keeps moisture in soil, shades roots from heat, returns organic matter to the soil, keep mulch at least an inch away from plant stems, spread after plants are up and established.

– Good mulches for vegetable gardens: compost straw, pine needles, shredded leaves, newspapers, cardboard, shredded bark.

Fertilize every 3 weeks.

Shade with 20% shade June through September.  Use shade cloth or give only morning sun.

Container gardening: Use 5 gallon minimum container size, use potting soil, needs more watering.

More Tips:

• For lettuce, sprinkle seeds on lightly wet soil, sprinkle layer of pearlite, water very gently so seeds don’t scatter.

• Grow things close together so plants shade each other.

• Grow radishes and carrots together.  Radishes come up first and loosen soil for carrots.

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