While newcomers to Southern Nevada are still thinking winter, we locals have already received our seeds and plants from the Burpee catalog and are anxiously awaiting the temperature to rise. Not a lot, but enough to know that it's warm outside and time to start our spring gardening.
Russ Harrison, garden and horticultural specialist at Springs Preserve, wants to make sure spring gardeners understand the meaning of warm.
"People don't understand that when we say warm or warmth, we mean soil temperature, not the temperature of the air," he explained. "Many seeds won't germinate when the soil temperature is below a certain degree so they wait for the soil to warm up. That might not be until late March or mid-April depending on what you are planting."
For those who can't wait until mid-April or even May, Paul Noe, staff horticulturist at Star Nursery, said there is still time to get something into the ground now.
"There are several cold-weather vegetables that can still be planted and not be hurt by the cold," he said. "Leafy greens, such as collards, lettuce, cabbage and Brussels spouts, along with radishes, turnips and some varieties of peppers, can be planted now with results in 60-80 days. It's a very satisfying feeling to plant something, nurture it and watch it grow."
But let's not talk about winter. Spring is almost here and planting your summer vegetables can begin, according to conventional wisdom and some weather data, around March 15. That's when no more frost is expected.
However, no one really knows when the final frost will occur. Noe remembered that last year it was cool all the way through June. But let's not talk about the weather, either. Instead, let Noe share his rule of thumb on how to be a successful gardener.
"To be successful, you need to have the proper plant in the proper place with the proper care," he said. "If you learn about the plants you're planting, you will succeed. Let them get sun in the morning and, by 2 p.m., they should be protected from the hot afternoon sun. Mulch well and remember that location is extremely important."
The issue with any gardening in Southern Nevada is the soil. Local soil is deficient in organic matter that roots need in order to process fertilizer that needs to get into the system of the plant. Proper soil preparation, using organic matter and starter fertilizer, is the answer. Another issue is making sure water drains properly from the root zone to prevent fungus and other diseases.
Harrison emphasizes that first-time gardeners should do their homework and limit their expectations, realizing that not everything is going to produce a harvest the first year. He likes to remind people that extremes here can run from a low of 20 degrees in the winter to 115 in the summer -- and that high could run consecutively for several weeks.
"If someone wants immediate success, grow herbs as they tolerate our heat and soil," said Harrison. "I'm talking about basil, oregano and thyme. Cherry tomatoes and certain peppers also do well here. But always keep in mind to purchase what you want out of it. If someone is interested in a long-term project, I suggest growing different types of tomatoes over several years and seeing which ones do well and which ones don't. All nurseries can recommend specific types of vegetables that have proven track records in this climate."
Then there are people who just know how to grow tasty tomatoes, cucumbers and apricots all the time, and Harrison said you can meet them and ask questions about their success.
"Every Thursday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Springs Preserve, Bet on the Farm! has a farmers market with a variety of seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs grown locally or regionally, including local honey and dates from China Ranch," he said. "The market is in the Desert Living Center on the upper level. It is free and open to the public and vendors accept cash only."
Bet on the Farm! is a sustainable local farmers market created by B&B Hospitality Group partners Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. The market is certified by the Green Restaurant Association, a national nonprofit organization that provides a convenient and cost-effective way for restaurants, manufacturers, distributors and consumers to become more environmentally responsible.