Desert bioscaping easier than you think

Desert bioscaping is an ecologically based approach to landscaping that conserves water, reduces energy use, provides wildlife habitat and minimizes (or eliminates) the use of pesticides and fertilizers. M.L. Robinson, a horticulturist for Nevada Cooperative Extension, has promoted bioscaping for several years.

He created a simple guide that teaches the basic concepts and provides examples and ideas. These principles are sustainable, easy to understand, and you can readily apply them to your landscape. Below, I have outlined a few bioscaping concepts.

Water harvesting is becoming a popular garden topic. There are more and more people installing rain barrels and other water-capturing features. While these systems are great, they also can be expensive. Passive water harvesting is another technique, which simply shapes the land surface and directs surface flow to areas so water can be stored in the soil.

The old Desert Demonstration Garden had an excellent water harvesting system. The entire parking lot captured rainwater and drained it into a large retention basin. The water spilled over a waterfall as it ran off the parking lot into the retention basin. The plants surrounding the basin were seldom watered.

I am now seeing more pavers like flagstone and mulches that capture water to increase water infiltration along paths. Pervious pavements enable water to pass directly through paved surfaces to be stored in the soil below. However you approach it, keeping naturally occurring precipitation from leaving your property conserves water.

Composting kitchen scraps, garden trimmings and other suitable materials is another bioscaping practice. This reduces waste going to the landfill and becomes an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients for the plants in your landscape.

If you have turf, mow it with a mulching mower. In our desert climate, grass clippings rapidly decompose and release the nitrogen back to the turf so you don’t have to fertilize so much. When designing your landscape, include deciduous trees to create shade during summer and allows sunshine to warm your yard and home during the winter. This conserves energy both in the summer and winter .

Vines can cool down temperatures in your yard. Consider using flowering vines such as cat’s claw and Hacienda creeper. And don’t forget grapes, they also provide you with a wholesome food. Also select plants that are food sources to hummingbirds and beneficial insects to add interest to your landscape.

If you discover a pest problem, use integrated pest management strategies to minimize the use of chemicals and prevent killing beneficial organisms. Correctly identify the pest, monitor it to determine if the damage is truly significant, and apply cultural and/or mechanical management strategies before reaching for a pesticide.

Watch for natural enemies such as ladybird larvae, lacewings and preying mantis before you apply insecticides. If you determine a pesticide is necessary, select the least toxic product and apply only to the affected areas. There are now many friendly organic products available to control problems.

Many “garden experts” promote the use of nitrogen for quick plant growth. But if overused, it promotes excessive growth. Insects such as aphids prefer feeding on lush plant tissue because it is more tender and nutritious, so cut back on its use.

Turf is an exception because it requires periodic fertilization. Nitrogen can become a water pollutant if you live near shallow groundwater areas. Fertilize trees and shrubs only when they display nutrient deficiency symptoms.

For plants to be healthy, they need their space. Research the mature size to ensure they will not crowd each other out.

Go to to download the “Desert Bioscape” publication or call 257-5555 for a free copy.


Every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., come shop for a variety of organically certified, locally grown fruits, vegetables, nuts, honey, herbs and other items at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd.

Each Thursday, the market becomes a beehive of people wanting local produce and they have some unusual vegetables. I saw red, white, black and green radishes with some the size of baseballs that tasted great. The green radish had watermelon red flesh inside. I saw baseball-size celery roots, rainbow chard, red turnips, purple tomatoes, torpedo onions and even stinging nettle. Come experience the joy of selecting foods where even the chefs shop.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at linn.mills@ or 822-7754.


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