From vegetables to hops, local gardeners share desert planting tips

Urban gardeners who are new to the valley quickly learn that Las Vegas enjoys mild winters, making it possible to grow plants year-round. Mid- to late March are good times for plants such as artichokes, asparagus, beets, parsley, parsnips, radishes, spinach and turnips.

They also learn that plants don’t like our soil. Key to the process is mulch. For soil amendment advice and to learn locations offering free mulch, contact the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd., at 702-822-7700. The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension is another source for planting advice. To reach its Master Gardener Help Desk, call 702-257-5555.

View visited a number of Master Gardeners to learn how they tamed the desert to grow a plethora of plants.

Valerie Godino’s Summerlin backyard is filled with plants of all types, including flowers and vegetables — peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lettuce — and herbs such as chives and parsley.

“Yes, you can have a botanical garden in Southern Nevada,” Godino said, spreading her arms in a “voila” gesture.

She previously lived in Ohio and Colorado, where growing things was as easy as tossing a seed into the ground.

“I always loved to garden. Then I moved here, and I went, ‘What?’ “she said. “ … We have really bad soil here, really bad. Why? Because where we’re standing, this used to be an ocean.”

To bypass the alkaline-infused ground, she uses raised beds. She bought tons of “cheapy-cheap fill” and treated it with compost to fill them. Anything she planted soon started growing. A secondary benefit of raised beds was they’re easy on her back.

Grapes can handle the heat but must be cut back after they fruit to maintain their heartiness. Godino grows them to fill a wood frame on the sunny side of her house. The grape plants look pretty, cool her patio and keep her electric bill down, she said.

Michelle Miller dabbled in gardening for approximately 20 years in Summerlin while she and her husband raised a family. She chose trees — two apple varieties and a pear — to begin, and the whole family enjoyed the resulting fruit.

“Trees are easy … and I was a lazy gardener,” she said.

But Miller got serious about gardening three years ago when she became an empty nester and could indulge her hobby. She attended a session with the late horticulturist Linn Mills at the Springs Preserve after reading his Las Vegas Review-Journal advice column for a long time.

“I still had newspaper clippings (of his) from ‘92 when we moved here,” she said. “I started really small, with things like zucchini.”

Small tomato varieties such as cherry, plum, grape and yellow pear are great for first-timers and often bring success, she said. Miller fills her gardens with various vegetables and herbs. Her favorite, cilantro, goes into her homemade salsa.

She said vegetable plants also can be aesthetically pleasing.

“You can have really beautiful vegetable plants. Lettuces are pretty and some cabbages, too,” Miller said. “You can plant them in the front yard, and people won’t realize it’s a lettuce, it’s so pretty.”

Now residents of Desert Shores, the Millers are renting, and their landlord specified no changes to the landscape. Undeterred, she’s into container gardening now.

Diane Rowe’s family had a long history of growing and nurturing plants. One of her ancestors was Luther Burbank, a horticulturist who pioneered tree grafting and rotating crops in the 1800s. Her parents had fruit trees, and they gave her free rein with the front yard when she was a child. Later, she and her husband owned an 80-acre walnut orchard in California.

“Trees have always kind of been my thing,” she said. “I like to go out and pick and eat.”

But growing up in California meant Rowe took the weather for granted.

“After I moved here, I killed a lot of plants because of the heat,” she said.

Her northwest Las Vegas home has a backyard with an area for gardening and another filled with various trees — apple, plum, apricot — and “volunteer” plants, ones that just start growing and surprise her once they mature. She said she thinks they’re nectarines or peach trees. Time eventually will tell.

She uses paint to protect them from insects. After Rowe painted a bedroom purple, she slathered it on the bottom of her trees.

“It keeps the borers out,” she said. “The trees will get sunburned, and they blister like people. The borers (insects) will go in and eat, and they end up killing the tree. So, I had leftover purple paint. I mixed it so it’s half paint and half water.”

While hiking in Northern California, she brought home a sprig from a fig tree and planted it in her garden. Guess who now has figs for baking.

Joann Reckling has been gardening all her life. Her backyard has five raised beds, a number she is doubling for spring gardening. Currently she has artichokes, fennel, onions and broccoli growing.

This past season, she added hops from which she made beer.

“My son does home brewing, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” she said.

Hop vines grow from a rhizome, a piece taken from a mature plant. The rhizome is planted in the ground in the late spring.

Hops can reach 25 feet high. Reckling strung them up to the surrounding trees, and hers reached about 12 feet in height. Her hops crop will be ready for harvesting in late fall.

Reckling and her son, Chase, harvested them in early November and took them to the beer festival at Village Square, 9400 W. Sahara Ave.

“We walked around to all the booths and talked to over 10 local brew masters,” she said. “They all loved the smell and look of our hops and were really excited to hear that hops would grow in Las Vegas. Several of them told me that they would purchase whatever I grow so that they can make a custom batch of their brew and call it ‘local.’ Exciting things.”

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 702-387-2949.

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