Miniature Roses Thrive in My High Desert Garden

If you have not already ordered your roses you will want to do so soon so they arrive in time for spring planting. Most people associate roses with high maintenance and need a lot of water. Yet, not all roses have the same requirements. In fact, many of the roses

A miniature rosebush with orange blooms in my high desert garden.

A miniature rosebush with orange blooms in my high desert garden.

we see in the catalogs are descendant from roses native to arid regions. My high desert garden can be bitter cold in winter, baking hot in summer. The roses I have found that do best in my garden are the miniature roses and very dry. I think the small leaves and small roses may have something to do with their success.

If you have not already ordered your roses you will want to do so soon so they arrive in time for spring planting. Most people associate roses with high maintenance and needing a lot of water. Yet, not all roses have the same requirements. In fact, many of the roses we see in the catalogs are descendant from roses native to arid regions. My high desert garden can be bitter cold in winter, baking hot in summer. The roses I have found that do best in my garden are the miniature roses and very dry. I think the small leaves and small roses may have something to do with their success. When I first got married, my mother-in-law a rose lover saw I had some potted miniature roses I moved with me to Nevada. She asked me about them and I told her the story of how I fell in love with my friend's miniature roses. Shortly after my husband and I married, three miniature roses appeared on my doorstep. They were from my mother in-law. These three miniature roses still thrive in my garden to this day 31 years later. This is longer than any old fashion shrub roses, hybrid tea, and florabundas I have planted over the years. They have even survived through several winters where we had a few days of subzero morning lows. I have tried many old shrub roses, tea roses, and floribundas but none have lived and thrived as long as the miniature roses my mother in-law gave me. Not only do the miniature roses live longer but they are more reliable bloomers. When daytime highs reach 100°F, roses with larger blooms stop blooming. The miniature roses keep blooming in spite of the 100°F+ daytime temperatures. Sometimes the large flowered roses try to bloom in the hottest part of the summer but their blooms only last a day before they either shatter or start try out and wither. In comparison, blooms on the miniature roses during the hottest part of the summer stay fresh for at least a week before withering. Other gardeners in my area have had good luck with their larger flowered roses but it is not without a lot of work. I do not baby my roses with lots of fertilizer, pruning or extra watering. I do water my miniature roses with four hours of continuous drip irrigation every two to three days. This watering regime tapers off in fall to once a week until the first hard freeze. My miniature roses still thrive in my desert climate. This may be due to their smaller leaves and small flowers. I have a wild rose, Rosa woodsii native to my arid region that I started from seed. Its leaves and flowers are similar in size to the miniature roses. I do not even water my wild rose on our property that sits over a high water table and still it thrives. The only difference is the wild rose only blooms in late spring and will not bloom again until the next spring. I need my miniature roses if I want rose during the entire growing season. Not all miniature roses are equal when it comes to winter hardiness. When I shop the rose catalogs I always look for the most winter hardy miniature roses to plant in my garden. By selecting only the most winter hardy miniature roses, I get the added bonus of also getting the most drought tolerant roses. In the high desert where I live, having both good winter hardiness and drought tolerance is a necessity.

This miniature rose my mother-in-law gave me 31 years ago still blooms in my garden today.

When I first got married, my mother-in-law a rose lover saw I had some potted miniature roses I moved with me to Nevada. She asked me about them and I told her the story of how I fell in love with my friend’s miniature roses. Shortly after my husband and I married, three miniature roses appeared on my doorstep. They were from my mother-in-law. These three miniature roses still thrive in my garden to this day 31 years later. This is longer than any old fashion shrub roses, hybrid tea, and floribundas I have planted over the years. They have even survived through several winters where we had a few days of subzero morning lows.

Close up of the a bloom on the miniature rose my mother-in-law gave me.

Close up of a bloom on the miniature rose my mother-in-law gave me.

I have tried many old shrub roses, tea roses, and floribundas but none have lived and thrived as long as the miniature roses my mother-in-law gave me. Not only do the miniature roses live longer but they are more reliable bloomers. When daytime highs reach 100°F, roses with larger blooms stop blooming. The miniature roses keep blooming in spite of the 100°F+ daytime temperatures. Sometimes the large flowered roses try to bloom in the hottest part of the summer but their blooms only last a day before they either shatter or start to try out and wither. In comparison, blooms on the miniature roses during the hottest part of the summer stay fresh for at least a week before withering.

A single bloom from the orange miniature rose in my garden.

A single bloom from the orange miniature rose in my garden.

Other gardeners in my area have had good luck with their larger flowered roses but it is not without a lot of work. I do not baby my roses with lots of fertilizer, pruning or extra watering. I do water my miniature roses with four hours of continuous drip irrigation every two to three days. This watering regime tapers off in fall to once a week until the first hard freeze. My miniature roses still thrive in my desert climate. This may be due to their smaller leaves and small flowers. I have a wild rose, Rosa woodsii native to the high desert region that I started from seed. Its leaves and flowers are similar in size to the miniature roses. I do not even water my wild rose on our property that sits on a high water table and still, it thrives. The only difference is the wild rose only blooms in late spring and will not bloom again until the next spring. I need my miniature roses if I want rose during the entire growing season.

A single bloom from the orange miniature rose in my high desert garden.

A pink and white bloom from another miniature rose in my high desert garden.

Not all miniature roses are equal when it comes to winter hardiness. When I shop the rose catalogs I always look for the most winter hardy miniature roses to plant in my garden. By selecting only the most winter hardy miniature roses, I get the added bonus of also getting the most drought tolerant roses. In the high desert where I live, having both good winter hardiness and drought tolerance is a necessity.

 

Again My Fruit Trees are Blooming too Soon

Officially, spring arrived March 20 but here in northern Nevada we can still get some

This apricot blossom is lovely now but a heavy freeze is forecast for tonight and will likely freeze this blossom.

This apricot blossom is lovely now but a heavy freeze is forecast for tonight and will likely freeze this blossom.

wintry weather. So far, it has stayed spring like since spring started. It even reached 79 degrees yesterday here in Fallon.

During yesterday’s inspection of my garden, I especially wanted to see how the fruit tree blossoms were doing. I’d noticed they had been opening for the last couple of weeks. I consider this to be too early but not uncommon in my high desert climate. We almost never get fruit. If we are lucky, we might get a few apples. So far based on my inspection we haven’t lost any fruit yet. Notice I say yet. We can still get a hard frost between now and the middle of May on the average. Also, notice I say average.  That means we could get a killing frost after mid May as well.

So far, the apricots and peaches are in full bloom with the apples blossoms barely starting to open. I suspect I will lose the apricots and peaches totally and about a third to half of the potential apple crop with the blooms opening this early. So much for fruit production this year from these trees since it is highly probably they will freeze before fruit can set and mature. Instead, they are landscape trees that add some nice greenery during the growing season. In fall, they usually have nice color as well.

Why are my fruit trees blooming too soon? What can I do about it? The answer to the first

These apple blooms are almost open. Unfortunately they may never fully open because a heavy freeze is predicted for the next morning. They will like freeze and fall of the plant.

These apple blooms are almost open. Unfortunately they may never fully open because a heavy freeze is predicted for the next morning. They will like freeze and fall of the plant.

is that spring temperatures arrived before March 20 warming the soil up. Since our ground has no snow or other insulation to slow the warming of the soil sap starts flowing in the vascular tissue of the trees and shrub early. An additional reason in my given situation for this early bloom is I’m located in a relative low spot where cold air sinks every night. Without breezes to stir up the air allowing cold settle in and freeze the newly forming plant tissues in the floral buds. If fruit has already set, it too will freeze.

There are a couple of practices such as turning sprinklers on in the very early morning before temperatures dip below freezing or setting out smudge pots can protect blossoms and newly forming fruit but they are only effective to a couple of degrees below freezing for a very brief time. Even setting up a very large fan to keep air circulating could help. All of the measures have their limited effectiveness. That is they are only good to a couple of degrees below freezing for a very brief time. A little more effective would be to place a thick layer of mulch over the soil near the trees in the fall. This mulch helps to both hold moisture in the soil and to moderate temperature swing between freezing and thawing throughout the dormant period. Mulch doesn’t need to go right up to the trunk of the trees and shrubs to have it effect on soil moisture and temperature moderation. In fact, it is best not to put mulch right up to the trunk because it can harbor some pests that like to enter a plant from it trunk. The reason it can still effectively moderate the temperature around the roots is that tree and shrub roots extend quite some distance from the base of the tree and the actually growing points of the roots are at the tips which are located at the furthest distance from the trunk. These tips are also, where the greatest water absorption into the root system occurs. You can expect the roots to extend as far as the perimeter of the canopy sometimes referred to as the “drip line”.

One more way to increase the chance of producing fruit in the high deserts of the American West is to choose fruit tree varieties that are later bearing. This usually means it takes more degrees of heat to initiate blossoms. That has the potential to delay blooming as much as a couple of weeks and that reduces but doesn’t not eliminate the likelihood that blooms will freeze. Depending on where you live, greatly increase your chances of get a nice crop of fruit.

Back to Mulch. Mulch has an added benefit. If applied heavy enough it will keep spring weeds down.

Preparing my Garden for the Growing Season Ahead

My garden has many ornamental grasses that I’ve planted over the years. Most of these grasses are species native to the western United States. They have done quite well in my garden and added interest in the heat of the summer when many flowers that bloom don’t last long in the hot dry heat typical of the desert I live in. One of my favorites is Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii).

Giant Sacaton is native to the American Southwest. It is usually found growing in heavy

Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) during the growing season

Giant Sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) during the growing season

soils in the relatively low lying areas or periodic wetlands. These soils are usually quite alkaline or saline because they are areas where water collects and evaporative leaving behind salts. Because my garden is a mixture of clay and sand with a pH of about 8.0 and high in salts left behind by the now dried up inland sea, Giant Sacaton does quite well in my garden. It is my substitute for Pampas Grass. In some regions of the United States, Pampas Grass is a noxious weed.

Just like Pampas Grass, Giant Sacaton gets quite tall and large over a growing season. Its growth habit is that of a clumping grass that can grow to a height of 6′-8′ and a diameter of several feet at its base.  The inflorescence differs from Pampas Grass in that it is more open and the florets are much smaller.

I use my Giant Sacaton as a screen from a major highway that borders my property. I’m quite pleased with its appearance. I think I will keep it.

Maintenance

Ornamental grasses require very little maintenance since you don’t want to mow or you

I'm starting to clip my ornamental grasses. Here I've clipped one of my Giant Sacatons (Sporobolus wrightii)

I’m starting to clip my ornamental grasses. Here I’ve clipped one of my Giant Sacatons (Sporobolus wrightii)

lose the most ornamental part of the grass which is the inflorescence. If you plant the grasses that are adapted or native to your climate, then very little water should be required to keep them nice looking.

Still, each late winter or early spring I must clip my ornamental grasses back so that new growth can be fully displayed and to extend the life of my grasses. I clip Giant Sacaton back to about 6″ to 8″ height. I clip my other grasses back to a height of 2″-3″ depending on the mature size of each species.

I don’t clip my grasses until late winter or early spring since they have an ornamental value through the winter and some beneficial insects such as lady beetles over winter among the blades.

When I clip my grasses, I’ve started just laying the clippings around the base to help hold moisture in the soil and keep weeds down. I’m also hoping to build up some organic matter in my soil has very little organic matter naturally.

Getting Started With My Garden Renovation Project

Assessing What Renovating Needs to Be Done

As spring arrives, the weather has warmed up enough that it is comfortable enough to walk and crawl around in my garden. I crawl around to check the drippers and prepare to water what is worth saving in my garden. All winter I did some spot watering but not with my drip system. I had to do this spot watering to keep plants dying due to lack of soil moisture. In a good year, I don’t water at all but this past winter and the winter before have been exceptionally dry.

I only watered plants that were not native and that I wanted to save. Most of those were my roses. The desert plants I didn’t worry about because they are adapted to low water conditions and can survive an occasion dry winter if they have received water otherwise at other times such as when I watered them during the summer through the drip system.

I don’t use the drip system during the winter because we do get freezing temperature that can freeze the water in the drip system and damage; not to mention render it plugged up with ice when you try to use it a second time after it has frozen solid.

It is this dry winter and the realization that it might be less burdensome if my non-desert adapted plants were fewer and closer to the house.

Weeds! Weeds! Everywhere!

This is one of three species of winter annual weeds that is dominating my garden right now. It is an annual mustard.

This is one of three species of winter annual weeds that is dominating my garden right now. It is an annual mustard.

As I walk my garden, I notice the winter annual weeds have thrived despite the very dry conditions. My first garden task is going to have to be clearing these weeds out before they can go to seed. If I don’t get them out they will mature and dry to become a serious fire hazard. Additionally, if can get them out before they go to seed they won’t contribute to the already infinite seed bank that has built up in the soil from previous years of neglect.

As I focus on my garden at ground level inspecting the drip system I can't help but notice all the weeds. This one is Cheatgrass and it is doing quite well despite a very dry winter.

As I focus on my garden at ground level inspecting the drip system I can’t help but notice all the weeds. This one is Cheatgrass and it is doing quite well despite a very dry winter.

Starting a Garden Diary

Purpose of this Blog

For now, I’m going to turn this website into a diary of my gardening in the desert. In doing so, I might be able to become more dedicated to both my garden and my writing. Additionally I’ll be able to get in a little photography. All three are my passions but in the past, it seems I neglected one or more them at the expense of paying attention to another.

This past year I neglected my garden but I took some wonderful pictures on my various trips. Now my garden looks sad.

A Little Bit about my Garden

My approximately two acre garden is part of an 18 acre farm located in the Nevada desert.

This picture is deceiving. The foreground is an irrigated alfalfa field. My garden has desert soil and a desert climate that required lots of supplemental water unless I plant desert adapted plants.

This picture is deceiving. The foreground is an irrigated alfalfa field. My garden has desert soil and a desert climate that required lots of supplemental water unless I plant desert adapted plants.

From the picture one may be deceived into believing it isn’t located in desert but that greenery you see is an alfalfa field that must be irrigated every couple of weeks to keep it green and producing hay throughout the growing season. Our average annual precipitation is only 4″. This past year I doubt we had 2″. We are in a prolonged drought that started about four years ago.

My garden’s soils are of about pH 7.0 to 8.0 and very low in organic matter. In some patches of my garden, the soil has a white crust of salt at the surface. At one time in ancient history my garden and the surrounding community were at the bottom of a very large inland sea.

I’m not entitled to water my garden with the superior quality irrigation water from the Newland’s Irrigation Project which delivers surface waters from the Carson River and Truckee River combined. Instead, I must use well water, which is higher in salt content. Fortunately, it is of acceptable quality with a pH of only 7.6.

Right now, my garden is a disheveled, eclectic mix of desert adapted native plants and non-native plants you might find at garden center. It’s also full of weeds. Particularly some escaped noxious weeds from the alfalfa field that I don’t have total management control of.

I’m working on a plan to renovate my garden to something that is more manageable and more water thrifty.