About the Botanic Gardens

Extension's 3.3 acre outdoor educational Botanic Gardens are located at 8050 Paradise Road in Las Vegas. Maintained by faculty, staff and Master Gardener Volunteers, the gardens provide demonstrations and research opportunities. It features an orchard, vegetables, compost, mulch, native wash, children's garden, rose garden, cactus garden, milkweeds/monarchs, herbs and a team development course. The gardens are open to the public for self-guided and guided tours. Call 702-257-5555 for tour information.

Orchard

This mini demonstration area is designed to show residents which fruit trees can grow successfully in southern Nevada. It is also a site where people can see different pruning techniques, both proper and improper. For more information, contact Angela O'Callaghan at 702-257-5581.

Vegetables

Because of the challenges presented by the high salt levels, high pH and low amounts of organic matter in southern Nevada soils, growing vegetables in this area is easier in a raised bed, where amendments such as compost increase the tilth and nutrient levels of the soil.

Vegetables fall into two general categories:

  1. Cool Season: Cool season vegetables are planted so that most or all of their growth is in the cool part of the year. These are the tubers (potatoes); roots (carrots, beets); bulbs (garlic, onions); stems (asparagus); leaves (chard, lettuce, cabbage); pre-flower structures (broccoli, cauliflower).
  2. Warm Season: Warm season vegetables are planted so that most or all of their growth is in the warm (but not the hottest) part of the year. These vegetables are usually the fruits (tomato, pepper, cucumber, melon) and seeds (beans, sunflowers).

Cool season vegetables generally require less sunlight than warm season crops, but do require at least of six hours of sunlight per day. In the late spring, these crops need protection from the hottest afternoon sun.

In southern Nevada most vegetables grow well; however, timing is everything. All plants, whether cool or warm season, will "shut down" most of their metabolism when the temperature is over 95 F. The plants will continue to take up water to stay alive, so they need to be watered regularly, but most plants will not produce new leaves, roots, flowers or fruits when the temperatures are that high. Of course there are exceptions: melons, squash, eggplant, okra and sweet potatoes will still grow well and produce through our summer heat.

When planting vegetables keep the seed bed moist after planting. When the plants are established, apply a layer of organic mulch around the planting area, but about an inch away from the stems, to maintain soil moisture and to regulate soil temperatures.

Compost

Compost is the decayed organic material that provides valuable nutrients to garden soil. Compost improves the soil structure, texture and aeration of local soils. By adding compost to the soil you improve the fertility of our infertile desert soils, as well as reduce the need for commercial fertilizers. The organic matter that is provided by compost feeds the microorganisms in the soil. In addition, compost moderates the soil's water-holding capacity by loosening up a clay soil and helps a sandy soil retain water.

When making a compost pile, be sure to use only plant wastes. Never add bones, grease, meat or plastic materials because these will not break down properly. Do not use eggshells or ashes, as they will raise the pH of the local soils. Avoid adding weed seeds, plants that are infested with insects or plants that show signs of disease. Materials to be composted are: leaves, straw, grass clippings, shredded bark, coffee grounds, tea bags, produce waste, vegetable and fruit peels. Do not use any plant material that has been treated with an herbicide.

Compost can be turned into the soil as a soil amendment or used on top of the soil as mulch.

There are commercial compost makers available, as displayed in our gardens for your perusal, but it is not necessary to use one to make compost successfully.

Steps to Building a Compost Pile

  1. Locate the pile in an inconspicuous spot
  2. Place a layer of coarse material such as straw several inches thick on the ground for drainage
  3. Place a layer of material to be composted about three inches thick
  4. Place a layer of soil (or compost from a previous batch) in the initial mix only
  5. Place a layer of dry material like shredded leaves, wood chips, or shredded paper, about six inches over that
  6. Water thoroughly
  7. Aerate the pile by using a fork or shovel to mix it up every few days

Repeat steps 3 through 7. Omit step 4 after the initial mix.

Mulch

Mulch is anything placed on the surface of the soil to keep soil temperatures moderate, decrease evaporation of soil water, improve the appearance of a garden or landscape and decrease the population of weeds. It is generally broken down into three types:

  • Organic
  • Inorganic
  • Living (rarely used)

Organic mulch is composed of plant materials that have died and dried. These materials include dried leaves, chipped bark or wood, straw or hay, pine needles, cobs, nutshells, even shredded paper. They can hold water, keeping plants moist during times of low rainfall. Over time, it decomposes, becoming a dilute source plant nutrients. Because it tends to slow down water loss and degrade, thus enriching soil, it is best for plants that are not desert adapted. Such plants as fruit trees, roses, many landscape shrubs and vegetables benefit from organic mulch.

Plants that are desert natives or desert adapted benefit most from some inorganic mulches. Desert pavement is the natural layer of rocks and gravel found in undisturbed areas. In the desert southwest, rock in various colors is a frequently used mulch, meant to imitate desert pavement. Small rocks are easy to walk on and serve the same function as other mulches. They are often mixed with somewhat larger rocks for visual interest. Large rocks are usually meant to prevent people from walking on a surface. Rounded river rocks are usually not for mulch, but in a dry creek bed.

Although rock mulch is commonly used, it can stress plants that are not native or desert adapted. Light and heat reflect off the surface of the rock, making the air around plants hotter.

Native Wash

The dry wash that runs through the center of the main garden area happened by accident. This wash follows the natural contour of the property before it was developed. Somehow during development, miscommunications came about and the design team was sure that nothing was to be placed in this wash. For this reason, no irrigation or plants were added. The horticultural team decided to let this area develop on its own as an experiment.

Most but not all of the plants growing in the wash germinated on their own. The seeds have either blown or washed in as happens in nature. Some, such as wildflower seeds were planted, but not irrigated except by rainfall and water harvested from the hard surface of the parking lot and buildings. This growth of plants has taken place over a five-year period. A few native plants were planted as starters and hand watered until established, but less than 1 percent of the plant material has arrived this way.

There are lessons to be learned from this experiment. It shows what plants can survive exclusively on water harvest (runoff) and rainfall. It also shows that many plants can survive on much less irrigation than they are typically given. In the spring time, especially after a moist winter, the wash is covered in beautiful wildflowers of various colors. We encourage the public to come throughout the year and enjoy a truly low water beautiful landscape.

For more information, please contact M.L. Robinson, 702-257-5529.

Children's Gardens

Many schools are now developing gardens in schools. These gardening areas vary in size, shape and plantings, but they all have something in common. They are used to teach something to students that the students can't get from the average classroom. Often the gardens are used to teach life cycles of plants or to teach about a specific type of plant. Sometimes teachers will use the gardens to teach about an ecosystem area, such as the Mojave Desert, what plants might grow there, some of the characteristics or specific needs of desert plants, or other information about the flora and fauna of the desert.

Teachers are learning while in the garden too. They are learning how to schedule plantings that coincide with our weather so that they can be successful in completing their project while students are still in school. School gardens give the class a unique opportunity to see how things really happen outside. This works much better than just watching a video or reading about it in a book. Students can do the planting, watch the progress and even taste the fruits of their labor!

Teachers can use gardens to make additional connections as well. Learning about composting and using earthworms can allow teachers and students to make many extensions to the learning in the garden. Learning about arthropods (bugs!), decomposition, soil, water conservation, weather, pollination and many other important subjects can also be enhanced by taking students outside to learn.

With STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) coming to the forefront of our educational system, gardens can play a crucial role in allowing students to have firsthand understanding of these important concepts. Other subjects, such as Geography, History, Art and Music all have a place in the garden as well. In fact, there are very few subjects that don't easily connect with a school garden. A garden can also offer teachers a healthy physical activity for their students, while helping them to engage more deeply into a subject that was started in the classroom.

How to start a School Garden

  1. Form a garden committee. Start with at least 3 teachers and one or more administrators. This is crucial because without commitment from teachers and administrators, the garden will have a short life. The garden needs more than one teacher or volunteer to care for it.
  2. Define the purpose of your garden. What needs can your garden fill? Where will funding come from?
  3. Lay out your objectives. Who will be gardening, and what will they be learning?
  4. Define a year-round plan for your garden. What will happen to your garden during the summer? What will you be planting?
  5. Choose a permanent site, and plan your garden spot. Full sunlight, good drainage and close proximity to water are essential to any garden.
  6. Build your garden. Let everyone help and benefit!
  7. Learn as you grow and maintain your garden. Learning to maintain your own garden is also essential. This is true for both your garden and your knowledge base to grow. If volunteers or outside agencies are doing all the work, you will not learn to care about, or how to properly care for your garden.

For more information, contact Karyn Johnson, school gardens coordinator at 702-257-5523.

Master Gardener Rose Garden

The Rose Garden features examples of various rose types, including: Damask, Floribundas, Ground Covers, Hybrid Teas, Hybrid Rugosas, Miniatures Roses, Noisettes, Shrub Roses and Climbers. Master Gardeners hold an annual yard sale to fund new purchases.

Roses grown in the Mojave tend to have few diseases but must be well watered and mulched in order to withstand high temperatures and drying winds. Lush spring blooms and a second flush in the autumn make roses a good choice for landscape color.

Master Gardeners tend the roses doing seasonal pruning, fertilizing, mulching and maintenance. They are "In the Gardens" on Monday mornings twice each month and invite the public to view demonstrations and ask questions. Contact the Master Gardener Help Desk, 702-257-5555, for monthly dates and times.

Master Gardener Cactus Garden

The cactus garden was started over 10 years ago. The location was chosen because there was no landscape in the back of the building. A few cacti were planted without any irrigation. Over the years, the area has been fully developed with the help of many volunteers, including the Master Gardeners. There are well over 200 cacti species and cultivars found in the total landscape of the gardens. Most are within the bounds of the expanding cactus garden. There are also other succulents, such as agaves and aloes. Although most blooms are produced by the cacti in the spring and early summer, visitors may find blooms throughout the warm season. We encourage people to visit and enjoy the diversity of cacti from various parts of the Americas. There is always the opportunity to volunteer and learn more about cacti in the Mojave Desert.

Monarch Butterfly Habitat & Milkweed Trials Gardens

Monarch butterflies, once common across the United States, have declined by approximately 90 percent over the past two decades. The adult butterflies can obtain nectar from a variety of flowering plants, but the caterpillar stage can only eat milkweeds (Asclepias spp, Funastrum, Gomphocarpus and Tweedia).

In an effort to provide increased butterfly habitat in the Mojave Desert, Master Gardeners have planted 26 different species of milkweed and are documenting their survival, monarch preference and potential for use in the home landscape. Landscape considerations include: evergreen vs. winter dormant, attractiveness of flower, leaf shape and plant size. This research project received the Search for Excellence award at the 2017 International Master Gardener Conference.

Test plots of the various milkweeds are scattered throughout the gardens. Populations are kept separate to prevent hybridization. Master Gardeners collect the milkweed seeds and make them available to the public at the appropriate times for planting. (For instance, for the native Rush Milkweeds we have found that planting in late January ensures the best survival of seedlings and plants.)

Master Gardener Herb Gardens

Many herbs originated in a dry Mediterranean climate and can grow well here in the Mojave Desert.

There are two Herb Garden areas designed and maintained by the Master Gardeners: the residential plantings in the Courtyard and the herb farm in the Outdoor Education Center. The residential plantings demonstrate how to incorporate herbs into your landscape: raised beds, plant pots, formal layout design and informal accents.

Master Gardeners grow a variety of seasonal and perennial herbs. Common culinary herbs include: basil, oregano, thyme, etc. Herb trials of more unusual herbs such as galangal, turmeric and ginger are tested in the Herb Farm. We also experiment with different varieties (mint, lavender, alliums, basil, etc.) to see which grow best here. Edible flowers (nasturtiums, borage, bergamot) add color to the herb gardens. Also grown are greens such as shiso, arugula and mustards. Master Gardeners hold an annual Herb and Bake Sale to fund new purchases.

Master Gardeners invite the public to join them "In the Gardens" on their workdays. Contact the Master Gardener Help Desk, 702-257-5555, for monthly dates and times.

Teamwork Development Course

Extension's Team Development Course encourages participants to develop as individual professionals, grow as high-functioning teams, improve customer service and excel as innovative organizations. The course offers both an inside and an outside hands-on team experience for professional development.

The course will provide a group challenge experience to hone team-building skills such as listening, leadership, strategy and communication while embarking on an adventurous and challenging mission. Through fun activities participants acquire a deeper understanding of themselves and others, learn to communicate more effectively with colleagues, understand why they react to situations differently than others and discover many valuable insights that have innumerable applications in work, family and personal relationships.

The course has three objectives:

  1. Increase the decision-making, problem-solving and personal leadership skills of participants
  2. Increase the effectiveness of teamwork
  3. Increase overall customer service for businesses

For more information, contact Eric Killian at 702-257-5542.

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