As I'm reminded whenever I go shopping in the summer and pull into a vast expanse of near-bubbling asphalt to park the car, shade is a precious commodity in Las Vegas!
Fortunately, we can plan our yards a lot more thoughtfully than some of these oppressive parking lots I tend to rant about this time of year! Using plants and/or structures to create cooling shade makes a difference both in our yards and our energy bills.
First, let's consider the quality of shade desired. The shade along the north-facing side of a house, for example, differs significantly from the filtered shade provided by a desert tree, which is cooling yet allows enough light through for many types of plants to thrive beneath its canopy.
And while the permanent shade from evergreen trees may sound good now, keep in mind that an olive, sumac or pine won't let in the sun's warmth and light during winter like a deciduous tree does.
Of course when it comes to selecting the right tree for your situation, it is crucial to keep the tree's mature size in mind. Planting too close to the house, within the realm of overhead power lines, or where the tree may encroach upon the neighbors invite avoidable maintenance headaches I've seen all too regularly.
Still, in the desert home landscape it's not always practical to rely solely upon plants for shade. In the vegetable garden, for example, shade cloth would be best utilized to provide edibles temporary protection from direct sun during the summer months, then easily dismantled in the fall.
Pergolas add structure and airy shade when used to shade hot south- and west-facing patios. With climbing plants added to soften the supports and to grow over the 'ceiling,' otherwise sun-baked outdoor living spaces become welcoming oases.
Your planting design is going to help you (and/or your landscaper or gardener) with the prep. How? Because a well-thought out design takes the guesswork out of your project. You have your square footage, you know exactly what's going in and what's coming out. Plants are sited in the best situation. Structural and hardscape elements are installed first.
Irrigation is an important part of the preparation phase. Using your custom planting design you and/or your gardener can easily configure and install the irrigation system.
If renovating, existing plants or rock may need to be removed. Depending upon the plants selected, planting areas will likely require preparation with soil amendments.
Why waste time and money constantly replacing plants that fail or never really look right? With your well-thought-out design and customized plant list in hand, feel confident that your efforts will yield the best results not just now, but also in the years to come!
Greek basil, Ocimum basilicum var. minimum: Cute, tidy plants with tiny leaves that pack big basil flavor. A culinary favorite.
Lemon basil, Ocimum basilicum citriodora: Refreshing citrus-y scent. Fresh leaves make a nice tea.
Lime basil, Ocimum americanum: Citrus similar to lemon basil except with a hint of lime.
Cinnamon basil, Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’: Dry whole leafy stems for a spicy fall potpourri.
Holy basil, Ocimum sanctum: known as Tulsi, a sacred herb in India containing compounds that render a myriad of medicinal properties. The fragrance is hard to describe, warm with a tiny hint of cloves. It makes an excellent aromatherapy plant when simply brushed up against in the garden! (My personal favorite.)
Thai basil, Ocimum basilicum ‘Siam Queen’: A must for making authentic Thai dishes, this basil is also a pretty ornamental, especially when blooming. But, as with all basils, extending the harvest means keeping flowers at bay by snipping plants regularly.
Purple basil, Ocimum basilicum: ‘Opal’ and ‘Purple Ruffles’ are two varieties that bring a nice color contrast to vegetable beds, potager, or mixed plantings in containers (try it combined with summer annuals). Used as a dramatic plate garnish and to tint white wine salad vinegar a deep pink.
Desert globemallow Sphaeralcea ambigua
Flowering perennial used as a small shrub (about 3' X 3') with flowers in shades of orange and pink. Cut back after flowering (but wear gloves to protect skin from fine leaf-hairs that could be irritating).
Firecracker penstemon Penstemon eatonii
With bright red tubular flowers in early spring, firecracker penstemon is a must for those who enjoy hummingbirds in the garden.
Creosote Larrea tridenta
A medium to large shrub that brings the fragrance of desert rain right into your backyard! Deep, infrequent watering is the key to growing this tough, beautiful plant.
Desert milkweed Asclepias subulata
The perfect vertical accent for sunny hot spots, and like all milkweeds, supports monarch butterflies!
Apache plume Fallugia paradoxa
The flowers are pretty on this medium to large shrub, but still more interesting are the feathery seed heads that follow. Blowing in the breeze, they seem to glow when backlit by the sun.
I advocate for the use of native plants in home landscapes partly because one couldn't ask for more carefree and beautiful plants than the trees, shrubs, and perennials already adapted to our extreme summertime temperatures and lean, alkaline soils here in the Mojave Desert. By opting for native desert plants instead of thirsty lawns and non-natives, homeowners save not only water, but time and money as well.
What to do, when to do it, what to plant, when to plant it in the Las Vegas valley garden. Our free e-zine, 'Designer's Notebook,' delivered to your inbox 4X a year.