Planting for Pollinators

Approximately 4,000 species of bees native to the United States have been identified and cataloged so far. Some are tiny, others large. They come in a wide variety of colors and build nests in many different ways. Most do not look like or act like the stereotypical honeybee. Because they do not appear how we expect them to, many native bees go about their lives without us even realizing they exist.

Some native bees are in trouble, though, and they need us to learn to recognize them and their needs. Several native Nevada bees are in decline, and gardeners can help by planting ornamental landscapes and edible gardens with native pollinators in mind. The native Nevada bees in trouble include: read more

Growing Plants from Seeds

March 20 marks the beginning of spring. It is a tempting time for gardeners. We have been cooped up all winter, and we want to get our hands down into the soil just as our daffodils are peeking up through it. However, early spring is not the time to plant warm season crops outside. They can be started indoors, though.

Get started with seed selection. Grab seeds for crops your family will eat and your local food bank needs. Look for varieties that mature in 90-120 days. Also look at the date the seeds were packaged. Those put together for this growing season will have the best germination rates. read more

An Early Spring Great Basin Gardening Tradition

In the Great Basin Desert, we plant peas on Saint Patrick’s Day. This is because the proper growing conditions for peas are met in mid-March, and linking that with a holiday makes it easier to remember. To keep the Great Basin gardening tradition for early spring, you too should plant peas and other cool season crops on March 17.

This gets peas into the ground about the time when soil temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit and before temperatures reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Peas grown in these cool soils taste sweeter. read more

Seed Circles Save Time and Money

Math is not my best subject, but when I apply math to my favorite past-time, gardening, I am much more enthusiastic about arithmetic than I am otherwise.This is because seed circle swap and/or round robin seed swap math shows how swapping seeds saves money. And, saving money is something everyone can appreciate, even if they find numbers a bit less fun than plants.

To calculate your seed circle savings, first count how many fellow seed savers you have and how many varieties each of them are growing.Then, check out the price of seeds in your area. Finally, get out a calculator or a pencil and paper. It is time to total everything up. read more

Starting a Seed Circle Swap

Seed circle swaps are an easy way to start a seed swap in a community that does not currently have one. Seed circle swaps are a great way to source seeds. They are different from traditional seed swaps because they don’t require a venue. They can be small in size, making them easy to manage by one person. They are different from round robin seed swaps because instead of receiving a box of random seeds, participants receive seeds they specifically requested.

To start a seed circle swap, form a dedicated group of any size. Get everyone’s contact information and their seed wish list. Compile the seed wishes and share them with the group. Ask for volunteers to grow varieties from the list. Ask who wants to receive seeds from each of the varieties grown. Fill requests according to who is growing. Don’t let people who are sitting out this season take seeds before people who are growing this season. read more

Starting a Round Robin Seed Swap

If your community does not have a seed swap for you to source seeds, you can hold one of your own. Start with a small round robin or seed circle swap.

Participants in either round robin or seed circle swaps can be local. If they are, this will save money on shipping and ensure varieties in the swap are appropriate to grow in your area. Participants can be long distance as well, or a mix of local and long distance. Try to keep the swap domestic. It can be a challenge to send seeds overseas.

Get started with a round robin seed swap by collecting the names and contact information of those who will participate.  Draw up instructions to swap participants. Let them know that when they receive the box, they should both take seeds from and add seeds to it. Provide tips on which types of seeds to add (hybrid vs. heirloom). If you have distance-swappers, remind your participants to provide zone information with their added seeds and check zone information before taking seeds. Instruct them to send the box to the next participant on the list. read more

Sourcing Seeds

A good place to source seeds is in your community. This is because people in your area know best what grows there. Ask friends and neighbors if they have seeds they can share with you. Also ask them to recommend you varieties to try and local garden centers, seed libraries or seed swaps where you can find them.

Bi-annual Seed Swap at the Chandler Sunset Library. Photo by Eileen M. Kane.

Seed swaps are events where people who have saved seeds from their gardens or who have excess purchased seed can trade seeds with each other. Knowledge, ideas and practices from different gardeners and their cultures are passed along too. read more

The Pros and Cons of Heirloom or Heritage Seeds

There are a lot of words to describe seeds that are not hybrid seeds– heirloom, heritage, open-pollinated or standard. No matter which word is used, heirloom plants have been handed down for generations. Originally, seeds from heirloom varieties were saved for the next year because whoever grew them fancied one or two particular traits. This means that single plants of older heirlooms may not look completely like their decedents. Now heirloom varieties are relatively stable, even though heirloom plants of the same variety are not perfectly identical to each other. read more

The Pros and Cons of Hybrid Seeds

There are many thing to consider when purchasing or saving seeds for your garden. Photo by Ashley Andrews.

When parent plants carefully selected for their desirable traits are bred together, they produce hybrid seeds. These seeds are called hybrid or F1 hybrid seeds. Breeding plants together to produce hybrid seeds sounds simple, but it is a long process. Selecting plants to breed together over and over again to end up with the perfect hybrid plant can take years. And, each time the plants are bred, or cross-pollinated, it is done by hand. This means that every new hybrid on the market costs a seed company a lot of time and money. But, seed companies and consumers alike often say it is worth it. read more

Seed Packet Buzzword Bingo

Tired of playing buzzword bingo as you sift through seed packets for information? Here are a few plant industry terms decoded.

GMO: Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals which were altered using biotechnology. They contain a new gene or a new combination of genes. Why? To provide improved traits.

Seeds from genetically modified plants are sold only to farmers by the companies which produce them. Legal contracts which spell out exactly how the farmers can and cannot use the seeds are required. None of the seeds available at garden centers are genetically modified seeds. read more

Landscape design principles build four seasons of interest


Article by Ashley Andrews

In winter, gardens more resemble a blank canvas than they do at any other time of year. Not yet in full glory are the warm colors of the yard– the reds, oranges and yellows which seem to bring the view closer to the viewer. Also not yet maximized are the cool colors, the purples and greens, which give the illusion of depth to small spaces. In this less distracting view, a landscape’s design can be evaluated, appreciated and recrafted. read more

Uncover Holiday Houseplant Secrets with Botany


Plants keep secrets, and holiday houseplants are no exceptions. Take the beautiful red flowers of the poinsettia plant, for example. Those are not flowers at all. And mistletoe? It takes advantage of others. Christmas cactus have a little something in common with mistletoe. Plus these plants often live under assumed names. Uncovering these and other plant mysteries is possible, with just a little bit of botany.

Poinsettias were used in dye making. The plant parts used to create reddish dye are often called flowers. But, the botanical secret of poinsettias is these plant parts are not flowers at all. They are bracts, or modified leaves. read more

School Gardens Grow Healthy Active Students

Cutting lovage down in fall can be a fun school garden chore for adults and children alike. Photo by Ashley Andrews.
Cutting lovage down in fall can be a fun school garden chore for adults and children alike. Photo by Ashley Andrews.


Lovage is an herb. It can grow 6 feet tall, at least. When it does, someone has to cut down its collapsed stems in late-fall. This year in the Mariposa Academy school garden, that someone was Pamela Van Hoozer, a certified master gardener volunteer with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She had help, though.

Alejandro, a 5-year-old prekindergarten student was her garden shadow that day. She put him to work. They talked about lovage as they labored. They built finger claws and swords out of the herb’s trimmings. read more

Winter Reading Grows Healthy Soils, Plants and Minds

Here are just a few examples of gardening books you can curl up with this winter. Photo by Ashley Andrews.


Gardeners collect. We collect seeds and seed catalogs, gloves, aprons and tools. We collect plants, and we collect books too. Here are a few gardening books that adorn the shelves of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension staff and volunteer spaces. These books, and others, help us to grow healthy soils, plants and minds. They can help you too.

A good book to get started with as a new gardener is the Sunset Western Garden Book edited by Kathleen Norris Brenzel. We have many different editions and variations of this title in the office and use them all. Another good book to begin with is Accessible Gardening for People with Physical Disabilities: A Guide to Methods, Tools, and Plants by Janeen R. Adil. This text will help you get your garden off of the ground throughout all stages and phases of life and ensure family and friends will feel right at home on your grounds as well. read more

Fresh-Cut Christmas Trees Create Memories, Improve Forest Health


Cutting a fresh Christmas tree is an incredible experience. It fosters a love of the outdoors. It strengthens the relationships among those on the outing, and it creates memories that last for years to come. To ensure the experience and the memories it fosters are as picture-perfect as possible, cut your holiday tree responsibly.

The first step in responsibly taking a Christmas tree is to purchase a permit. A permit allows tree-seekers to thin selected overstocked areas, improving forest health. Permitted cutting helps manage ladder fuels and reduce wildfire danger. Several local agencies offer Christmas tree permits. read more

Turn Golden Fall Leaves into Garden Gold with Composting


Fall garden clean-up is underway, but before you kick yard waste to the curb, consider composting. Composting breaks down living matter under controlled conditions. When the process is complete, compost can be added to garden soil. Soil amended with composted organic matter holds water and nutrients better. This helps your plants.

When cleaning up your yard this fall, consider composting carbon-rich leaves instead of throwing them out. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet.
When cleaning up your yard this fall, consider composting carbon-rich leaves instead of throwing them out. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet.

Interested? Try hot composting. It’s efficient and safe. Its high temperatures speed up life cycles of compost decomposers, converting compost to soil more quickly. The process also discourages disease-harboring molds. read more

Nevada Gardeners Tame Desert, Grow Beauty and Delight


More than 170 years ago, a woman named Gertrude Jeckyll was born in Mayfair, London. Eighty-nine years later, she died. Gertrude filled the years in between to the brim. She created a line of flower vases, and she documented fading facets of 19th century life. Gertrude published more than 300 photos. She wrote more than 15 books and 1,000 articles. Gertrude was a painter.

She also created more than 400 gardens. Most of Gertrude’s gardens were in Europe; a few were in North America. She was among the first in her field to consider the color, texture and experience of gardens in her designs. read more

Teaching How to Grow Healthy Food in Reno’s Food Desert


Northern Nevadans live in the high desert and a food desert. In many parts of Reno and Sparks, it is much easier to find drugs and alcohol than healthy fruits and vegetables. As Ashley Andrews reports for Our Town Reno with archive photos by Master Gardener Volunteers Shelley DeDauw and Bill Kositzky, one way to have access to fresh, healthy food is to grow it yourself. In this report, Andrews showcases two University of Nevada Cooperative Extension programs. Grow Your Own, Nevada! offers classes about sustainable, local ways to grow and preserve healthy food. Grow Yourself Healthy works with Mariposa Academy in Reno to teach students  to grow, harvest and enjoy healthy foods. read more

Experience Field Day


For botanists, a stem is a plant part. It provides structural support for buds and leaves, and it transports water, minerals and sugars. Plant stems can be long or short. They can be aboveground or below. But for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s 4-H After School club, STEM takes on a whole new meaning.

It refers to science, technology, engineering and math, and After School club members will show us what it is all about. They will lead a hands-on STEM demonstration constructing mini lava lamps to take home. The activity is for all ages. It will take place at Nevada Field Day, held 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 24 at 5895 Clean Water Way in Reno. read more

Garlic Growers Find Flavors, Friendship

Nearly thirty local gardeners gathered in a Reno classroom Thursday night to learn from one of their own about growing heirloom garlic in the high desert. They were joined via interactive video by gardeners from around the state.

Their two-hour class presented information on soil preparation, garlic selection and proper planting, and it included taste tests. Various varieties of heirloom garlic prepared in many different ways were sampled alone and with breads and cheeses. The discussion of selecting heirloom garlic for flavor was important to local foodies. read more