Urban Gardening: How to Garden in a Desert City

In our first article about urban gardening, we discussed the benefits of gardening or buying locally-grown produce. Now we will explore how to successfully garden in the unique gardening conditions of a desert and with the limited space most large city residents have to garden. Even if you have a large yard to work with, these tips will be very useful given water restrictions and potentially high water bills common in desert cities such as Las Vegas.

Where To Plant

Residents of large cities often live in homes with minimal yard space. Many live in apartments, condos, and townhouses with no yard space at all. There are two keys planning an urban garden. The first key is thinking about how to maximize space as much as possible. Since most plants do not need an enormous amount of space, square-foot gardening is a useful planning tool. For example, if you install a raised bed that is two feet by four feet, you have eight square feet of space to plant in. The second key to urban gardening is variety. Within your square-foot plots you can plant a large range of fruits, vegetables, and other plants. Other great gardening ideas for desert climates include planting in pots, hanging baskets, or on windowsills.

sq ft garden example


Once you’ve gotten creative with your gardening space, the next thing to consider is the sun, the most important element of gardening. Luckily, desert cities have abundant sunlight and most vegetables and fruits can handle hours of it! When you select the plants or seeds you wish to grow, check the packets to see what kind of sunlight they require. They will usually be labeled ‘full sun,’ ‘partial sun,’ or something similar. This will help you determine where to place them in your garden. Asking questions of your local nursery staff is a great tool as well! Ask questions about your purchases and get gardening tips.


Along with the sun, the soil you grow your plants in will provide the much needed nutrients to help them grow. Unfortunately, the hard desert soil in Southern Nevada is not ideal for planting. It’s hard and rocky nature makes it difficult to plant and allows for limited absorption of water. Alternative soil suggestions vary, but a mixture of native desert soil and planting soil (purchased at a nursery) is recommended. Some organic matter/compost should be included in the planting soil portion; this can also be bought at the nursery.

soil image


Water is the final piece of the gardening puzzle, and can be the most difficult aspect of gardening in our desert climate. The benefits of planting in the desert are vast, improved air quality, limited erosion and flash floods, increased biodiversity, and reduced greenhouse gasses. But with all these benefits, an urban gardener must also face an increase in water use. This is why it is important to be conscious of how your garden is watered. In Southern Nevada, drip irrigation is the preferred method. Drip irrigation systems can be designed to deliver water where you want, when you want, and in the right quantities. Water is delivered directly to the plants base and is not wasted on empty land, pavement, walls, or leaves. Careful watering practices such as this allow for adequately water gardens and minimal water waste, keeping your water bills low while doing your part to conserve.

Tips for avoiding a spike in your water bill:

  • Use a scheduled drip irrigation system or carefully water by hand.
  • Water your plants in the early morning or late evening, allowing the plants ample time to absorb the water while avoiding evaporation.
  • Stick to one long soak as opposed to several shorter ones.
  • Keep an eye on your water meter and irrigation system to avoid wasteful leaks.

What To Grow

Knowing what to grow is simple if you use your local nursery as a resource, almost anything found in a local nursery can be grown in that region. Choose the plants you want in your garden. Some great choices include tomatoes (thess grow phenomenally well in Southern Nevada), citrus trees, asparagus, kale, squash, and soy beans. The Springs Preserve’s Vegetable Planting Guide For Southern Nevada (seen below) is a great resource! It helps you identify our cool and warm seasons, what to plant, and when. Choose your veggies and determine when to plant the for optimal results.

springs preserve planting guide

*Planting Guide received from gardening course offered by Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, the shaded areas represent desirable times to plant

Don’t Forget About the HOA

If you live in an HOA, do not forget to check their landscaping requirements. Some may require approval to add landscaping features such as raised beds, trees, or window boxes. You can usually ask your HOA for a list of approved plants to go off of. Apartment, condo and townhouse communities should be wary as well. Be sure to get HOA approval before you spend your time and money making changes.


Congratulations, you now have a great start on creating your own urban garden and the resources below will provide you with additional help and information regarding that topic. The final installment of this urban gardening series, coming soon, will describe how Las Vegas is supporting urban gardening in the Southern Nevada community.

Ryan Kelsch

Green Chips Staff Writer

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @UNLVryan

Learn more about square foot gardening here:

www.growingyourgreens.com (an insightful YouTube gardening video series from a Las Vegan)




Learn more about drip irrigation here:

http://www.snwa.com/land/irrig_driptips.html (SNWA)

Sign up for free Do-It-Yourself drip irrigation courses at Springs Preserve (taught by SNWA) here:



Local nurseries:

Star Nursery – www.starnursery.com

Moon Valley Nursery – www.moonvalleyvegas.com

Gardening advice and workshops at Springs Preserve – http://www.springspreserve.org/gardens/resources.html


Photo credits:








About the Author: Ryan Kelsch

Published On: April 9, 2015Categories: Southern Nevada, Sustainability in the NewsComments Off on Urban Gardening: How to Garden in a Desert CityTags: , , , , , , , , ,