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Pesky Snakes in Your High Desert Garden

Know Which Snake is Intruding

Most gardeners will have a basic skill in identifying bugs and unwanted critters in their gardens, but sometimes the intruder just scares you into leaving first  — then wondering what to do. It helps to know that the skin patterns on snakes are helpful in identifying them. If you stop and get a quick look before you run, you’ll have a better chance of knowing what your next steps are.

Good Snake Versus Bad Snake

A “good” garden snake like the “Gopher Snake” has a splotchy pattern of cream and brown but with a distinct narrow pattern of aligned squares running down its back.

snake in the garden by

Gopher Sanke pattern

Pattern is more square for a gopher snake







A “bad” snake like the Diamondback and Mojave Green Rattlesnake have patterns that look more exotic, wider, and in a diamond-styled pattern. Some have a green or pink tinge to them.

Diamond pattern for Rattlers

The distinct diamond pattern is most common for Rattlers

Also, if you happen to be close enough to see a snake’s head, the good snakes appear more pointed, narrow, and shiny. In general their bodies are slimmer than rattlers. here’s a photo of comparing their two heads.

two heads

Rattler on left, Gopher snake on right

The bad snake’s head appears much wider, eyes are narrower, and they have “fat cheeks” — their glands and jaws fill their heads — making them look more aggressive.

Knowing these identifiers will help you be more aware of good snakes that your garden can benefit from to keep away other pesky visitors. However, if you see a rattler, back away carefully and call for help. Your local fire department can be called in most cases or phone a friend with a stronger constitution than yours.

Exterminators at “” recommend these methods to reduce snake intrusions:

 Find the nest. To chase any type of reptile away and to get rid of all garden snakes once and for all, you should find their nest and destroy it. Start inspecting the area around to look for shelters. Normally, they give their preference to well-hidden nooks and secluded corners, piles of wood, and compost holes. Even if there are no creatures inside, level the ground.

(Note: leveling your whole property will not stop snakes from crossing it.)

No garbage. Stop accumulating garbage outside. Do you know that such places are just perfect hiding and feeding areas for many types of these nasty reptiles?

No debris. Keep your backyard clean and remove debris, branches of trees and dried leaves regularly. Make some landscape changes in the area to modify the environment.

Keep grass low. If you have the luxury of growing a lawn, it is not a secret that snakes adore tall grass as this is a hiding place of mice, rats, squirrels, crickets and grasshoppers – their main food. To get rid of rattlesnakes, mow the lawn weekly!

Eliminating compost heaps. Gardeners need composts but they should be removed at some safe distance from your home. They are perfect hiding and leaving places in your backyard, attracting reptiles and their food sources right to you.

Erecting snake proof fencing is another alternative of how to get rid of snakes in backyard fast. A fence only 2-3 feet high made of fine wire mesh helps to prevent them from entering your yard and eventually your house. Be aware that snakes do climb — this is only a deterrent.

Use mothballs. Practically all types of snakes hate the smell of mothballs. So why not use this option in your garden right away? Don’t scatter the balls here and there. Just bury them into the soil in different parts of the yard instead. Though they may be toxic to their nature — when used carefully — they help to keep snakes at a bay.

No cool places. Sacks, bricks, and wood attract them as much as tall grass. Keep them far from your property and dealing with snakes won’t be your problem anymore. Also consider where you have water buckets and water feeders for your outdoor pets. Water containers stay cooler and will attract mice and snakes.
Read more:


Thanx goes to PestKill for posting their recommendations online

Not Every Gardener Has a Green Thumb

Growing a Garden in High Desert Soil is Tough

Years ago, I made a plan for my first garden bed. I fenced out rabbits from my plot of land. I dug up the heavier rocks and raked and turned until thought I had a decent bed to start. I then made a deal with the groundskeepers at the local park that I could collect their lawn and leaf trimmings. I hauled home a small trailer full of rich composting material.

It pays to talk to other gardeners in your community. They may have the background you don’t. Why work so hard?

Garlic Bulb

A fresh garlic I never raised

Use Gardening Magazines but Don’t be Beguiled

I raked and tilled, mulched and watered. I knew that in this virgin soil, nothing would grow for the first year. So I tended the plot and added some amendments that I had read about. Pored over the organic magazines all Summer. True to their word, they recommended that planting in the Fall would be better for a sound crop; I only planted two rows of potatoes starters. The bitter winds of Winter made gardening brutal. I was on a water tank system, still am, so each time I watered, I paid more attention to how much absorbed into the ground.

Dirt Farmer

Without water and good soil your garden is nothing

Garden magazines are helpful but they can draw you into false security, thinking that everything is just fine. They don’t know your climate or soil health. I watered and tested my young spud plants until early Spring.

Seduced by January Garden Dreams

You know all of those gardening magazines arrive in your mail boxes in January just to whet your keen edge for a voluptuous garden … the dream garden. I devoured each page. i was seduced by promises and beautiful pictures.

By early February, after the frost, I planted several rows of green onions, yellow onions, garlic and some pepper plants. I even planted marigold plants between rows to discourage bugs and worms. Master Gardeners suggested that. I was on my way to having a “green thumb”, or so I thought. But the High Desert had different ideas.

It seems that while I was developing the soil and strengthening the PH balance, diligently following the master gardeners’ insider hints, the desert was killing off my dreams.

The first early shoots of my potato plants withered. The onion rows sprouted a feet high but when I pulled a few, no onions! Even my “anyone can grow” marigolds refused to send out roots. The first wind that came along blew them right out of the ground! And the horn worms that can attack tomato plants like an army on the move had made a night raid and wiped out my two feeble pepper seedlings.

Find Out What Your Garden’s Enemies Are

Horm Worms can devour a whole plant

Tomato Horn Worms look healthier than my pepper plants

You’ll need to study who your enemies are: underground, under leaf, in the stems or on the stems. Consult your local gardening department in a building and housewares store. They always have a gardener on hand. Take their advice.

It seems that the lack of humidity in the ground, even with my diligent watering, was not enough to grow a garden. The rodents conspired to burrow under my rows and finish off my harvest long before it showed above ground. And, for all of my watering, it seems that it all percolated down and away from my baby garden roots. I didn’t have the soil primed for holding the moisture.

By the time I expected to harvest early onions, potatoes, and garlic… I found two … yes, two onions. No Garlic. My potato starters were still small, laughing at me, I’m sure.

So I am the Brown Thumb gardener. I still buy my produce from the store. I still have my garden outside my window. Now I grow rustic antique cultivators, harrow row rakes, steel wheels, and antique hand plows … the basic elements of a gardener’s tool collection when the tools brought great harvests to more fortunate gardeners.

Rusty, no dirt under my fingernails …


Blueberry Gardening in the High Desert

Grow a Blueberry Bush in Your Backyard

Blueberry Gardening

Blueberry Bush Photo Credits by Angie Horn


Did you know that you can grow blueberries in the high desert? They need acidic soil to be successful, and it helps if they are planted in pots.

Planting Tips

Helpful hints from these three websites will help you get started: READ MORE »

March Flowers to Plant in High Desert Gardens

Spring Garden Planting


Spring Pansies

The high desert has seen gorgeous spring days already in February and the first few days of March. Like we always read on many packets of flower seeds, “Sow…after danger of heavy frost.” Victor Valley’s weather report indicates that by tomorrow, temperatures are going to dip down into the low 30’s – heavy frost kind of weather to consider (although frost can happen in April, too) when planting flower seeds.

Pansies may be the answer to your March flower garden. You can find them at nurseries and even WalMart right now. But you have to decide if you want to plant pansies now or wait a little longer to plant spring and summer flowers that can endure the desert heat. Pansies do best with temperatures between 40 degrees at night and 60 degrees during the day. Hesperia only had about five days last month that didn’t go over 60 degrees during the day and fifteen days that were in the 70’s. If you do plant pansies, they can add vivid color to your garden through the spring.

Bulbs and Flowers to Plant in March

Plant flowering bulbs such as dahlias and gladiolas.

summer flower bulbs

Gladiolas (photo from

Choose from drought-tolerant marigolds and zinnias when beginning your spring gardening. Both are colorful, although zinnias provide a wider variety of colors than marigolds including pink and white.


Marigolds (photo from

Marigolds are believed to have pest-controlling benefits for vegetable gardens. That could be true if you plant them in abundance, but they may not keep out the neon-green tomato hornworm.

Learn how to use the right amount of irrigation to encourage a deeper root system, and you’ll enhance the beauty of zinnias. Zinnias can grow up to 3 feet tall or more and attract birds and butterflies.


Zinnias Attract Butterflies (photo from

Natural and Drought-Tolerant Plants Good for High Desert Gardens

Natural and Drought-Tolerant Plants

It’s time to plan your spring planting. Lavender and rosemary are two evergreens that can grow well in the high desert. See the eHow article, Rosemary Plant in the High Desert, for more information on planting rosemary in your garden.


Rosemary photo from

There are several websites with helpful information on organic and/or drought-tolerant plants for high desert gardens. I’ve listed four below to get you started:

  1. Going Organic Magazine – In the article, Winter Organic Gardening in The Desert, Maureen Gilmer gives insight on how to plant with drought-tolerant landscaping. If you are wondering which vegetable crops can be sown or planted in February, this article will be helpful.
  2. Moana Nursery – This website offers Local High Desert Tips on things you can do between February 16 through February 29 for your spring garden.
  3. Garden Solutions for the High Desert – Read Blogger Marnie Brennan’s blog post on Seed Starting for Spring Planting 2016 for help on seed planting.
  4. Mohave Desert Nursery – Learn about natural and drought-tolerant plants that grow well in the high desert.

Organic Salsa Garden

Plant an organic salsa garden – tomatoes, green onions, carrots, and peppers. Green onions and carrots grew in my garden through the winter months. Both go great in a homemade salsa recipe. The last green onions I pulled up out of the garden were so long I had to double them to store them in the frig.

Green onions and tiny carrot

What recipes do you put green onions in? Share your recipe in the comment section for this blog post.

Rain visited Victor Valley’s high desert this week, the best natural watering for a garden. It’s time to dig up the garden weeds and prepare for spring planting.

Gardening takes work, but it’s a good way to exercise and to enjoy natural Vitamin D.

Got gardening tips to share? Let us hear your spring planting plans.

Thank You for Visiting High Desert Blogging

February Garden Planning Tips


Yellow Snapdragons

Gardeners are already planning their spring gardens and planting. The garden lover thrives on how to keep flowers and vegetables growing all year long, whether it be seed-planting, weed-pulling, and vegetable harvesting. The most challenging gardening I’ve ever experienced has been in high desert garden zones.

I googled “high desert garden planning in February” to see who and what popped up. The links listed below are the first ones that came up. Whichever zone you garden in, these tips will be useful to you.


Each one of these sites is very fascinating, interesting, and inspiring for anyone who wants to start a garden in the high desert. The cool thing is that no matter which high desert area you live in, you can benefit from any of these three websites mentioned, even the last one that isn’t focused specifically on the “high” desert.

All three of the above garden websites include gardening tips. Moana Nursery points out the three challenges of climate, soil, and water and offers a very helpful planting guide.

Barbara with “Surviving the Middle Class Crash” (I love that blog title) gives tips on how to cut down on weeds. She also offers a list of fruits and vegetables grown successfully – in spite of being told that hardly anything grows in the Sprague River, Oregon high desert.

The third link that came up with my Internet search is the “full-time radical homemaker and mama to two spunky little girls” (I fell in love with her blog). Though she’s from the Tucson low desert area, her suggestions work well for growing vegetables in the high desert as well. She covers topics on your hardiness zone, soil testing, raised beds, wilting, mulch and more. But I like what she says about keeping a journal as a reference guide of your successes and disasters.

I’ll never forget the first time I spotted an ugly dragon-looking neon-green-alien-looking tomato hornworm. It creeped me out so much that I put my garden gloves on and knocked the pest off of the plant and into a sandwich baggie. Where there is one, there is bound to be more. Brave vegetable gardener that I was, I managed to save the sandwich bags for the next alien culprits. Gloves and a small spade helped me do the trick of sending them out of my garden. I read somewhere that tomato hornworms are hard to see in the sunlight (because they blend right in with the green leaves), so use a flashlight when it’s dark to shine on the plants. The little monsters are easier to spot that way with their neon color.

Like Middle Class Crash Barbara, I was determined to learn how to grow vegetables and fruit in a high desert climate. I had helped my vegetable-garden-growing mother and grandmothers enough that I had the confidence that I could grow my own home-grown food despite desert conditions.

My garden upbringing was in the Deep South, quite different than hot, dry summers with strong winds. Eventually, however, the garden grew. What has amazed me is that this winter my herbs, specifically dill and oregano, have withstood the cold and are actually thriving beautifully. It’s so exciting to step outside the kitchen into the herb garden and snip a few for seasoning, like the dill herb for one of the Big Game dip recipes I’m wanting to try.

A list of flowers and herbs that have made it through the winter season so far:

  • Snapdragons (they’ve grown quite tall)
  • California Poppies (that shocked me – I haven’t had them stay so pretty through the winter before)
  • Pansies – Oh how pretty they are in purple and yellow!
  • Dill – Before winter it looked tiny and scraggly-looking. Winter must be its friend more than I realized.
  • Oregano – It’s planted in a a corner of a large square pot. Two small pots of other herbs were placed inside the big garden pot. Since the oregano is spreading out so nicely, I’m removing the little pots and am going to let the oregano take over.

Natural Plants for High Desert Gardens

High Desert Joshua Tree

Mohave Desert Joshua Tree

Native plants for high desert gardening includes shrubs that attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds; evergreens that make nice privacy fences; and trees for shade. Common ones include:

Lavender perennial

Lavender in a High Desert garden


  • Chuparosa
  • Desert Bird of Paradise
  • Desert Lavender
  • Desert Sage
  • Western Redbud
Redbud Tree in Full Cycle

Redbud Tree in Full Cycle


  • California Juniper (good for birds and mammals and makes good fuel wood)
  • Catclaw Acacia (has thorns, is good as hedge or for landscape; butterflies and bees like it)
  • Joshua
  • Arizona Cypress
  • Honey Mesquite

A couple of trees that are not necessarily natural high desert plants but grow well in the arid weather are locust and mimosa trees. Mimosas have pretty fluffy-like pinkish flowers. Locust (black or honey) trees are thorny, and the ones on my property are invasive.  I thought it was a weed and kept cutting it down. Finally, I decided to just let one of them grow. After all, we’re trying to plant more bushes and trees in the yard, so why not quit fighting against the locust that is determined to grow. Apparently, it is a weed when it grows in areas where it isnt native. Black locusts are native to the southeastern part of the United States. They are from the Fabaceae pea family, and they produce pods. I prefer the mimosa tree because it’s pretty. One positive thing about the locust, though, is you don’t have to water it – it grows like a weed!


Organic Gardening in Zone 11


Lovage Perennial Herb

Growing vegetables and herbs in the high desert is a challenge that is worth every seed planted. It’s a process that requires diligence and patience but results in bountiful nutritious rewards.

Basic vegetables and herbs such as listed below are easy to grow even in an arid climate, handy to have in a kitchen garden, and make a good salsa:

  • tomatoes
  • jalapeno peppers
  • serrano peppers
  • bell peppers
  • green onions
  • cilantro
  • basil
  • garlic

Other easy veggies to grow in the high desert are corn, yellow summer squash, kale, broccoli and carrots. If you start with a small garden, several of the vegetables can be planted close to herbs and fruit. Keep in mind that when the summer triple digits kick in, you have to baby those plants especially in Zone 11 where drought is common.

Watering Resources

Strategic watering plans are important to soak the soil. Digging trenches is one way. Use soaker hoses or some type of drip system. Layer two or three inches of mulch under plants and on the ground to hold moisture in. Different types of mulch work such as rocks, pine needles, and leaves.

Rainwater collection is also an excellent resource. Catch the water from the roof in containers when it does rain. Visit your local hardware store and ask for rain water storage supplies for your home garden.


Herbs can be planted with the vegetables or in their own separate garden. Organic cooking is enhanced by using fresh spices straight from the kitchen garden. Choose your favorites from this list of additional herbs to plant:

  • chives
  • dill
  • lavender
  • lemon balm
  • lovage
  • mint
  • oregano
  • parsley
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • stevia
  • thyme

Gardening Frustrations

What difficulties might beginners expect when planting organic vegetable gardens in an arid environment? Look for any of these occurrences to happen:

  • certain watering requirements by city during drought
  • tomato hornworms
  • aphids
  • rabbits
  • birds

A few things can help with the extreme summer heat like using soaker hoses and mulch. High desert vegetable gardens may need to be watered deeply three times a week. Tall corn stalks provide shade. Mulch helps retain moisture and reduce evaporation.

When there isn’t enough water, all of the garden suffers. Tomatoes can get cracks when the temperature is scorching and there isn’t consistent watering. Look for hornworms on tomato plants. Find them easily at night with a flashlight because they are neon green. They have a dragon-looking head and attach themselves to the leaves. Signs to look for are wilted and spotted leaves, dark green droppings on the top of the leaves, and stems missing leaves. When you’ve seen one, there’s probably more. They will quickly ruin tomato plants. Hornworms also like eggplant and pepper plants. Marigolds and dill are good to plant with tomatoes to deter hornworms.

Aphids are hard to get rid of. They love squash plants and can destroy a large plant quickly. Lavender and ladybugs repel aphids and hornworms.

Rabbits and birds like vegetable gardens, too. Use chicken wire to surround and cover the top of your plants. Put fabric mesh on top of your garden areas enclosed with wire to deter critters.

Enjoy your organic garden, plant lots of lavender, marigolds, and dill. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will be happy, and they will assist in pollinating the garden.


Lavender in an Herb Garden

Summer Garden Irrigation

Summer Tomato Garden

Tomato Plants

Hot three-digits were already present in the High Desert to officially welcome summer on June 21st. If you aren’t aware yet, mandatory water restrictions are in effect now in the High Desert. Victorville, Hesperia, and Apple Valley have posted their watering guidelines which include certain watering days.


NOTE: This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on it and make a purchase, I make a commission. This doesn’t cost you anything additional. These commissions help to keep the rest of my content free, so thank you!

Is it possible to keep up the herb and vegetable gardens in this heat and current mandatory water restrictions? It is, although gardeners must stay on top of it. It does help to choose a good type of irrigation. Soaker hose gardening is an easy and inexpensive way to water gardens. However, soaker hoses sometimes get larger holes that spurt out major streams. It’s better to install a drip irrigation system, although there is a snip-and-drip type of soaker hose system that can be used.

Clay Elam, an ethnobotanist, recently spoke in Lucerne Valley about simple historical irrigation setups that anyone can do. Two types of irrigation he mentioned were the unglazed clay pot and the rockpile mulch. Both are easy for anyone to do. Read more about this at the blog post, Resources of Native Southwestern Plants and Trees.

Utilizing the area that gets water from my soaker hoses, I planted tomato, strawberry, onion, pepper, grape, carrot, corn, sugar snap bean, and broccoli plants and a dwarf Macintosh apple tree. Every time I’ve planted strawberry plants, they’ve never made it. This time all of the plants in the soaker hose area are thriving. There is one more section that gets watered from the soaker hose that I’ve observed. I’m getting ready to plant yellow squash seeds there.

Do you water manually, or do you have your watering system set on a timer? Small kitchen gardens or square foot gardens may not be large enough to require a more sophisticated irrigation system. Unless you have a family member or friend who waters for you if you go on summer vacations, it’s important to invest in a good water timer that has a rain delay such as the Rainwave 3-Zone:

This timer is compatible with drip and soaker hoses. Don’t forget the container plants. There is even a drip system for containers:

Once your water hoses are in good shape, the water timer is set, how do you plan for your vegetable harvest when you are planning a summer vacation? Do you ask someone to gather the vegetables, or do you take a chance and leave them until you return? Vacations don’t usually last all summer, so a few days of ripe vegetables not being brought in may be no big deal. One thing for sure, though, is that you’ll be busy harvesting when you return home.

Got any helpful garden tips? Offer your garden irrigation ideas in the comment section below.

Pretty and Drought-tolerant Plant for High Desert Gardens

The wind is howling. The temperature is climbing. I just bought a Lantana (lantana camara) plant and I’m afraid it will get blown right out of the pot. I love the small flowers and the red-orange flame of color is my favorite. Nurseries in our area know that they come in several color varieties. How can I enjoy adding some new color to my drab garden when I’m afraid of killing it?

Drought-tolerant plants are one of the better choices for our High Desert in Southern California. We have two strikes against us though: 1) we have high winds 2) Californians should be paying more attention to their water use.

Pink variety of Lantana

Pink variety of Lantana

I chose the Lantana due to its hardy nature in arid climates. It has clusters of tight, tiny trumpets that give off a light scent. They’re great for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. So I really want this plant to survive but I’ve killed more than I want to admit.

So I stopped off at my nursery of choice and asked how to keep my Lantana healthy. One of the clerks I found also loves Lantana, so she suggested that I water two or three times a day when the temps go over 100 degrees F. And, yes, I know the temps get that high almost every year.

I should also make sure I have a thick mulch to protect the roots and keep the heat from dehydrating the soil too fast. But how much water is enough? She said there’s an easy way to test that. Dig a hole in your garden larger and deeper than a one gallon pot. Plant the empty pot. pack soil around it. Pour exactly one gallon of water in it and let it evaporate and soak into the ground. Watch it often until all of the water is gone. That will give you the time it takes for a gallon-per-minute soak for your soil conditions.

If you don’t like how fast it goes then use an amendment that holds the water longer. If it takes too long, then loosen the soil and amend it with a more fibrous mulch product that allows drainage. I have heavy clay so I’m still trying to balance the drainage time to fit my plants.

For wind problems, I can always build a short wind wall to keep the speed under control. And for too much direct light, I can tent my plant with a tiny tarp until late in the summer.

Two colors in one planter: red flame and pink

Two colors in one planter: red flame and pink

At any case, I know this plant will be babied this year just so I can prove I can keep a Lantana in the yard. I think I’ll make a baby bonnet and get a drip bottle to make it happy. [grin]

Are you having special trouble with any of your desert plants? We may not have all of the answers, but we’ll look for them. Let us know here at High Desert

Rusty LaGrange

For more Lantana growing info, here’s a place that helped me:

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