If Las Vegans want to grow anything other than native plants, they have to make their own soil, says Clarita Huffman, master gardener at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
"Our native soil is so salty that it is actually toxic to many plants," she explains.
Since homemade soil is precious, it's best to corral it into raised beds. "They're efficient and effective," says Huffman, and her garden offers beautiful proof.
Yellow snapdragons, violas, blue salvias, and chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) thrive in a raised front border, contained by interlocking concrete blocks. Beyond the border, perennials, roses, fruit trees, and vegetables all flourish in other raised beds.
For creating soil, Huffman swears by a recipe she found in Super Nutrition Gardening, by William S. Peavy and Warren Peary (Avery Press, New York, 1992; $14.95). Spread a 3-inch layer of compost over the planting area.
For each 100 square feet, apply 20 pounds of cottonseed meal and 1/2 cup of seaweed. Add soil sulfur according to manufacturer's directions. Till the amendments to a depth of 6 to 8 inches and water in thoroughly.
Allow the bed to rest for three to four weeks before planting. To refresh the soil in subsequent years, reduce the cottonseed meal by half and omit sulfur unless it's needed to adjust the pH.