Located in the high desert, in the northwestern corner of the state of Nevada, lies the city of Reno. At an elevation of 4,400 feet, one might call Reno the three-quarter mile high city, in deference to Denver, which sits a bit higher in the Rocky Mountain range of the United States. Situated just east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and at the western border of what is known as the Great Basin, the city covers over 100 square miles with a varied topography and challenging climate for those landscaping in Reno, NV. Nevertheless, those homeowners and landscaping firms that have been successful at gardening in the Reno environment have adapted to the weather by selecting the right variety of grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees for this rather unique climate. This also means being cognizant of the challenging soil conditions in the region, which is mostly rocky and clay-based and thus fast draining as well.
Since Reno is on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range, it is in an area known as the “rain shadow” of the mountains. The term is derived from the fact that being on the leeward side of the Sierra Nevada, the range blocks any rain-producing systems flowing from west to east from the Pacific and thus casts a shadow of dryness behind these systems. Without much, if any, moisture left once the weather system crosses the mountains, this drier side in which Reno is located is therefore called the rain shadow. All the warm and moist air that’s drawn by prevailing winds toward the summit of the Sierra Nevada range condenses and precipitates before coming down the eastern side, leaving Reno with an average of only 7.48 inches of rainfall per year. However, because of its altitude, the city also receives its share of snowfall, averaging over 21 inches per year.
Due to the city’s size and extent from north to south, Reno experiences microclimates within the city’s boundaries, and this can dictate gardening habits. Mountains located east of Reno tend to be prone to thunderstorms and thus the eastern part of town can experience more of these storms. This is caused by a gusty wind effect called the "Washoe Zephyr," which blows west to southwest, primarily in the summer and usually in the mid-afternoon through the late evening, lifting significant quantities of dust into the air. The wind occurs, according to one theory, due to the intense heat during summer afternoons over the Great Basin in which Reno sits. This heat sets up a pressure gradient that encourages the wind to pull cooler air down from the High Sierras while pushing air upward against the mountain ranges east of Reno, which in turn create powerful thunderstorms.
On the western side of town, the Carson Range stretches about 50 miles long and 10 miles wide and, in concert with the Sierra Nevada Mountains, casts the rain shadow over most of the Reno area. However, the foothills of the Carson Range, located only a few miles west of downtown Reno, are as high as 5,600 feet in elevation and can receive up to two to three times as much snowfall annually. It’s also the melt water from the Carson Range that feeds into the Truckee River that runs through the middle of Reno and is an important source of irrigation in the city and adjacent valleys. Interestingly, Reno was initially established as a city next to the first bridge that was constructed to span the Truckee River in the late 1800s and today forms an historic Riverwalk District in downtown Reno. Given such a variety of weather patterns, it’s no wonder that landscaping in Reno, NV, can be a challenging affair that requires being up for the task!
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