Situated on the western border of the Great Basin, the city of Reno is noted for its arid climate. Often referred to as a steppe climate, the area supports short, scrubby vegetation that is dominated by grasses or shrubs, with temperature characteristics that range between desert and humid. This can present challenges for both agriculture in the area as well as landscaping in Reno, NV. Selecting the right variety of grasses, flowers, shrubs, and trees and being able to adapt to the mostly rocky and clay-based, fast draining soil conditions in the region, is key to any gardener’s success. Given that the area's annual precipitation is only 7.48 inches, most of which falls in the winter and spring months, only complicates matters during a growing season of roughly 155 days. Yet, despite its aridity and rugged terrain, a considerable variety of vegetation can be grown in Reno if one knows what they’re doing.
It’s important to note that wetlands are an important part of the Reno area landscape and act as a natural filter for solids coming out of the city’s water treatment plant. These wetlands, home to over 75% of the species in the Great Basin, are at risk of being destroyed because of all the development going on around the city. Washoe County, in which Reno is located, has developed a plan to protect these ecosystems by requiring developers who build over a wetland, to assume responsibility for creating another wetland near Washoe Lake, just south of the city. This is important because wetland habitats in Nevada are fragile and rare, covering less than one percent of the state’s 70 million acres. Of the 234 priority wetland areas ranked by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, 26 are designated as being highest in conservation priority, of which some of these are the wetlands that lie along the Truckee River and its tributaries.
Named after a Paiute chief known as Truckee, the Truckee River is Reno's main source of drinking water, supplying the city with 80 million gallons of water per day during the summer and 40 million gallons per day in the winter. Golf courses in Reno use treated effluent water instead of treated water from one of Reno's two water plants in order to conserve water. The river's source is at the dam on the northwest side of Lake Tahoe and is an endorheic drainage basin, which is a closed drainage basin that has no outflow to external bodies of water, but instead congregates into lakes, wetlands or swamps. Rather than flowing to the ocean endorheic regions are closed hydrologic systems, with no access to discharge into the sea. Endorheic regions are most commonly found in desert areas such as the Great Basin where Reno is located, though they can occur in any climate.
The Great Basin is the most northerly of all four American deserts and unlike the other three is characterized by cold-weather vegetation and roughly 100 internally drained basins inside this ecoregion. It is by far the largest arid area in the United States and is a true basin with a wholly self-contained drainage system. The region supports numerous threatened and endangered species—Nevada being third in the nation, with some of the most vulnerable plants. Some of the dominant plant species in the region include such scrubs as sagebrushes, saltbrushes, and winterfat, all of which are distinctly cold weather species of aromatic shrubs with soft wood and evergreen leaves. However, the region also contains plant species found in warmer climates, such as rabbitbrush, blackbrush, hopsage, and horsebursh, though the area lacks characteristic desert plants and contain few cacti. With such a variety of flora, it’s no wonder that landscaping in Reno, NV, can be so challenging, though certainly not without the pleasures of a river that runs through it.
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