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Monday, June 25, 2012

Know When to Harvest and Roast Your Own Almonds


Q. We have a young almond tree that has a great cop of nuts on it.  Questions: 1. How do we know when to harvest?  2.  Is there any special prep needed before eating the nuts?
Almonds split and ready for harvest


A. Harvest when the outside covering has split open. You can leave them on the tree longer as long as it does not rain. If you have ground squirrels, harvest immediately or they will get them. You can open the husks any time or store this way for a long time if they remain dry. Eat them fresh (my preference) or you can roast them. Bake at 350° or so for 10-12 minutes or until you smell a nutty aroma. Sprinkle with salt or your favorite seasoning if you want.

Almond dried on the tree and ready to harvest and sell
in the husk
            I want to add something here. Years ago when we began harvesting almonds at the Orchard, the volunteers spent very many hours splitting the outside husk open, taking out the nut and getting the nuts ready for the Farmers Market. I had so many complaints from the volunteers about this work that no one would do this anymore. So I told them to take the nuts, husk and all, to the market and sell it that way.

            Well what a shock! The people at the Farmers Market LOVED them this way! They would take them home and show their kids where almonds came from and what a surprise the kids had opening them and eating them fresh from inside the husk. And we made more money this way than if we had husked and taken them out of the shell. No more complaints and plus there was much less labor involved.

            If you do have almonds, a serious pest you can get is peach twig borer. They will get in the husk AND in some cases find their way to the nut after the husk has split. So get them off of the tree soon after they split sometime in August.

Is Iris Borer in Southern Nevada?

Hole in iris leaf

Q. While cleaning my iris beds this morning, I found quite a surprise.  I hope you can help identify my problem before I have more damage. I put 100% white vinegar in this hole and it foamed up immediately. I hope I didn't kill my Iris - the hole is right in the middle of the plant.  Further checking revealed that I have these holes in several of my iris beds spread over 1/2 acre.

            I also found what looks like a "perfect" 1/4" round, 1 1/2" excretion, it is almost black.

I've checked on the internet and there is nothing that describes a 1" hole with mounded dirt; the round holes are perfect in the ground and on the leaf.

            Some suggest slugs - I have no type of residue and I think they would eat as they go NOT make a round circle in the middle of a leaf. Then cutter bees were mentioned but their holes don't seem to be as big as these. I will soon be leaving town and I would like to get a handle on this problem before I go. Thanks for any help you may give.

A. I hesitated to answer for a bit because I was not quite sure what is going on. My first reaction was iris borer except that this iris pest is not usually a problem here but rather in the Midwest.

Hole in the ground near the iris
            But it fits the description. They will leave roundish holes in the leaves and they also pupate in the ground so when the moth emerges they leave this fairly large, smooth hole in the ground near the iris.

            But you mention no other symptoms of iris borer which also makes me doubt it. Other symptoms would include, in the early stages, the tips of the foliage turning yellow and then brown. As the problem gets worse the base of the stalk may become yellowish-brown and mushy with a bad odor if the attack is severe. This is when rot of the rhizome has started.

            If you are digging irises to divide or move them this fall, you may notice holes in rhizomes as well. If you got any of these rhizomes from the Midwest then it is possible they may have been transported here.

            I agree that it is also possible that the hole in the leaf could be from slugs although, as you pointed out, you are not using any surface mulch which they like. The hole in the ground could be from an insect like the cicada killer, a large wasp that is yellow with black stripes, not very threatening to humans but can deliver a severe sting if provoked. Normally cicada killers will not bother you but they do have a very large hole in the ground that fits this description and the picture you sent.

            I will post both of your pictures on my blog. But first I would check to make sure it is not iris borer when you dig up some iris this fall for inspection. If you see some iris with foliage that is yellowing or dying back I would dig and look here first.

            Look for holes in the rhizome or even possibly mushy rhizomes. I would discard these and hopefully you will see no other problems. If you do not conclude it is iris borer then I would assume it is a cicada killer and not be concerned about it. Watch for slugs and put out some slug bait or stale beer for them.

Palm Tree Fronds Dying at the Bottom


Q. We have a couple of fan palms whose fronds are continually dying off from the lower level.  Is this normal or are they lacking in something i.e., water, nutrients, etc.

Readers palm tree

A. I looked at the picture of your fan palm. In this case, yes, this is natural. The fronds grow from a central bud located at the top end of the trunk. All of the new growth for a palm tree comes from this bud. If the bud dies, the trunk is dead. If the palm has one trunk then the tree is dead.

            As these new fronds emerge from the bud, the older fronds (the ones at the bottom) begin to die. Normally you would expect the fronds at the bottom to die in this manner. First they will begin to yellow and then eventually they die. As these lower fronds yellow, it is then an appropriate time to remove them.

Palm trunk skinned
            I like to cut the fronds as close to the trunk as I can leaving very little stub coming from the trunk. Some people remove the stub even closer to the trunk, at its point of attachment to the trunk, by cutting with a sharp knife (box cutter or linoleum knife) at the point where the frond attaches to the trunk. This is called "skinning" which results in a very smooth trunk which some people like. It also lessens the chances of having bark scorpions living and looking for food on the trunk.

            You can remove these older dying fronds any time of the year. If you elect to remove green fronds then remove green fronds that are only in the total shade of its canopy. You can also do this any time of year as well but best done during the summer or late spring months.

Tropical Bird of Paradise Tough to Pull Off in the Desert


Q. How do I plant and care for the “Tropical Bird of Paradise" in the desert?

Growing Tropical Bird of Paradise in the Desert

A. These are those very pretty flowering plants with banana-like leaves you see in San Diego or other places where it does not freeze. Tropical bird of paradise, as its name indicates and you are probably aware, will not handle any freezing temperatures. So this is a plant which has to be protected during the wintertime from extreme cold and winter winds.

            The plant itself can handle temperatures to the mid twenty’s for a short time but the flowers cannot. If flowers or flower buds are present it cannot be subjected to any freezing temperatures at all. This means you can grow it in containers or in the ground provided you take the time and cover it or move it into a protected area to keep it from freezing.

          The second very important item is modification of the soil. Our desert soils will be brutal to tropical bird of paradise but not impossible provided they are amended appropriately. This means you will need to heavily amend any local soil with about 50 to 75% manure-based compost. After planting, the soil should be covered with 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch such as wood chips but not bark mulch.

          Fertilize with manure-based or slow release fertilizers every three months during the growing season. Make sure they are planted with an eastern exposure in filtered shade and not subjected to intense afternoon sunlight.

Sharp Thorns on Grapefruit Might Very Well BE Grapefruit


Q. I read your answer few weeks ago to questions concerning sharp thorns on branches growing from the base of an orange tree. I have a Rio Red Grapefruit semi dwarf tree which is about 3 feet tall. The main trunk is topped buy 3 branches spreading out in different directions. One of the branches has several sharp thorns on it as well as soft thorns to very soft thorns on it. The other branches do not have sharp thorns. My questions are 1) should this branch be removed or is this a normal occurrence and 2) will the sharp thorns soften in time? 


A. Robert passed this to me and before an answer can be given we need to make sure of something . . . The branches with thorns, are you 100% certain they are not a shoot arising from the rootstock? . . Follow it back to where its connected to the trunk and if it arises from down low near or below the soil line then cut it off as it is a rootstock sucker. . . 

Otherwise, many Citrus shoots have thorns that start out soft, become rigid and then, over time most get absorbed back into the plant with maturity. . . . The thorns invariably are on vigorous vegetative shoots that need a period of time before they convert to flowering and fruit producing tissue . . . If the branch isn't hanging near where people walk by and could get stabbed then let the branches go . . Over time they will change from the vigorous to the more sedate fruit producing wood and the thorns will be but a memory . . 
But first make sure the branch(es) with the thorns aren't from the rootstock . . . You do understand the cost for this advice is for you to share those beautiful Rio Reds with friends and neighbors. . . 

Terry Mikel

Ornamental Pear a Good Choice But Needs Special Soil Preparation at Planting


Q. We recently planted a fruitless Bradford Pear tree in the place of a tree that was dead. It is in good soil which I mixed with planting dirt from Star Nursery, where we purchased the tree. It was in a 15 gallon pot and is about 10 feet tall in the ground, so I would think it is possibly two to three years old. I realise this is not the best time of year to put a tree in the  ground, but hope that it's maturity will give it a good start. We had a number of these trees in our yard from new when we lived in Texas and they did very well in the heat there. So I wonder if you have any advice or tips for us now we have one here in Nevada. We did do the 'call before you dig'. Any advice etc will be really appreciated


A. Ornamental pear varieties like Bradford, Chanticleer and others perform reasonably well in our desert keeping in mind they are not desert plants. I have watched them growing for many years along Maryland Parkway in front of the Boulevard Mall and across the street from it.
            They have beautiful blooms in the spring and a nice round, dense canopy provided they are planted and maintained properly. They probably should not go into the hottest part of the landscape with a lot of reflected heat.
            With this in mind they will never perform well for any length of time in a rock mulch landscape. They may do okay growing in rock mulch for a few years but after about five years the leaves will begin to yellow and scorch, the canopy will thin, and branches will die back.

            When this happens, it will be open to borer attacks, the same kind that attack other fruit trees. These trees should be planted in an organic mulch such as wood chips which decompose and add valuable organic material back to the soil.

        Ornamental pears should be planted with lots of organic material in the planting hole, they need to be staked solidly for the first growing season. After the first growing season they should be firmly established in the soil.
            Fertilize them once a year just like you would any other fruit tree. Use a well balanced fertilizer with the three numbers the same such as 8-8-8, 10-10-10, etc or fertilizers sprayed on the foliage 3 to 4 times after the leaves emerge before it gets hot. They will benefit from periodic applications of iron because they will get yellowing from iron chlorosis.
            I like to divide our landscapes into three water use zones; high water use, moderate water use and low water use. These water use zones represent the total amount and frequency of water applied.
            These trees could easily go into the high or moderate water use zones but never the low water use zone. The watering frequency would be the same as other large trees and shrubs as you would apply water under the canopy so that at least half the area under the canopy is wetted to a depth of 18 inches.

Sharp and Soft Thorns on Rio Red Grapefruit a Problem?


Q. I read your answer few weeks ago to questions concerning sharp thorns on branches growing from the base of an orange tree. I have a Rio Red Grapefruit semi dwarf tree which is about 3 feet tall. The main trunk is topped buy 3 branches spreading out in different directions. One of the branches has several sharp thorns on it as well as soft thorns to very soft thorns on it. The other branches do not have sharp thorns. My questions are 1) should this branch be removed or is this a normal occurrence and 2) will the sharp thorns soften in time? 

A. Robert passed this to me and before an answer can be given we need to make sure of something . . . The branches with thorns, are you 100% certain they are not a shoot arising from the rootstock? . . Follow it back to where its connected to the trunk and if it arises from down low near or below the soil line then cut it off as it is a rootstock sucker. . . 

Otherwise, many Citrus shoots have thorns that start out soft, become rigid and then, over time most get absorbed back into the plant with maturity. . . . The thorns invariably are on vigorous vegetative shoots that need a period of time before they convert to flowering and fruit producing tissue . . . If the branch isn't hanging near where people walk by and could get stabbed then let the branches go . . Over time they will change from the vigorous to the more sedate fruit producing wood and the thorns will be but a memory . . 

But first make sure the branch(es) with the thorns aren't from the rootstock . . . You do understand the cost for this advice is for you to share those beautiful Rio Reds with friends and neighbors. . . 
Terry Mikel