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Monday, August 29, 2011

Newly Planted Apple Tree Dead

Q. I've attached a picture of what was once a beautiful, thriving Golden Delicious apple tree. Within one week it turned brown and died. It’s a young tree. I didn't plant it myself I purchased my home last July and it had just recently been planted.

Figs Grow Great in the Mojave Desert

Q. A friend of a friend has two fig trees that produce just the best figs I have ever tasted. So I am planning on taking cuttings and eventually planting them in my big back yard with full southern exposure. However we do not know what variety they are, so is there an easy way of identifying them and knowing whether they are self-pollinating, i.e. whether I need to plant two of these trees?

A. All of the figs I have tested here in our climate do well with very few problems. It is just a matter of your preference in taste. Normally, the darker colored figs such as black mission or brown Turkey have a stronger flavor. The yellow or white figs are milder in flavor. The biggest mistake when growing figs here in our climate is not watering them with enough water during each irrigation. They are oasis plants, not desert plants.
One of our "white" figs, perhaps 'Desert King'

Nearly all figs are self-fertile so there’s no need to have more than one. There are so many different varieties of figs it would be very difficult to identify which fig it might be. However, if you send me a picture of the fresh fruit so that I can see outside fruit color and color inside the fruit (cut open) I might be able to narrow it down for you.

Also, let me know if it was purchased through a local nursery since they typically carry the more common varieties. This also helps narrow it down. Follow my blog and I will give you some step by step instructions on how to propagate figs and grapes as well in the near future.

Lowering the Height of a Large Tree

Q. I have a view of the valley for a few months of the year when the leaves of many trees behind my property are gone. The partial view is still manageable the rest of the year except for a tree that is very, very full and you can see nothing beyond or through it. I know I can't ask for that tree to be topped. But what would happen if I asked for some branches to be removed in the middle of the tree so that it wouldn't be obvious to anyone? Before I go before a Board and ask such a question, I would appreciate your views on doing this and what the consequences might be down the line.

My Lawn Is Watered Enough It Has To Be Bugs!

Q. Do I have a bug problem? Spots in various areas of the lawn. I water enough.

Lawn suffering from a lack of water. Brown areas are
undefined and kind of run into each other. Pattern
of damage is related to the irrigation pattern.

A. So if you believe you water enough let’s go ahead and eliminate the possibility that you underwatering, overwatering, and getting even water coverage over the entire lawn through a properly designed and installed irrigation system.

That system should have what is called head-to-head coverage (water from one sprinkler should be throwing water all the way to the neighboring sprinkler) and a pressure regulator should be on the system so that water pressure at the sprinklers is not excessive. This helps prevent misting due to excessive water pressure.
This is the lawn disease called "summer patch". It has a
definite pattern to it. Kind of horseshoe-shaped
or the brown damage has a green patch in the center.
 Can you see the pattern?
Brown spots from watering problems usually occur in the same spots year after years and do not “move around” in the lawn. These spots are usually either next to the irrigation heads, halfway between heads or along the edges of an irregularly shaped lawn.

 So now that we have eliminated those problems since you water enough let’s move on to “bugs”. “Bugs” will usually include either insects or diseases. In tall fescue, the most commonly planted lawn grass for homeowners here in our valley, this is the time of year for disease problems. The most common lawn disease right now is summer patch and often accompanies our “summer monsoon” season.
Here is "summer patch" when you look
at a bunch of the running together.
We say the pattern has
"coalesced" resulting in tufts of green
grass growing in among the damage.
The spots start out as brown patches about 8 to 12 inches in diameter and frequently shaped like a partial circle or horseshoe. As this disease advances these brown spots blend together, if there are enough of them, into a wiggly or “snake” pattern of brown, dead grass. If you look at the green grass in amongst the dead grass, the green grass will be in circles about six to eight inches in diameter.

Make sure you are watering a few hours before sunrise, giving the lawn a chance to dry out as the sun comes up. Mow at 2 to 2 ½ inches in height. You can apply a fungicide that includes summer patch disease on the label and follow label directions.

Stop Horsing Around With Those Fruit Trees

Pruning cut healing with the cambium and wood "rolling"
over the damaged area.

Q. Short story, we had a horse get out of their corral while we were out of the house today for probably 4-5 hours. While out, he ate most of the bark of 60% of the trunk of one of our pear trees. The tree has quite a bit of fruit on it right now, we are more concerned with saving the tree than this years crop. Suggestions or ideas on anything you would suggest we should do would be very much appreciated. We live out near the orchard in the northwest, the “exposed” part is a direct west sunlight direction.

A. Long answer. The good part of this is that your tree, provided it is healthy, will probably survive. I have had fruit trees with that much damage to the trunk survive in the past. Your horse probably ate all the way down to the wood. This means that the tissue which transports food from the leaves to the roots is gone in that area as well as the tissue which transports water from the roots to the leaves. With 40% intact on the trunk the tree may struggle but it should still survive.

I would recommend that you mulch the ground around the trunk with wood mulch which you can obtain free from our orchard. Saturate the ground around the trunk of the tree with water 2 to 3 times each week. Clean the wound created by the horse with a sharp, sterile knife, cleaning the jagged edges of the damaged bark so that it is smooth. You do not need to paint the wound with anything. Just let it go after you have traced the wound with your knife. Make sure you fertilize the tree next January and each January while it is trying to heal. Enjoy the fruit. But next year thin the fruit out why it is the size of the silver dollar so there is only one fruit per cluster.

Planting Blueberries In The Hot Desert And Poor Soils Of Las Vegas? Hahahahaha. Maybe.

Q. I am interested in planting various fruit trees in my backyard. One that I am curious about is growing blueberries in our region. Do you know how they do here? Would you have any recommendations? I did not realize the varieties of blueberry plants that are out there! In my search I also came across pink lemonade blueberries, I am definitely interested, but I do not want to put forth the effort if they will not be a productive plant in our area.

A. This is the case where your gardening skills are going to be challenged. They are definitely not suited to our climate and definitely not suited to our soils. So let’s give it a try! This means we have to modify the climate they are in as much as possible and also the soils.

Pick a microclimate in your landscape that will be as cool as possible yet still provide 6 to 8 hours of sunlight everyday and out of strong winds. This would most likely be an east or north side of a landscape that avoids late afternoon direct sunlight. Find a location or create a location that is protected from prevailing strong winds.

Next, modify the soil. Blend anywhere from half to 2/3 of the existing soil with a good quality compost. To this mix, and sulfur that is as finely ground as you can find or in a liquid form. If you are not opposed to it, and aluminum sulfate to help lower the alkalinity. Water the soil thoroughly and let it drain several times before planting.

Use only southern high bush blueberries in the planting holes and space them according to the directions. Stake the plants securely in the soil the first season of growth. You will need pollenizers so make sure you get the correct blueberries together for good fruit set. Drip irrigation can be used or you can flood the area with water from bubblers.

Cover the planting area with 3 to 4 inches of wood mulch, keeping the mulch away about 6 inches from stems that enter the soil. Grow them for one season and see how they do. If you see signs of leaf scorching on the edges you might to put 30% shade cloth over the top of them to help them a bit from intense sunlight.

Every year you should be adding compost and acidifying the soil with finely ground sulfur or aluminum sulfate plus a good fertilizer and a soil applied iron chelate containing EDDHA. This is done in the spring before you see new growth. This should help get you started.

In the Desert, No Water - No Plants

Q. I live in Arizona and don’t know much about plants and gardening. I do have aspirations to do more. I’m loving your blog and working on reading back posts. I would like to get your recommendations on what kind of tree to plant. I have a rental property where the entrance to the property is plantless and has a small gravel landscape. I’ve included a picture of the property with boxes around where I’d like to do something. There is no water source. I would like to plant a tree or maybe bushes in front to add color and make it more appealing. Since there is no water source it would need to have low water needs. Something without thorns is ideal because there are children. However because kids climb trees maybe thorns are good to prevent them from climbing and stressing the tree. What would you recommend?

A. You will have a rough time without a source of water and it is doomed to fail or look horrible. Plant quality is directly related to the amount of water it receives. Our research has shown even a 25% decrease in water will lead to unacceptable plant quality. In the desert you have to have a source of water for urban plants particularly on a rental property. Once you have water established then let me know where you are and your elevation and I can forward some recommendations.

Wrapping Cactus in Burlap for Winter Protection

Q. I bought 3 cacti about 8 years ago and don't know their variety. Most tall cacti I see around town are very old Saguaros. The biggest one towers over the cactus garden at nearly 12' high growing over a foot per year! Can you identify them? Also the photos show problems that I hope are cosmetic. By the way, I have never wrapped them to protect from the frost and now they are just too big to reach. Do you know how tall this kind of cactus get in Las Vegas?

Cactus with blemishes. Not that it is on older pads
and stems, not the newer ones indicating
that it was probably caused awhile ago
and the newer growth appears to be fine.

A. For identification of cacti I would get hold of the local cactus and succulent society in Las Vegas. I am not a huge fan of wrapping saguaros during the winter. I believe this causes more damage than it does good particularly if we have a wet winter. Note that the discoloration occurs on some older pads and stems while the newer growth doesn't have it. Whatever it was happened at one point in time and is not affecting it anymore.

I’ve seen them wrapped in burlap here and personally believe this is a mistake. One wet winter when they were unwrapped they were covered in surface blemishes, perhaps bacterial necrosis from having wet burlap in continuous contact with the plants surface.

A certain amount of scabbing or blemishes are going to occur and all plants and should not be a problem if the plant is healthy enough to contain them. You might want to consult http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/diseases/az1124  for more information.

Yes Canna Lilies Can Be Dead Headed

Tropicana Canna Lily
Canna Lily 'Tropicana' picture obtained

Q. Dead-heading canna lilies seems to work but results in the stalk getting very high and less stable as the flowers become smaller. At times I'll cut the stalk off at it's base if the leaves start to lose color or get wind-tattered but the plant may get really thinned out especially as winter approaches. Is there a best way to dead-head canna to get maximum flowers?

A. It sounds as if you're doing it correctly. As the individual flowers fade or are spent, twist them off of the flower stalk.  Some flowers will be smaller than others.  Dead-heading flowers doesn't necessarily mean the flowers remaining on the stalk will get a lot bigger.  It does conserve energy for the entire plant so the number of flowers or the relative size will increase overall and help conserve energy for growth and flower production in future years.  You were still going to see a difference in flowers size among the flowers on a single stalk.  As the flower numbers in size and no longer serve you, then remove the entire stock at its base.

By the way, canna lilies very well in our desert climate and add a touch of a tropical feeling to any landscape design.

Watermelons can be thumped, turn yellow and grow pigtails when ripe

Crimson Sweet watermoelon and
Persian melon at the orchard

Q. I have several watermelons on the vine. How am I able to tell when they're ripe? Can you "store them" on the vine? I had one split open by itself and it was mostly white inside. After 50 years I still have trouble buying a commercial watermelon, whenever I think I have found the right characteristics I'm proved wrong.
A. Watermelons do not continue to ripen after they are picked so what is important to pick them at the right time. This is not true of many of the other melons such as muskmelon. Once picked from your garden, you can store many melons at 50-60° F for a couple of weeks. This may not be true of store bought melons.

Basically there are three methods used for determining if a melon is ripe or not. This includes the color of the melon touching the ground, thumping them and drying of the tendrils on the vine close to the fruit. Personally I just use two; the color of the melon touching the ground and thumping. Tendrils are tiny extensions of the vine close to the fruit that look a little bit like a corkscrew or pig’s tale.

The bottom of a watermelon should be turning lemon yellow instead of pale yellow or white on many watermelons. Thumping watermelons can be tricky unless you can learn what the thump is supposed to sound like. It should have a dull, resonating sound that vibrates through the entire melon. It is important to pickup a melon to thump it, not leave it on the ground when thumping. If you’re in a store, pick it up to thump it.

Don't Let Anyone Call You A Plant Butcher - Pruning Shrubs In July

Q.  I have some bushes in the front garden that hide the front door. Due to a recent break in on our block, I want to trim these bushes. However, if I trim them as low as I'd like, it would expose bare branches. Will exposing these bare branches cause new growth to occur or do I have to cut them to the ground and start over?

Pruning cuts like this heading cut results in
many side buds below the cut growing, all fighting
for light and dominance.

Closeup of heading cut and side buds breaking

A.  I would not cut these branches at this time of the year which is late summer. Light pruning can be done during the summer months but if you cut into older wood you may cause some serious damage. Wait to do this type of pruning until at least mid fall, around October. It would be good to know what kind of shrub it is. Some shrubs respond to pruning very nicely while others really struggle to grow back. In making the pruning cuts it would be wise to make thinning cuts rather than heading cuts. Heading cuts are like giving the shrub a butch haircut. We usually call this type of pruning, butchering. Cuts are made indiscriminately anywhere along the branches frequently all of the same height. This is a big no no no no no.

Shrub showing lots of older wood that may
be slow to come back from pruning
cuts particularly during summer months

Thinning cuts are removal of entire branches back to another major branch that leaving no stub. Identify the branches which are the tallest visually. Follow this branch down along its length until it intersects with another major branch. If this intersection is low enough, make the cut so that it removes the taller branch that you followed. The cut is made flush, leaving no stub. Identify another tall branch and do the same thing, tracing its length down inside the canopy until it intersects with another branch and remove it. Do this until all of the branches which are too tall have been removed to another major branch deeper inside the canopy.

This technique called thinning maintains the integrity of the shrub and its eye-appeal without damaging it and causing a surge of growth that will be unsightly. If you do this, no one can call you a plant butcher.

Getting to the Root of the Tree Problem. Can I cut them?

Roots to be cut by reader
Q. I have, what I believe is a Fan Tex Ash Tree in our backyard. There are some roots that are on the top of the ground that are lifting up a concrete edging. My question: is it safe to cut these roots out so I can put the concrete edging back down. Attached are pictures. The first two are the roots in question. The third is an overall picture of the tree. We have only been in the house since November, but the tree seems to be in good health. It has a nice shape and when the leaves were still there it looked quite nice. By the way, I would estimate the roots have a diameter of 4 or 5 inches (but that’s just a guess).

A. You can safely cut and remove the roots you have shown me without any problems. Make sure you sanitize your cutting equipment and keep the wounds sanitized and clean for about 48 hours after you cut them to prevent any type of infections. This can be done with alcohol.

A bigger problem that faces you is how close the tree is to the wall. This tree is far too close to that wall and will eventually cause the wall to crack and heave. I would recommend that you remove that tree in the next few years.

Now is a good time to make a new selection, plant it and get some size on it so that you can remove the ash. Keep trees at a distance from walls at least half the radius of the canopy (1/4 of the diameter of its canopy spread at mature height).

Someone's Drilling Holes in my Trees!

Sapsucker damage to upper limbs of apple

Sapsucker picture I found on the web, not sure its the
right one but the idea is the same

Damage to another apple
Q. I have a nine year old semi-dwarf green gage plum tree in my yard. About a month ago I noticed about 20 small holes grouped together on one of the limbs. Each hole is a little less than 1/4 " in diameter. I can see no other holes on the tree. It is as if someone had taken a drill and drilled several small holes on the limb, and deep enough to get through the bark and slightly into the flesh of the tree. Any idea what may be causing this? This has never happened before. I did dormant spray the tree in early January. Do I need to spray the tree with insecticide?
A. This is most likely sapsucker damage to the tree. Sapsuckers are birds in the woodpecker family of birds that make holes in trees and feed on the sap or look for insects. I believe they are migratory here and cause damage as they pass through this part of the country. If I am seeing the image in my mind correctly this is not due to insects or borers. This is what the damage looks like. The best control is to protect the trunk or limbs with wire cloth or chicken wire. We have trees that get damaged in the orchard by these birds and they have survived this way many years as long as they are healthy. It is definitely not good for the trees but there are not many other alternatives They seem to like some varieties of fruit trees more than others.

Getting Those Fall Tomatoes Producing in the Hot Desert is a Challenge.

Q. I have no problem getting medium-sized tomato fruit from my Spring crop. The fall crop has been another matter. It is a game I play every year, much like Lucy holding the football for Charley Brown in the comics, only to pull it away at the last minute as he tries to kick the ball. The trick is to start plants early enough to have ripe fruits by December, but not too early to watch plant growth succumb to the feedings of white flies, aphids and tomato fruit worms. This year I lost again. Our first frost came a week earlier than I expected. Trays of green tomatoes anointed with an ethylene-producing apple ripen in trays in my garage, presaging another crop of fried green tomatoes for our dietary this December. Yet there is a bright side. This year I have grown the largest green tomatoes yet, suggesting the heat of May probably suppresses growth of larger fruits in Spring. So much for trying to grow beefsteak and other types of allegedly huge tomatoes next Spring. But come next August, as the eternal optimist, Early Girl and I shall try again.

A. In this climate is very discouraging in the fall with tomatoes due to the short season we have from ideal fruit setting temperatures around 90F and below and the number of days till frost. And of course as the frost approaches these fruit slow down as well. In the spring it is more ideal since we have some good fruit setting temperatures and then the heat comes. The tomato fruit likes the heat so that doesn’t interfere with production. They stop setting around 95F so you get a bunch of tomatoes that set at temperatures below 95F and the vines stop producing usually in late July. Late July is the time to begin cutting them back, fertilizing and getting set for fall temperatures below 95F.

This past fall we had an unusually early frost in November so unless they were protected the vines died. There are a couple of approaches that can be used for fall production of tomatoes. One is to remove tomatoes when they no longer produce and replant with varieties that produce in fewer days. Early Girl is a good choice with setting fruit at 50 to 62 days after transplanting but even better choices are the cherry, grape and pear types that set fruit easily in our climate.

One technique I have used in the past is to pull the entire plant from the ground before a freeze and hang it in the garage. The fruits will continue to ripen on the vine and slowly rather than ripening all at once as they do when they are picked from the vine. You don’t need the apple. Once picked they start producing their own ethylene but putting a very ripe banana or apple (banana is best) will hasten the ripening process.

Leaving Almonds on the Tree After They Split Can Lead to Problems

Almond splitting

Q. We have an All-In-One almond tree with the shells just now starting to break through the skins. I was told that September is when the nuts are harvested. I’m wondering if you have a rule of thumb on harvesting these trees.


Green almonds at the right stage for harvesting
 A. You can start harvesting any time after the husk splits open. The sooner the better if you want to avoid problems. If you do not have ground squirrel problems that will steal the nuts from your trees. Insects will enter the split husk if you are not careful. If there is rain you run the risk of having the nuts mold after splitting. When you see them split, harvest and put them in a protected area in the shade to finish drying. Then you can leave them on the tree and let them Dry there. If you have ground squirrels, then it is best to begin to harvest them now and put them somewhere to dry. Ground squirrels can clean up the tree in one or two days. They will be all gone. Right now at the orchard ground squirrels have devastated most of the remaining almonds on the tree.

Green almond taken from the husk at the right stage

We harvested most of the almonds green last April. Green almonds are used in some Mediterranean recipes. We sold them through a broker to one of the San Francisco farmer markets for $4.00 a pound. Birds can also cause damage but ground squirrels are the worst. I have attached a picture of an Almond which is ready to harvest. Some almonds will split entirely open to the nut while others do not.