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Monday, November 7, 2011

First Fruit Tree Pruning Workshop This Saturday, November 12

I will be holding the first pruning workshop of the season at the UNCE Orchard in North Las Vegas at 9 AM on Saturday, November 12, 2011. This workshop will talk about how to lower fruit trees to make them more manageable from the ground and hopefully eliminate the need for ladders. We typically begin this type of pruning before leaf drop in the fall because we have so many fruit trees to do. The homeowner can wait until after leaf drop in midDecember.

The Orchard volunteers are asking for a $5 donation to help support educational programming at the orchard.

You will learn:
  • how to sharpen, adjust and sanitize your pruning instruments
  • how to make the right kind of cut and where for all fruit trees
Bring your pruning tools and you can help the volunteers lower some trees after you learn how.

aka Extremehort

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cutting Back Tomatoes for Fall Harvest in the Warm Desert

Q. In late February I planted in containers three Hawaiian tomato plants which grew to three feet, produced an abundance medium-sized sweet tomatoes.  By the end of July plants showed signs of dying.  Being from New England I assumed it was the end of the plants life and removed from pots. 

            A friend told me I should have slightly cut back the plants and continued watering. These plants would have made a comeback and produce new flowers and fruit during our fall season.  Would you elaborate on this subject?  I have never heard about tomato plants producing 2 crops.

A. Tomatoes stop setting new fruit as soon as temperatures get into the upper 90’s and so you will harvest these early fruits until usually in July and then it produces no more new fruit until fall again when the temperatures drop back into the lower 90’s.

            I often recommend cutting tomatoes back in late summer when it is no longer producing if you have a warm microclimate in your yard. If you do not have a warm location free from strong winds you probably shouldn’t bother.

            It is very touch-and-go when we do this at the orchard since we are fully exposed to cold northwest winds. Just depends on whether we have a warm fall or not. Late summer is when we begin some of our fall crops and is a good time to plant corn (bet you didn’t do this either in New England).

            So here we can have two springs, one before summer and one after summer (actually fall but acts like spring sometimes). I frequently call our summer “Las Vegas winter” since this is the time of year so many things struggle due to heat and lack of humidity.

            Winter can be a fabulous time for growing fall and spring crops again if you have a protected location or provide some protection if it is exposed.

            Cutting tomatoes back for fall production usually begins in late July or early August. The plants are trimmed back to invigorate new growth and reign them in if getting too large. A small amount of fertilizer is applied at this time to invigorate new growth.

            Foliar sprays are usually best since they don’t last very long but a small amount of quick release fertilizer (straight nitrogen) will work. Let them grow and begin flowering again and set fruit when temperatures drop.

            Be careful not to overfertilize. You should get a nice fall crop of tomatoes. If there is a threat of a freeze in mid December (usually) then cover the tomatoes at night if it is to be a light freeze with a light covering like a row crop cover or old sheet. Remove it in the morning when danger of frost has passed.

            If it is projected to be a hard frost pull the entire plant and hang the plant in the garage or sheltered area and let the tomatoes ripen on the vine in the garage. They will ripen more slowly if not removed from the vine allowing a more sequential ripening than if  you removed them all. Or use green tomatoes.

The Basics on Pruning Apricots and Persian Lime - the basic tree architecture is the same

Q. Could you send me a couple of directions relative to pruning Persian lime and apricot?  Also, any schedule of classes on pruning that might help me.  I am a chef and have some limited time.

A. I will give you my best shot at it without seeing it. Pruning is not a hard science and there are a lot of decisions that have to be made that are very specific to each tree.
Apricot spurs

            Apricots fruit on short flowering branches called spurs. It is important not to remove these short shoots. You will want to open the tree canopy to admit sunlight into the interior. You do this by eliminating the trunk at about 4 feet off of the ground.

            This should result in about eight or so major limbs that come from the trunk. These major limbs should originate from the trunk starting at about the height of your knee and ending around 4 feet off of the ground. These limbs should radiate from the trunk, ideally, so that about two limbs occupy about one fourth of the canopy (about eight total limbs).

            These limbs should radiate from the trunk in a pattern similar to spokes on a wheel so that they do not shade each other. The spacing of the major limbs coming from the trunk is such that hopefully there is at least a foot or more between limbs that originate on top of each other to prevent shading.
Young apple tree showing how limbs radiate from the trunk
using a birdseye view of the young tree. Yes, we prune
apple trees in our moderately high density orchard in an
open center fashion.

            These major limbs may have fruiting spurs coming from them but their primary purpose is to support smaller limbs that have the majority of the fruiting spurs. These smaller limbs should be at a 45° angle, as close as possible, from vertical. This provides the perfect angle for creating flowering spurs.

            Limbs that grow mostly up or mostly down should be eliminated at their source leaving no stubs. As you are finishing your pruning these major limbs should resemble a fan that radiate from the trunk in a fashion so that they do not shade each other, give balance to the canopy and allow filtered light to penetrate to the interior.

            Persian lime is also known as Tahiti lime or a selection of Tahiti called Bearss which is nearly seedless. Regarding the lime, it should be pruned in a similar fashion but the fruiting does not occur on short spurs. Rather, the fruiting occurs on new growth, frequently in the spring after new growth begins to emerge but it can flower later in the year.

            The biggest problem you might have will be protecting the tree from early freezing temperatures and the loss of fruit production because of these freezing or cold temperatures. The concept will be similar in arranging your major limbs to the apricot.

            Citrus usually does not require as much pruning so after you get the major structure established on your tree, you will mostly remove growth which is growing downward, upward or crossing each other besides any broken or damaged branches, limbs or stems. I hope this helps.

Proliferation of Flies in the Las Vegas Valley Causing Havoc (maybe a little exaggerated)

Q. My husband and I spend four months away from the Valley during the summer. When we returned in late September we could not believe the number of flies in our yard.....and because we are used to leaving our doors open....in our house. We have always bragged to those less fortunate than we are and live elsewhere in the country, mainly in the East, how we have virtually no flying insects in Las Vegas. I've had to eat my words this fall....along with some flies. I have not been able to even sit outside and read without being bombarded in the face with these nasty insects. We live in Sun City Anthem....the far southern end of the valley. Is there something blooming/growing in my yard that flies really like? Has anyone else noticed this proliferation?

A. Yours is the first report I have seen about an increase in flies this year. I do not know the products that are used for flight control, which is not an area of expertise for me. I would suggest however that somewhere, someone may be using a source of compost or manure products that are attracting flies.

The best advice I can give in the safest is to find out what is attracting them and where and address the problem there. If you do not do it this way and simply spray to control flies or use some sort of sticky trap you will not solve the problem but just work on the symptoms of a problem. I hope this helps.

I Have Several Questions That I Would Like Assistance With on General Stuff

I have several different questions that I would like assistance with. We have 3/4 acre lot in Las Vegas near the airport, it is sandy, and we have our own well so water is not an issue.

1)      We have just cleared the lot of sticker bushes and various types of weeds, what do you suggest we use to apply to the ground to prevent the weeds from reoccurring?

A. Mulch. Anything that provides complete shade on the ground. 100% shade prevents most weed seeds from germinating. If you want to use plant material and water is not an issue, then turfgrass makes the best groundcover to prevent weed seeds from germinating.

2)      We have just burnt tree limbs. Can we use the ashes to put around trees, and bushes, etc?

A. Yes. It is high in potassium salts. I would not worry about reports that suggest that you not use it.

3)      We would like to grass most of the lot, what type of grass seed do you suggest for sandy soil and well water and when is the best [or latest time] that we should sow the seed next year.

A. This is a loaded question and one I do not like to answer because it can be complicated. Hybrid Bermudagrass. It is not started from seed but from plugs, sprigs or sod. Plant from April to June. You can use common bermudagrass which is started from seed if County regulations allow you to plant it. I don't know where you live but if you are allowed to burn outside then do not overseed it in the fall and burn it back in late winter or early spring just prior to new growth, March or early April.

4)      We will be gone from January - April, can we cut back the tree in January before we leave, they are tall and full and we generally cut them way back in March so not sure we can do it earlier.  They are California peppers and approximately 5 years old.
A. You may prune anytime it is dormant and should be done before new growth in the spring. (Before February)