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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Cilantro, Parsley and Basil Are Easy to Grow in the Desert

Q. Please, I would like to know what is the best way to grow Cilantro, Italian parsley and basil in Las Vegas. I have tried several times growing them in pots from small plants or directly transplanting them to the raised bed we have. I am not sure if I water them in excess or not enough but the leave start falling out or dry out.

A. All three of these are pretty easy to grow here if you have prepared your soil adequately and growing them at the right time of year. All three can handle full sun but they should not be put into areas of the landscape that are extraordinarily hot due to reflected heat from walls in the late afternoon.
Basil test plots in North Las Vegas. Here we grew 17 varieties of basil and all of them did well under drip irrigation.
I have grown all three of them frequently and have had no problems with them except some insect management. Basil loves the heat and should not be put in the garden until temperatures start to warm
up, perhaps late March or early April if temperatures are warm. They do not like cool temperatures below 55° F.

Cilantro and Italian parsley also do very well here but prefer cooler temperatures of spring and fall rather than the heat of our summer. A great time to plant cilantro and Italian parsley is in the early fall or late summer when temperatures begin to cool off.

Italian parsley growing in North Las Vegas with drip irrigation
If we have a hard freeze you might lose them during the winter months but if winters are mild and you place them in a warm part of the landscape protected from wind they will probably survive the winter. After it gets established and growing well, basil can handle temperatures all the way down to freezing but nothing below freezing.

Parsley Hamburg growing in North Las Vegas. The only problem I had with it was dodder one year.
When temperatures get cold in the late fall and you fear a freeze, throw a light sheet or even better a crop cover over the top of them just before sundown when soils are still warm. This will protect them 5 to 6° F below their freezing point.

Your basic elements of success in this order will be planting at the right time, soil preparation, watering correctly, protection from bugs and location in the yard for protection from cold and wind.

Leaf cutter be damage to basil
Insect problems, generally speaking, include aphids and “worms” which are larva of moths mostly. I would focus on for organic options; insecticidal soap, oils such as horticultural oil or Neem, Bt or Spinosad and a pyrethrum product for fast knockdown. I would use them in rotation as pests begin to appear in the spring and as needed. Leaf cutter bees can be a problem on basil but I do not recommend any insecticides. It is better to cover basil with insect netting or ignore it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Another African Sumac Dropping Leaves in Summer

Q. I have a concern about our 10 year old African Sumac. Is it normal for it to lose large amounts of leaves in the summer? There is new growth, but it is not full and bushy as others in the neighborhood.

A. No, it is not. But be aware that African sumac is a very messy tree for a variety of reason. I have posted information on this on my blog.
African sumac in bloom in February. Achooooo.....

Rose Primer for the Desert

Hybrid Tea rose  'Las Vegas'
Q. I enjoy your page in the RJ, but I cannot see that you ever write about ROSE BUSHES.  We inherited these 14 year old, (estimate), bushes when we bought this house in 2011.  I ask friends, that have roses, and up until this summer, used Lady Bugs, Rose food, have hosed out salts from the roots, etc.  The bushes take up one side of the front of my walk way, plus in 3 other places, and it is important to me, that they look nice.Thank you for your thoughts on my problem.

A. Thanks for asking that question. I seldom generate my own questions so I rely on the public to send these questions to me. It is my hope that people who read my blog and newspaper article will ask questions that many other people are also asking themselves. I seldom try to "second-guess" what people are thinking. Let's cover some general tips on roses and this would be posted on my blog and an abbreviated form of it in my gardening column.

There are two Rose Societies in the Las Vegas Valley; the long-standing Las Vegas Valley Rose Society and a second one which split from the original as the Las Vegas valley became larger, South Valley Rose Society

Get information about the Las Vegas Rose Society
Go to the South Valley Rose Society website

I consider many of these members to be outstanding Rosarians and I defer to them and their expertise. However, I will give you my version of growing roses here in the eastern Mojave Desert.

Roses do extremely well in our climate. The "winter" for roses is during the heat of the summer; June July and August. Expect that roses will look their worst in these months. The rest of the year
Rosa canina, dog rose, used in Central Asia for its high Vitamin C content
they do beautifully and are very prolific bloomers. If you want your roses to bloom during late December and January, plant them close to a south facing wall that throws radiant heat out during the winter.

Our garden rose takes many different forms from miniatures to climbing roses to the garden rose in its many forms such as the Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Grandiflora and the so-called shrub roses. Shrub roses is a catchall category for those that don't fit anything else. All of them will grow in our climate but an excellent grower and hybridizer of roses, 

puts together a list of roses that do well in our desert climate and publishes it every year 

If you are planning to grow roses, I would strongly suggest that you pay very close attention to your Rose selection by following lists such as these. These are solid recommendations.
Rose 'Nevada' a semi-doubled shrub rose developed in 1927. 

Blah, Blah, Blah. Most of the roses that are popular among home gardeners are what we call "repeat bloomers". Roses weren't always like this. Roses grew in different places all over the world including the Americas but the ancestors of what we now recognize as a modern garden rose had its origins most likely in western China and Central Asia. These areas of the world are very dry. International traders like Marco Polo, before and after him, moved these roses all over the world including the Middle East, northern Africa Eastern Europe and Western Europe. 

Before and after these roses were moved internationally, horticulturists and gardeners began to breed them for different traits. The two traits that probably dominated most of the breeding early on was flower color and repeat blooming. Once the repeat bloomer discovered in China was identified, there was a scramble by many ancient Rose enthusiasts to "breed" this trait into the garden rose. VoilĂ . All of our popular garden roses now are repeat bloomers. Other traits popular were oil production and floral aroma which is tied very closely to the type of oils produced.

Marco Polo trade routes from China
Moving roses from dry Central Asia and western China to the wetter climates of Europe produced an increased number of disease and insect problems. We can see the reverse of this when we grow roses in desert climates. We see disease and insect problems are normally minimal so the need for spraying roses in our climate because of diseases and insects is small.
Aphids on unopened rose flower buds

Selection of roses for the home garden. Use a list like the one I talked about earlier to pick a variety that does best in our desert climate. Nearly all other varieties will do well but growing those selected for the desert that will tolerate the heat and our soils will do better than others.

Straight phosphorus

Planting roses. If you plant into native desert soil, blend this soil with an equal amount of good quality compost. If you are using a good quality soil mix, plant directly into this mix without amending the soil. Add a starter fertilizer high in phosphorus mixed into the backfill surrounding the roots at the time of planting.

Always plant into a "wet" hole, never plant directly into dry soil or a dry soil mix.

Wood chip mulch, not bark mulch, for soil improvement
Always cover the surface of the soil with 3 to 4 inches of mulch that decomposes adding organic matter to the soil as it does. This type of mulch is a "wood chip mulch", not a bark mulch or a rock mulch. If you must use a bark mulch, then use a wood chip mulch first and cover the surface last with bark mulch.
Fertilizers. When first planting roses use a fertilizer high in phosphorus blended into the backfill at the time of planting. Or just use a straight phosphorus fertilizer instead. Once planted, focus on getting some size on the plant by using fertilizers high in nitrogen.
Good high phosphorus fertilizer for roses

Applying a fertilizer once a year in January is sufficient but if you really want roses that "show off" then fertilize more often with a smaller amount of fertilizer each time. Once the rose has established some size in the second or third year of growth, it is ready to start a regular fertilizer schedule focused on flower production. 

Put your first fertilizer application on the soil in January along with a good iron fertilizer such as iron chelate as EDDHA. If you apply iron to the soil, only one application of iron is needed. Apply a fertilizer the second time in April before it gets hot. Avoid fertilizing roses during the heat of the summer.
As the temperatures begin to cool, in mid-September  to early October, make a third application of fertilizer. Just before cold weather sets in, make your fourth application around Thanksgiving. Once roses are mature enough to begin heavy flower production, focus your fertilizers on moderate levels to low levels of nitrogen (the first number) and moderate to high levels of phosphorus (the second number). Always keep your potassium levels moderate to high (third number).

Foliar fertilizer for flowering
You can always substitute foliar applications of a good fertilizer instead of applying it to the soil but this requires more equipment and effort on your part. Foliar applications to roses can be a problem at times because of damage to the flowers.

Some people like to apply Epsom salts to roses. That is a personal choice and there are claims about the value of Epsom salts to roses by many Rosarians.

Irrigation. Roses do extremely well with drip irrigation and wood chip mulch. Use two emitters per plant, one on either side of the plant about 6 to 12 inches away from its center depending on the size of the rose. Once roses are established, water them 2 to 3 times a week during the heat of the summer provided you have the soil covered with wood chip mulch. They will probably need water more often if you don't. 

As temperatures cool in the spring and fall months, water less often but with the same number of minutes for each irrigation. During the winter you may be applying water only once every seven days to two weeks depending on whether your rose is producing flowers or has gone dormant for the winter.

Drip emitter for precise irrigation
The number of minutes to water depends on the other plants on the same irrigation valve. Note the number of minutes you are currently using and select a drip emitters size that will give you 2 to 3 gallons from each emitter during those minutes.

An example: you are planting roses that will use water from an irrigation line which delivers water for 30 total minutes in that irrigation cycle. Answer: Two, 5 gallon per hour drip emitters will deliver a total of 5 gallons in 30 minutes. You would use two, 5 gallon emitters.

Example 2: you are planting roses that will use water from an irrigation line which delivers water for 20 total minutes in an irrigation cycle. Answer: use three emitters. Three, 4 gallon per hour emitters will deliver 4 gallons in 20 minutes. Use three, 4 gallon per hour emitters.

Powdery mildew of rose
Pruning. Major pruning is done in late December to early January. Light pruning can be done at any time. Light pruning is removal of new growth only, such as suckers and growth which is vertical.

Another form of pruning is deadheading. Deadheading is removing old, spent flowers when they are no longer pretty. This will help to encourage more flowers and improves the look of the plants. Remove these flowers at any time they are finished.

Insects and diseases. As I said earlier, insects and diseases are not very common in our desert climate. However, they do occur. Insects to be on the lookout for include aphids, flower thrips, spider mites, leaf cutter bee and cane borer. Japanese beetle has never been reported in southern Nevada and, to my knowledge, mossy gall wasp has not as well.

Iron chlorosis on apricot but shows green veins and yellow
Diseases from disease organisms are infrequent but occasionally occur when overhead irrigation is used (spraying the foliage with water), roses are planted in areas where there is excessive shade or very poor air movement. 

The most common disease is powdery mildew. This can be controlled by selecting a variety that is less susceptible to powdery mildew (another reason to use the list I mentioned earlier) and the crown gall. Other diseases of roses such as black spot, botrytis, winter cold damage or canker are hardly ever, if ever, a problem. 

Problems not caused by disease organisms include iron chlorosis, wind damage and root rots that cause dieback or death from watering too often or poor soil drainage.

When buying roses, make an investment. By a good quality rose right at the start.

Attention All Grade 3 Students Who Want to Garden!

The Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program Registration is open now and it is free! 

Gardening teaches kids where food comes from, healthy eating and heightens their engagement with nature. A great way to get kids started in the garden is the National Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program, it’s free to any third grade classroom in the country (48 contiguous states), and kids love it!
The program began in 1995 at Bonnie Plants headquarters in Alabama, by 2002; it grew by leaps and bounds and now includes 48 states! Bonnie Plants initiated the program with a mission to inspire a love of vegetable and herb gardening in young people. Each year, Bonnie trucks more than one million free O.S. Cross cabbage plants to 3rd grade classrooms across the country.

Calling all Third Graders! Have you ever tried growing your own food right in your own backyard? Whether you’ve thought about it or not, you can do it, and the National Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program will help you.

Here’s how it works…. Every third grade classroom in the 48 contiguous states is invited to join
this fun, free, colossal cabbage growing contest. Yes, it’s a National contest! Growing a cabbage provides third grade students with a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship from Bonnie Plants, plus statewide recognition. Bonnie Plants awards a scholarship to one winner from each state.

Third Grade Teachers: If your third grade class isn’t already registered for this exciting program, it’s simple to get started. You can easily register your class online at www.bonnieplants.com. Just fill out the registration form and submit. Once registered, Bonnie

Plants will truck, direct to your classroom, enough cabbage plants for each of your third grade students to take home and grow. Delivery date(s) are based on geographic region. The cabbage provided is an O.S. Cross; the “O.S.” stands for “oversized” and this variety can grow to be gigantic! In 8 to 10 weeks after planting, students should have a huge, healthy cabbage ready for harvest and program entry.

To view past winners and learn more about the Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program contest visit www.bonnieplants.com and click on the “Cabbage Program” tab at top of screen.

Green Earth Media Group
Joan Casanova
203 292 8820
203 610 2069 (cell)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

What's Wrong with My Pampas Grass?

Q. My question is about our pampas grass which is now about six or seven years old. In the beginning the plumes were white, but now are brownish yellow. In fact, they look dirty. I notice too most of the plumes are coming on only half of the plant. 

Pampas grass flowering
A. Pampas grass is native to the grasslands and plains of South America. It has evolved with fire which is a clue about how to manage it. In the wild, range fires every few years keep these things burned to the ground and renewed naturally.
            By the way, the standard size pampas grass is very large and should not be used in landscapes that do not have the room to support its growth. There are dwarf forms of this plant that would be more suitable and in a variety of colors.
They are a pain in the neck to prune and some people burn them to the ground every three or four years where burning is permitted. If burning is not permitted, they may be cut to the ground and hauled off. This avoids the problems surrounding fire. Burning or pruning helps renew the plant and keeps its growth more evenly balanced. 
When pampas grass first blooms, the plumes may be an assortment of colors depending on the type of pampas grass. After a short time the flowers may begin to turn an off shade of the same color.
Pampas grass continually puts on new growth from short rhizomes on the periphery of the plant. As it does this, the center may stop being very productive. In some cases parts of the plant may die as they get older, larger and overgrown. 
Giving the plant adequate water, fertilizer in early spring and pruning it properly should help quite a bit in maintaining good growth and color.

Remove "Arms" Of Mediterranean Fan Palm To Make It More Open

Q. We have seven Mediterranean fan palms in our yard, one of which has an “arm” which will eventually block easy access to walk around that side of the house. Is it harmful to the palm to cut off this arm? If not, is there a time of year that is best to do so? How many “arms” can this type of palm sustain? Is there a suggested maximum?
Mediterranean fan Palm with a pruned canopy to make it more open
A. Mediterranean fan palm is meant to be a clumping palm with many side shoots that makes a canopy which is a dense, half circle if it is left undisturbed. Many people will remove some more many of these “arms” to make it more open. In some cases I have seen all of them removed except for the middle one.
You can cut them back to the ground or even below ground at their point of origin in the clump. In fact, that is the best way to do it. 
You can prune these palms nearly any time of the year but it is best to do it during warm weather so they have a chance to heal. 

Remove soil from that side and cut it off with a reciprocating saw or handsaw after the blade has been sanitized with alcohol or dilute concoction of 5% bleach and water. If using bleach, oil the blade afterwards. 
Replace the soil after a several days when the wound has healed. They are more visually appealing with an odd number of “arms” so three, five or seven going in different directions and with a balanced canopy is usually the best looking.

Leafhoppers Are Pesky on Grapes Now

Q. I have a lot of  midgets or gnats in the leaves of my grape trees.  I don’t know what to do to kill them. If I touch the leaves these insects will fly all over me.

A. These are more likely leafhoppers and not gnats or midges. I have had others report these as gnats too but after confirming their presence with some pictures they agreed they were leafhoppers.
Leafhopper damage on grapes
Leafhoppers are very small and jump rather than fly. There can be hundreds, if not thousands right about now on grapes. They cause some leaf yellowing, black specks on the leaves and fruit.
The biggest problem with them is they are a nuisance. They will jump in your face and mouth when you walk by a grape vine. Here are some posts on my blog about leafhoppers on grapes

Not much will work on them when they are adults like now. You can try soap sprays but I would not do much until next year. A couple of applications of Spinosad in late April and May to the undersides of leaves and tops will knock the populations back along with horticultural oils applications while it is cool in the late spring.

Figs, Blueberries and Strawberries for Las Vegas

Q. Can you give me any particulars as to growing a fig tree, blueberry bush and strawberries?  It would be helpful if you have any information as to the varieties of each.

One of the yellow or white figs

A. Figs do very well here and any variety will grow. They love this climate. You will get two crops every year if you prune them correctly. 
Yellow figs like Kadota are milder in flavor and usually preferred for cooking. While the
purple and “black” varieties have a stronger flavor and used for drying, jams and preserves.
Figs will not be productive here without plenty of water so the biggest mistake people make is not keeping the soil around the roots moist. 
Use wood chip surface mulches to preserve soil moisture. Treat them like any other fruit tree except for pruning. 
Blueberries are more difficult to grow in our climate and are not a good plant for the desert. People do grow them here and they do produce but require extra care and good gardening techniques. Don’t grow them unless you want to put in the effort. 
Blueberry growing in Las Vegas at a home residence
Grow them in containers or tubs because the soil is easier to manipulate. I discourage people from planting blueberries in this climate unless they are an accomplished gardener. Learn the basics and then you can try exotics like blueberries. 
Surprisingly good at lowering pH
If they simply must have them then they should have a very high percentage of quality compost in the soil and the soil covered in wood chip mulch. Expose them to as much sun as possible with protection from late afternoon direct sunlight. 
Focus your selections on southern highbush types with a low chilling requirement. There have been no trials conducted in our climate so I can only guess at which varieties to try. Though varieties I would look closely at include Misty, Sharpblue, Sunshine Blue and perhaps Southmoon.
Misty is one of the better ones in a desert climate. Your selections should be self-fruitful. The soil will be much easier to manage because if adding some acidifying agent such as finely ground soil sulfur, aluminum sulfate or Organic Magic. Organic Magic That drops the pH very fast compared to sulfur.
Strawberries are in between these two in difficulty; not as easy as figs and not as difficult as blueberries. They require soils similar to tomatoes for good growth; a well-drained vegetable soil with plenty of compost.

Quinault Strawberry starting to set fruit in a container with surface mulch of pine shavings growing at Viragrow
Like any fruit crop, give them as much light as possible but protect them from late afternoon sun. They are shallow rooted so water them like you would most vegetables. Fertilize them just after then finish producing which varies with the strawberry whether it’s an Everbearer or main crop type. 
Varieties are important. Stay with the Everbearing varieties rather than main crop types when selecting for home gardens. Use a surface mulch to keep soils moist and avoid letting the soil get too dry in the summer months.  
There is lots of general growing advice on the internet on things that are not as critical when growing in the desert.