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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Planting Vegetables from Seed in January

I have seen garden editors right that there is very little to do in January. How wrong! This is a very busy time of the year for vegetable production. In our cold desert climate with warm days and cold nights some of the best vegetables of the year are produced. Cool and cold winter temperatures slow growth of plants which concentrates flavors and reduces bitterness in many of our cool season vegetables.

Germination from seed. As long as temperatures are warm enough during the day, seed germination of cool season vegetables may take longer but they will germinate if the soil is warm enough. Loose, dark, fluffy soils are warmer than heavy soils. Work in enough compost so that the soils are no longer compacted. Warm air during the day must be able to enter the soil through loose pores to warm it.

Select vegetable seed of known varieties that have performed well in the past or have been recommended to you by others who are good gardeners. Don’t use varieties of seed that are unknown to you unless you just want an experience and don’t care about the end result.

Know the temperature of your soil. This is important because diseases that are dormant in the soil may affect some vegetable varieties if the soil temperature is borderline for them. Beans are a good example and may fail due to root diseases if planted in soils that are too cold.

Prepare the area to be planted with seed with a high phosphorus fertilizer of your choice. Triple super phosphate is a good choice for conventional gardeners. Bone meal, bat guano, mushroom compost are good choices for organic gardeners.

Cover soils to be planted with clear or black plastic to warm the soil. I prefer clear plastic. Cover the soil with plastic two or three days before planting. Pin the edges of the plastic to the soil. Cover the edges of the plastic with soil so the wind does not lift the plastic. Just before planting cut slits in the plastic where seed is to be placed and leave the plastic on the soil surface until plants have germinated or longer.

Pre-germination of vegetable seed initiates seed germination. Pre-germinating the seed is wetting the seed long enough for a long enough period so the seed absorbs water. This is the first step in germination. The seed is kept in water at room temperature for 6 to 12 hours. The seed is then removed from the water and the surface dried in the air or with paper towels. The seed should be planted as soon as it is dry enough to plant.

Planting depth of seed is related to its size. Very tiny seeds are placed on the surface and covered lightly with soil. Larger seed are planted in the soil to a depth twice its diameter.

Fruit Tree Pruning Workshop in Twentynine Palms January 9

On Saturday, January 9, 2016, I will be at the Twenty-Nine Palms Inn in Twenty-Nine Palms, California, to present a fruit tree pruning workshop. I will also be discussing how to apply fertilizers and what kind and pest control operations that should be performed this time of year. The workshop will begin promptly at 9 AM. I will bring along some fertilizers for fruit trees and EDDHA iron chelates from Viragrow in Las Vegas for those interested. Contact me if you need me to bring along anything else that might not be available locally.
Fruit tree workshop presented last year at the Twentynine Palms Inn

Fan Palms Yellowing and Browning

Q. I have three mature California fan palms, aged at least twenty years, planted quite close to each other and located in Mesquite, Nevada. Two or three years ago, one showed signs of early leaf browning and soon died. Now leaves of others are quite yellow but stems and new growth at the top of the tree is green. I'm afraid they are going the same way as the one that died! Disease?
Yellowing palm leaves of the reader
A. I do not think the yellowing and scorching is directly related to disease. I think it is primarily a soil or plant nutrient problem that will not be solved simply by adding fertilizers. Irrigation might be part of the problem IF the trees are watered too often. In your particular case, I think several things may be going on at once.

I’m a big proponent of soil improvement when planting anything in our desert soils. In Mojave Desert soils, and soils brought in as fill around homes in housing developments, soil improvement at the time of planting is an absolute must even if you are planting cactus.
Desert soils are usually very low in organic matter like this soil. The light tan color of the soil is an indicator of a very low percent of organics in the soil.
If your soil is tan colored or very light brown, there is zero organic matter in that soil. Palms are typically planted without much consideration for any kind of soil improvement. They are planted in tiny holes, the roots surrounded with very little if any improved soil. Once planted, the soil surrounding the plant is covered with rock mulch.

In this type of soil environment roots suffocate and die over time. If they don’t die in the first couple of years, they have a great deal of difficulty taking up the proper nutrients from the soil even if fertilizers are applied. They become unhealthy.

The plants react to this poor soil environment by turning yellow. It’s not a disease caused by disease organisms directly but the plant color indicates they are in poor health.

To correct this problem, add organic material to the soil surrounding the roots and improve water drainage and movement of air into the soil. Until this is done, you will see very little improvement to these plants just by adding fertilizer.

In the past we used a technique called “vertical mulching”. It is no longer talked about much anymore but it was effective. Vertical mulching created vertical holes to a depth of 2 to 3 feet around the plant in the root area. These vertical holes were filled with improved soil.

Vertical holes were created using a high-pressure watering device or a post hole digger. Pull back the rock mulch where you are going to create vertical holes a foot or two from the trunk. Create the holes using a post hole digger or water from a high-pressure nozzle to a depth of 2 to 3 feet. Be careful of irrigation lines.

Fill these holes with a 50-50 mixture of the soil you took out of the hole mixed with compost, minus any rocks larger than a golf ball. Create a minimum of four holes around these trees. Use these spots in the future to add fertilizer once a year. Apply more compost on the surface to further improve soil at the surface and put back the rock mulch.

Make sure plastic is not on the soil surface surrounding the plants and under any mulch. Plastic on the soil surface can create similar problems.

What To Do To Fruit Trees in January

Class in 29 Palms in 2014
What should you be doing with your fruit trees now?

  • Finish your fruit tree pruning before February 1
  • Fertilizing fruit trees
  • Controlling pests
Thanks to Viragrow for letting me use pictures of their products.

Fruit tree pruning. I gave several classes on fruit tree pruning in December. I will be giving is in Twentynine Palms, California, on Saturday, January 9 beginning at 9 AM at the Twentynine Palms Inn. You can read about it on their blog soon or on my blog.

The major topics I covered included size control and improving fruit production. I divide fruit tree pruning into two operations for those just learning how to prune fruit trees; first of all control the size of the tree and establish its general architecture or structure and secondly prune to improve fruit production.

Fertilize fruit trees in our climate any time in January before the first week in February or before the signs of new growth if you are not in our climate. If you are late by a couple of weeks you can still do it. Use conventional fertilizers or compost. 

Use any fertilizer that is designated as a fruit tree fertilizer. In a pinch, you can substitute a rose fertilizer. Follow the label directions. 

If you were in my class, I would show you how to "read" a tree to determine how much fertilizer to apply. If you don't know, follow established guidelines that you trust. You can apply it on top of mulch or pull the mulch back and put it on top of the soil, then replacing the mulch. 

Make sure that you water it in enough to get the fertilizer in contact with wet soil. That last statement, in wet soil, is very important. Fertilizer cannot move to the roots if it is not in contact with water. 
Example of a dormant oil
available from Viragrow
Be careful how much phosphorus, the middle number, you apply. Phosphorus can hang around in soils a long time and it can build up concentrations if you aren't careful. Apply it only once during a growing season.

Controlling pests. Applying a dormant oil at least once, if not twice, during the winter is a very important preventive pest control application. It is aimed at aphids, scale insects, spider mites and a few other general pests that might appear this coming growing season. 

It is primarily aimed at "suffocating" these insects so it is important to apply it on a warm day with no wind. It is best applied by high pressure pesticide application equipment. However if you are using a backpack sprayer or other pressurized sprayer keep the pressure as high as you can during the application. This will help the oil cover as much surface as possible without leaving any gaps. 
Solo backpack sprayer
Low-pressure equipment or hose and sprayers "spit" out the oil which makes for a very uneven application and wastes a lot of the dormant oil. Dormant oils for homeowners are nearly always lightweight summer oils that are much less dangerous to plants than some of the winter oils applied in decades past.

Don't spray unless you have a problem or you had a problem last year and you're trying to get a jump ahead. 

Mature leaf footed plant bug
A prominent pest on fruit and vegetables last year was the leaf footed plant bug.Your landscape right now. Look for the adults that will be ready to lay eggs on your plants as soon as it is warm and they have some surface area. 

They will most likely hangout right now on broadleaf evergreen trees such as bottlebrush. They can see you coming and will move away from you as you approach the tree or plant. 

The adults have wings so they will be flying in from neighbors when temperatures start to warm up. Sprays that contain pyrethrin or the synthetic pyrethrins are a good choice on these critters. 

As a last resort, Sevin insecticide will control them but use that conventional insecticide when you have exhausted other possibilities such as oils, soap sprays and pyrethrin products.

I have a lot more information but you have to start asking questions if you want it.

Be Careful of Wildflower Seed in Primitive Areas

Q. Our family owns an unimproved lot at about 8500 feet in southern Utah. A combination of heavy snowfall, strong winds and disease resulted in blow down of dead and live trees. We are planning to clear the area to reduce the potential of fire and then seed native plants and wildflowers seeds. I cannot find any appropriate seed available to do this.

A. There are seed packets available locally and online labeled as wildflowers. But these are generic wildflowers and not all native to our area. You are right to be looking for seed appropriate to your area. Generic types of wildflower seeds should not be used for seeding near semi-primitive or primitive areas.

Introducing plants that are not native will result in future problems. Some non-native plants can invade undeveloped areas and “choke out” native plants. This results in multiple, successive future problems for other plants and animals relying on native plants.

Check out this document online from the Utah Native Plant Society regarding sources for native seeds. http://www.unps.org/index.html?PAGES/cohortlist.html. Also download the document from the University of Nevada titled “Living with Fire” which aims at reducing the fire potential for homes located. In the Lake Tahoe area of Northern Nevada but has information appropriate to your situation. https://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/nr/2006/SP0611.pdf

Talk with your local Forest Ranger and decide which of these seed choices would be appropriate for your location. If you have trouble downloading these documents, contact me and I can help you.
When you are ready to seed, seed right into the snow as it is disappearing in the spring. The water and warming soils will help the seeds to germinate.S

Does Newtown Pippin Apple Produce Good Flavor in the Desert?

Q. How has the Yellow Newtown Pippin apple performed in our climate. I would love to have one if the quality is good here.

A. I published a list of recommended fruit varieties for our climate and made available on my blog. These are fruit tree varieties I have evaluated over a minimum of five years of fruit production. It can be misleading to recommend a variety when it has produced for only one or two seasons. http://xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com/2011/10/recommended-fruit-trees-for-southern.html
I am not concerned so much whether this variety of apple tree will grow here or not. It will. My main concern is the quality of the fruit it produces in our climate and soils. Just because you like Macintosh apple you purchased from a local grocery store does not mean that a Macintosh apple grown here will taste the same. There are numerous potential problems with a Newtown apple grown in the desert. Only time will tell.

Yellow Newtown Pippin has not had a long enough performance history in our climate to recommend it for the general public. It ripens a little bit before Granny Smith and a month or so before Pink Lady and this is a good time for apples to ripen in our climate. However, other influences such as our soils and climate while it was growing will impact its quality.

Download a copy of my recommended fruit tree list

Extra reading about the Newtown Pippin and Yellow Newtown Pippin apples

Firewood and Pine Trees. A New Deadly Combination in Southern Nevada?

The following is a Release from the U.S. Forest Service and Nevada Division of Forestry regarding a new pest found in firewood in southern Nevada. This pest will leave the firewood and may attack pine trees in southern Nevada, in particular Mondale and Aleppo pines. From the sound of it, infested firewood was brought in from California into southern Nevada. If you think you have purchased some of this wood please contact the Nevada Division of Forestry for more information about what to do.

Goto Nevada Division of Forestry Contact Information in Las Vegas

Goto Mediterranean Pine Engraver Information from USFS

I was alerted by Jeff Knight from NDA that the Mediterranean pine engraver, Orthotomicus erosus (Wollaston), has been positively identified from two locations in southern Nevada. One site was near Blue Diamond and the other was a firewood distributor in Las Vegas.  The identification was confirmed by Jim LaBonte of the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture.  The beetles were trapped in Lindgren funnels with ethanol and alpha pinene as lures.  This represents the first record of this beetle in the U.S. outside of California.  The beetle appears to very aggressively attack stressed trees and rarely attack healthy trees.  The suspected host near Blue diamond is Pinus monophylla, no suspect in for the Las Vegas site yet.  Attached is the USFS Pest Alert for the beetle.  Further investigation of these sites will take place in early Jan. to determine possible hosts and entrance into Nevada. At this time NDA will not pursue any regulatory/quarantine actions, but will be working on educational information on the insect.

Freeze Protection Using White Breathable Fabric

Q. We use a white, breathable fabric for some of our tender desert plants when there's a chance of freezing temperatures.  We're at a 3000 foot elevation on the eastern slope of the Spring Mountain Range and temperatures can be 8° F more or less than those reported at McCarren International Airport. We go by the plant description temperatures and for 30 degree forecasts we cover those that could be damaged down to 20 F degrees. Can the fabric be left on continuously for long periods of time even though nighttime temps are higher than 32 degrees if it's anticipated that in a week or two or more temperatures will drop again below freezing?  Some folks who sell this product say it can be left on all winter but I thought I had better check with you.
Row crop cover used for cold protection for vegetable row crops 

A. Yes you can leave it on! This is a major advantage with these types of products specifically made for protecting plants from light freezes. They are called by several different names including crop covers, floating row covers, frost blankets and floating row crop covers.
Some background on these products will help you understand them. These covers are flexible, nearly transparent, extremely lightweight and made from fabrics that are typically spun or woven.
They “breathe” allowing light, rain and air movement through them but still capture heat coming from the ground. They transmit so much light that there shading effect on plants is only somewhere around 15 to 20%.
They gained fame primarily in commercial vegetable production about 30 years ago for two distinct reasons; protection of vegetables from light frosts and earlier production. When left on permanently during cool weather, they can raise air temperatures under the fabric about 5 to 6° F which causes vegetables to grow faster which in turn means they can be harvested earlier.
Besides protecting young tender plants from freezing temperatures and growing faster, they also provide another valuable advantage; insect protection. In organic production they are a valuable asset to leafy greens that can be damaged from wind, intense sunlight or chewing insects.
            Row crop covers are placed over new seedlings or transplants and kept from blowing away with metal staples and a soil covering the edges. They are also used as a covering for low tunnels used in vegetable production. 

Landscape Committee Wants Evergreen Shade Trees

Q. I am on our landscape committee for A Henderson HOA. We are going to remove many dead and diseases trees in our small community. Mostly privets that through the years have died after we converted to desert landscape from grass. Others are mainly ash trees that are diseased and or have dead limbs and with pruning look terrible. Most of our yards face either East or West. We have been advised to replace the trees with fruitless olives or living oak. All yards are small and have rock mulch. As many other communities we are cash poor and need to make a wise decision because it will be expensive. We are looking for evergreen, shade trees if possible.

I forwarded this question to Andrea Meckley, a Certified Horticulturist working in the Las Vegas area since 1992.

A.  I understand your situation with the privet trees doing poorly.  Since you are going through the expense of replacement I realize you want to make good choices.  Below are a few thoughts:
1. Fruitless Olives:
                  Pros:  evergreen, little leave drop 
                 Cons:  slow grower, sometimes they will fruit even though they are not supposed to.  If this happens you can apply a solution to stop them from fruiting if it concerns you
2.  Southern Live Oak: 
                 Pros:   evergreen
                 Cons:  slow grower, debris from leaves and acorns
Between the two above I would choose the Olive. 
 Young European olive
Young Live Oak
Since you have existing sycamore and desert willow trees that are deciduous, I would also consider the following medium size evergreen and semi-evergreen trees:  Xylosma tree (Xylosma congestum), Holly Oak (Quertcus ilex), Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida), Desert Museum Palo Verde (Parkinsonia 'Desert Museum'), Bay Laurel standard trunk tree (Laurus nobilis), and Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla) which may be a little messy. 
Palo Verde in Bloom
Young shoestring Acacia
One good source for good pictures and more information can be seen at Southern Nevada Water Authority website.  Please contact me if you wish to discuss further.

Andrea Meckley
Certified Horticulturist
American Society for Horticultural Science