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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Making Compost in Trash Cans is Slow

Q. I’m composting in plastic trash cans with holes. It’s taking a very long time to make compost despite adding carbon to my grass clippings and kitchen waste. I water and turn it every few days. What am I doing wrong? 

A. There could be several reasons why. 

Large Volumes Perform Better

Perhaps the volume of compost is too small. If the amount of compost is too small, it will never produce enough heat on its own. If the air temperature is cold and the compost pile small, the composting process will be very slow.


            Maybe it’s too windy. Composting is difficult in areas where there is significant wind or too much sun. Compost develops better in shady areas of the yard without wind.


            The compost ingredients might not be high enough in nitrogen. Compost ingredients are divided into two categories; “brown” ingredients which are loaded with carbon and “green” ingredients which are loaded with nitrogen. Compost should have significant amounts of “green” ingredients or use animal manure.
Too Dry or 
        The compost may be too dry or too wet. Compost needs to be moist but not sopping wet. Compost is like a living organism; it needs air to “breathe” and moisture.
            Microorganisms are needed in the mix. I reserve a small amount of compost from the previous mix to act as a “starter” for the new mix. Or I will put in a couple of pounds of garden soil just for the microorganisms.

Strawberry Success in Mojave Desert Soil and Climate

Q. How well do strawberries grow in our Las Vegas climate? When is the best time to plant and fertilize them? Any other tips?

A. Strawberries will grow and produce fruit in our Las Vegas climate. Its not the ideal climate but they will grow and produce fruit. The best tips I can give is to plant them in the right location, at the right time of year with the right type of soil amendments, a.k.a. compost.
Strawberry produced in the Easter Mojave Desert of Las Vegas
            They grow best in full morning sun but given some shade during mid to late afternoons. They need about 6 to 8 hours of sunlight, the same as most vegetables. This means the east side of buildings and walls are best. Do not plant them in areas exposed to late afternoon sun because they do not handle the heat and intense sunlight well.

Which strawberry is best?

            Use ever bearing types of strawberries that produce through most of the season rather than the so-called “main crop” strawberries that come on all at once.
            The best fruit is produced during the spring and fall months when it is cooler. Many of the common ever bearing types like Quinault, Chandler and Ozark Beauty produce well here.

When to plant?

            Plant them any time in February or March when you see them available but don’t wait for temperatures to get hot for planting. Some people prefer fall planting but they are harder to find. Actually, the best time to plant is in the fall if you can find them or get young plants or “runners” from friends and neighbors.

Prepare the soil

            Before planting, make sure the compost content of the soil is adequate because strawberries like rich soils. Soils need compost mixed with it to a depth of 8 to 10 inches deep. Use a 1 to 2 inch layer of compost mixed into the soil.
            Planting depth is critical on strawberries. Make sure the soil drains water easily otherwise they will get root rot and die during the heat.

Plant how far apart?

            Plant 12 inches apart. New plants from runners. Remove them or peg or secure them into open areas between plants. When a strawberry patch becomes too crowded, the old plants should be removed or the area replanted with young plants. Crowded plants do not produce fruit or flower.
            Just like most vegetables, fertilize them lightly and frequently with your favorite tomato or rose fertilizer, about every 6 to 8 weeks. Yes, I said to tomato or rose fertilizer because they need the same nutrients as roses and tomatoes.
            When temperatures get warm, cover the soil surface with mulch. Straw is frequently recommended but I like to use horse bedding rather than straw. Horse bedding is usually made from pine shavings and they decompose in the soil quickly compared to straw.
            Strawberries do very well with drip irrigation and light shade cloth (30 to 40% shade) during the summer months or protection from late afternoon sun.

Understanding Nematodes and What to Do

Nematodes are microscopic roundworms found everywhere but quite common in managed soils. A fertile soil may contain billions per acre. Most don’t cause plant damage. The ones that do are called plant parasitic nematodes because they feed and rely on the energy and nutrients derived from plants.

Good Nematodes

Some parasitic nematodes are beneficial such as the so-called entomopathogenic nematodes that parasitize insects. They parasitize many different types of soil insects including so-called “grubs” like white grubs and other larvae of butterflies, moths, beetles, and flies. Some parasitize adult crickets and grasshoppers as well. These can be found marketed under several different trade names.
Nematodes are not a huge problem in most turf and landscapes. Some may never encounter them. But when they are present, they draw a lot of attention because they are difficult to control. Nematode damage falls into that category of “out of sight out of mind”. But once plant damage from nematodes is identified, they are no longer “out of mind”.
There are "good" nematodes and "bad" nematodes. This particular type of nematode actually attacks "bad" grubs in lawns
There are two primary groups of nematodes that concern us in horticulture; those that feed upon plant roots and those that feed on plant foliage. Those that feed on plant roots live their entire lives in the soil. Those that feed on plant foliage spend most of their time above ground, feeding on leaves and succulent stems.

Nematodes are General Feeders

Most nematodes do not just attack one type of plant but might feed on a number of different plants. Generally speaking, nematodes that feed on plant roots can damage turfgrass, ornamentals, nursery plants, houseplants or tropicals and greenhouse plants. Nematodes that feed upon plant foliage are, for the most part, restricted to ornamentals, nursery and greenhouse plants.
Nematode infested roots
Sometimes we discover soil dwelling, plant parasitic nematodes when infested roots are exposed during soil preparation. The most common soil dwelling nematode is the root knot nematode. They leave behind root nodules or “swellings” on the roots.
But most of the time we see above ground plant symptoms which cause us to inspect the roots. Aboveground clues to a nematode attack to the roots include leaf yellowing and scorching, leaf drop and poor or stunted growth.
Roots showing the nodules that can be indicators of nematodes
Sound familiar? Nematode damage can be confused with nutrient deficiencies, drought, salt problems, root damage, under or over fertilizing and plant disease.
However, depending on the type of nematode, root damage may vary from the presence of galls to the stunting and decaying of roots. In some cases, nematode damage might be confused with root disease.

Root damaging nematodes

Types of root damaging nematodes include the stunt nematode, lesion nematode, ring nematode, cyst nematode, spiral nematode, and lance nematode which produce other symptoms. These include shortened or stubby roots, malformed roots that are multi-branched, darkened or browning lesions which resemble plant disease which frequently accompanies nematode damage.
Mulberry showing slow growth due to nematodes infesting the roots of this tree. Partially overcome with high fertilizer applications.

Damage from nematodes that feed on foliage are easier to identify since plant symptoms are easier to directly trace back to nematodes. This type of damage frequently occurs in greenhouses. Why? Nematodes need a moist environment to survive and spread. The higher humidity of greenhouses and the presence of surface water on plant leaves contribute to these types of nematode problems.
Nematode infested roots of tomato
Most references refer to the presence of “angled lesions” that result from the feeding of foliar nematodes. Perhaps a better description than “angled lesions” is “brown spots on newly attacked leaves that are not round but longer than they are wide”. In advanced stages, severely attacked leaves may turn brown and die which masks the presence of these lesions. In cases like this, search for leaves that are more recently attacked to verify these “angled lesions”.
Nematode damage to turfgrass is common in warm climates and may resemble some turfgrass diseases, soil compaction, nutrient deficiencies, herbicide injury among others. Symptoms from nematode damage may gradually enlarge as much as three feet per year. Machinery that comes in contact with soils, such as aerators and hand tools, may spread nematode infestations with equipment. A common symptom occurring due to nematodes is a lack of a response from applied fertilizers.

How to control nematodes?

Nematodes are nearly young impossible to eliminate using traditional pesticides without killing infested plants. Prevent nematodes from entering the property through exclusion. Most problems develop when soils, composts, soil mixes and plant materials are brought in from unreliable sources. Reduce the spread of nematodes through sanitation. Clean equipment and tools between worksites that have been in contact with infested soils.
Have you ever thought of growing vegetables in containers? Soils contaminated with nematodes are easily changed.
Recognize that the presence of nematodes is not always bad. In the past, the general recommendation was to improve plant and soil health so that plants “grow ahead” of their damage. There is quite a bit of evidence that increasing soil organic matter through the use of compost and organic surface mulches, particularly in arid and desert soils, helps keep nematodes in check.
It is thought that compost from organic matter stimulates micro and macroorganisms antagonistic to parasitic nematodes. A population of nematodes antagonistic toward plant parasitic nematodes is an important tool used to keep undesirable nematode populations in check.
Compost amendments seem to be the most effective types of organic matter for keeping nematodes in check. For low organic matter content soils, such as arid or desert soils, there is a direct relationship between controlling nematodes and the nitrogen content of the soil due to additions of compost or chemical fertilizers.
North America is estimated to be the largest market for nematicides; pesticides aimed specifically to control or kill nematodes. Nematicides sales are predicted to dominate the agrochemical industry from 2015 to 2020. That’s the size of our problem.

Circular Holes in the Leaves Starting Early Summer

Q. I have begun to notice crescent shaped chunks being taken from my roses…probably at night since I do not see them during the day.In the Caribbean I notice a similar pattern on certain flowering plants which turned out to be leaf eating ants that could be traced back to their nests by following the parade of marching flower petals.We spray for ants and scorpions monthly and I have not seen any ants.From this I conclude it is a flying insect.Is there such a creature as a leaf eating BEE here in the Las Vegas Valley?If so, what should I do to prevent continued defoliation?I appreciate your advice; you have never steered me wrong.
Leafcutter or Leaf Cutter bee damage to leaves

A. Great deductive reasoning! Very close. Leafcutter bee. We tell people to leave them alone if tolerable.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Problem Tree Structure Should Be Done Early

Q. We have a Crape Myrtle tree planted from a 24 inch box. It is multi trunked. One of the lower trunks is crossed by a large branch from another trunk. I was wondering if I could gently coax this branch back into a new location? I don’t want to remove it because it will leave a large gap in the canopy.
This Crape Myrtle should be restrained from gaining too much height too fast to encourage a dense flower display.

Its too late to move any of the main limbs to a new location now. It would have been possible at a much earlier age.

A. Small, young branches can be bent, twisted and secured into new locations. They are much less pliable starting after the first year of growth. They are most pliable during the first year and the beginning of their second year of growth. They are most pliable when new growth is just beginning up until about two months after growth begins.

Limb spreaders used on this fruit tree are forcing second year growth to a new location. The infarstructure of the tree was established during the previous two years

Old Branches Should be Removed

            Sorry, but older branches must be removed. They cannot be bent into new positions. These branches are too old to bend without breaking or snapping off. Use a sanitized handsaw and remove it close to the trunk. The cut does not have to be treated in any way. In a couple of years, with some proper pruning, it will not be missed.

How to do It

            The side with the hole you created after pruning will have a lot of new growth the first year, particularly where limbs are exposed to sunlight. Remove new suckering growth except perhaps 8 to 10 growing where you want them. Desirable new growth would be growing outwards at different locations along the trunk at 45° angles from horizontal.
            If the tree needs three or four new suckers, leave eight. Rub out anything growing inward or crossing as soon as you see it. Removing undesirable growth early causes the remaining suckers to grow faster and stronger into new branches.
            Force the tree to become “bushier” and denser by removing strong, vertical growth. Keeping it “bushier” and dense helps provide a good floral show each year and restrains its growth. Remove unnecessary growth with hand pruners any time during the growing season.

When to do It

            Major limb removal requiring more than a hand shears should be done during the winter. All Crape Myrtles produce flowers on new growth. This means pruning during the winter is the best time to encourage increased flowering.
            During the winter, find branches growing vigorously vertical and remove them where they begin their upward growth. Reducing plant height by removing growth that is strongly vertical helps keep the plant denser and more “floral”. Remove these branches at a "crotch", i.e. just above a limb growing outward. Do not leave a stub.

Restrain new growth

            Branches longer than 24 inches growing anywhere on the tree should be cut back to about 18 inches in length during the winter.
            If you have rock covering the soil underneath the tree, it will start having nutritional problems in a couple of years. Apply bagged compost to the rocks beneath the tree and water it in. If this is unsightly to you, auger vertical holes multiple places in the soil around the tree to a depth of 18 inches. Fill these holes with compost.
            The best compost I have found for this purpose in the Las Vegas area is available from Viragrow in North Las Vegas. Don’t add any fertilizer if you use this compost. It has plenty naturally in it already. Every other year lightly sprinkle the same compost over the top of the soil and water it in.