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Spring Is Here And It's Time To Get Into The Garden


Photo by Florence Rogers/Nevada Public Radio

Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata)

Allergies are hitting hard already this year because it's been rainy and warmer earlier than usual.

That also means Nevada's green thumbs should be getting their gardens ready to go.

To that end, Norm Schilling and Angela O'Callaghan, of KNPR's Desert Bloom program, are on hand to answer all your gardening questions.

Discussion Highlights:

Edgewise asked in an email: Could we get some suggestions for seasonal plantings for 'salad fixings' that are well suited for Vegas and perhaps native/non-traditional?

Angela: There are a few things. A lot of the straight forward traditional lettuce types of things are going to be a challenge because it’s going to get really hot. Although there are some lettuce varieties that are able to tolerate temperatures up to maybe June.

Malabar spinach/Wikimedia Commons/Obsidian Soul

There are a couple of spinach varieties: New Zealand spinach and another is Malabar spinach or red-stemmed spinach. Neither are a true spinach, but they taste like it and they can tolerate high temperatures.

A lot of the salad stuff we think of is a little iffy but some of the chards grow very well. And if you harvest chard when it’s very young and tender it’s a perfectly good salad green. Also, some of the mustards will stay fresh and happy.

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Can we plant these kinds plant now?

Norm: There are different season for planting different crops. There are still stuff you could plant this time of year. In fact, there is some stuff you should wait until this time of year, stuff that is cold sensitive like peppers and tomatoes. Now is the time to get in the ground.

Angela: It’s late for lettuce. See what happens with lettuce is that when it gets hot it starts to bolt or produce a flower stock and it becoming bitter is a way to defend itself because it is trying to produce seeds. It has got to protect itself from all those nasty people who want to eat it. 

Caller Drew wanted to know what to do to make the lemon tree in his yard produce larger lemons:

Norm: Generally speaking, with any kind of fruit-bearing tree, the tree allocates resources to the development of the fruit and if you reduce the fruit, what you want to do is as those fruits are developing, pick some of them off and just have less fruit and larger fruit.

I know with stone crops like peaches and pears and apricots and things like that, thinning them out will create larger fruit. I think the same thing will hold true for citrus. 

Caller Skitter wanted to know what to do with hyacinths when the blooms have died:

Hyacinth/wikimedia commons

Angela: Once they’ve passed their flowering, what you can do is remove the flower stock but don’t cut the leaves until they’re beyond green. Because while they’re still green, they’re still developing resources for that bulb, which you will plant in the fall.

Skitter had a second question about trimming his lemon trees and whether he’ll lose the first crop of fruit from his tree if he trims it:

Norm:  It is difficult when you’re trimming a tree to take out fruit or flowers but your ultimate goal should be to just develop a well-shaped, well-balanced healthy tree. So, don’t worry about it. If in the process, you lose a few fruits or a few flowers the tree will be fine.  

Caller Andrea is working creating raised garden beds and wants to know if she can compost in the desert in the summer:

Angela:  Oh compost is my favorite topic! I love talking garbage. You absolutely can composite in the summer here. What you do have to remember is that it will dry out fast. So, you do need to water it, but remember if you keep it covered with a tarp that will cut down on evaporation. And will help keep the compost cooler. The heat is not going to increase or decrease the rate of composting. It’s mostly about keeping the compost ‘evenly moist.’ Think about a damp, well rung out sponge. That’s the moisture level you want your compost to be.

Andrea also wanted to know if she could compost in a trash can, because she has dogs:

Angela: You can definitely use one but you have to make sure there is some kind of holes in it. You want to have air otherwise you have stench.     

Caller Doug had a question about his tomato plants that are flowering but not bearing fruit:  

Angela: One of the things that happens with tomatoes is we try to be so nice to them and fertilize them on a regular basis and really pump them up. And usually what we’re giving them when that happens is a high nitrogen fertilizer. The first number on any container of fertilizer is going to be nitrogen. Nitrogen is what it takes as its environmental cue to start green tissue, meaning leaves.

If you have insufficient phosphorus or potassium, which are the second and third numbers, you’re giving that plant the environmental cue that the flowers should abort and the plant should go back to producing leaves.

As soon as you see that first blossom, start giving it a different kind of fertilizer. Look for something that is for flowers. Look for a tomato fertilizer with a lower first number.  

Caller Kay wants recommendations for a shade tree that makes very little mess:

Norm: There is no such thing as a tree that doesn’t make a mess. They just make messes at different times of the year and at different amounts. One of the things that maybe for some people seems counterintuitive is that typically evergreen trees are messier.

Two of my favorite medium sized shade trees are twisted acacia and another is Texas ebony. Texas ebony is evergreen and it seems to be remarkable low litter. 

Twisted acacia 

Texas Ebony

From Desert Bloom: Norm's Favorite Desert Trees

Host Joe Schoenmann wanted to know what kind of trees he should plant along his garden wall and whether it was too late to plant trees:

Norm: No. Desert plants are more tolerant of being planted in warmer, hotter weather. Depending on what you’re planting, fall is typically the best time to plant, because it gives the plant a chance to develop its root system.

When you think of trees, you think of 30 feet trees and I don’t want you to plant them next to your wall, because I’ll be standing there 10 years from now telling you to rip them out, because they’re going to break your wall.

That’s probably the biggest, most damaging mistake that people make in their landscapes. The trees are the backbone of the landscapes. Little perennials you can replace pretty quickly. The trees are the long-term investment.

Texas Mountain Laurel, Texas Mescal Bean

Small trees by the wall. Texas mountain laurel. There is a variety call ‘Sierra silver.’ So, if you have a lot of sun. The Sierra Silver Texas mountain laurel will get to probably 10 to 15 feet, never get big enough to break your wall.

If you have a more moist area, a really good selection is shiny xylosma. It is evergreen. It looks like a really common shrub.

Shiny xylosma

Shrubs are trees and trees are shrubs. They’re all woody perennials. So, it is just a matter of size. The big thing when you’re planting next to the wall and you want that sense of enclosure and privacy and you want to soften the wall, plant stuff that will reach a mature size of 10 feet maybe 15 feet but no more than that.   

Caller Maggie has been plagued by grubs that have taken out agaves and yuccas in her yard.

Angela: You’re going to have to remove plants you’ve seen with grubs and probably some of its nearby neighbors. There is agave weevil which will not only kill all the agaves and kill all the roots but also create a horrible stink.

Norm: The agaves and the yuccas are particularly susceptible to the weevil. The grub that eats the root system away. I’m really anti-pesticide but I’m also really pro-agave. So, I choose once a year in the spring to treat my agaves and yuccas with a systemic insecticide. Here is the thing the pesticides and the bees are just such a bad combination or any pollinator.

I won’t use a systemic pesticide, and a systemic pesticide is one that a plant takes up into itself, on any flowering plants. Agaves don’t flower except for at the end of their life they produce one bloom. If I treat my agave and it blooms, I’ll cut the bloom off. So, the bees don’t get the pesticide. That is the one way I can treat for the agave weevil and not worry about affecting the pollinators in a negative way. 

Agave weevil​

Caller Lisa has taken out grass in her yard and replaced it with xeriscaping, but weeds and the old grass is coming up through the rock landscaping:

Norm: You are talking about the biggest bane of gardeners everywhere: weeds. Weeds will come by seed. They may already be there by seed after the conversion occurs. There may be a perennial grass, probably Bermuda grass, that comes back up when it gets water.

You can use a pre-emergent herbicide to keep the weeds down. Pre-emergent you water it in and it keeps the seeds from emerging. It’s a chemical control. The other thing: weeding is a mindful state. It is a very peaceful place to be. Some people really like weeding. But if you go out there and take it in small portions. You can knock out a lot of weeds. Once you get them under control, that’s definitely the best way to do it.

The other thing is Bermuda grass. Here’s a big challenge. People take out their lawns, but Bermuda grass has little underground runners with little nodes where leaves and roots attach and all of those have the genetic information to create whole new plant. They get some water and it comes back.

The unfortunate truth is: if you have Bermuda, pulling it forever will not get rid of it. That’s the one that you need to break out the glyphosate, which is commonly known as Round-up and spray it when it’s actively going, very green, middle of summer, loves hot weather that's when you can kill it and that’s the only way you can kill it. 

Caller Kay planted squash and cantaloupe last year but had an invasion of bugs:

Angela: Squash bugs are a real bane. They are a real, real problem. There aren’t a lot of insecticides that you can use on them. There are some general ones that will kill everything. When you see one, you truly have to get them early. This is really going to sound disgusting when I tell you this but the other thing that we do Cooperative Extension is we get a wet-dry vac, put some water in the base and literally vacuum them off and let them drowned. And that was how we were able to control them. 

Caller Misty is looking for a shrub that is evergreen and only six feet tall to replace one in her yard that is struggling:

Norm: Something like pampas grass, dwarf pampas grass, which with the blooms will probably get five feet. Some of the desert spoons, so there is the toothless desert spoon, the regular desert spoon all of them will get about six or seven feet. They’re really beautiful, attractive ornamental plants. It produces a flowering stock similar to an agave that shoots up out of it. It is not a flowering plant in the traditional sense. 

Desert spoon/wikimedia commons


Dwarf pampas grass/wikimedia commons


University of Nevada Cooperative Extension

Master Gardeners

Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

High Country Gardens

International Society of Arboriculture

From Nevada Public Radio: Desert Bloom


Norm Schilling, Schilling Horticulture; KNPR's Desert Bloom host; Angela O'Callaghan, associate professor, Nevada Cooperative Extension, specialist in horticulture; KNPR's Desert Bloom host

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