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Welcome to Gardening Tips

Welcome to "Gardening Tips", a new addition to Kat's Korner. We will be posting many articles regarding growing and caring for plants, cacti, shrubs, trees, flowers and vegetables in Northern Baja. The following is our first article written by Norman Schilling of Schilling Horticulture Group, Inc., of Las Vegas, with input from Vitorrio Locatelli (Don Vito). Norm is a Master Gardner as well as Don Vito and both are from Las Vegas. Don Vito keeps a second home in the South beaches. We will also have tips on growing tomatoes from the Tomato Lady, Leslie Doyle, also a Master Gardner and from Las Vegas. This is invaluable gardening information and we're getting it from the best of the best. Please feel free to write with any questions, and we'll ask our professionals for their advice. Enjoy!!

Being a Good Gardener in the Desert is Tricky Business Until You Get the Hang Of It

By Leslie Doyle - June, 2007


Hot Weather Gardening Tips

This is the time of year that our plants are really soaking up the water. But how do you tell when and how much to water ?

1. I put Bamboo BBQ skewers and Bamboo stakes into the soil and leave them there . . . forever, almost. Push 1 (or more) in the ground down near the roots of your plant and leave it there. Pull it up and check it for moisture BEFORE you water next; touch the bamboo to your cheek. This will help you find out if you are over-watering or under-watering . . . or not watering deep enough; or not watering often enough; or not watering wide enough . . . to the drip line; or watering too much.

This is not the time for a wimpy screw-driver . . . get a LONG bamboo stake or skewer. Trees need bamboo stakes that are 3-feet long. Shrubs - 2-ft long and bedding plants - 12-inches long. If you can't push them into the soil this deep then soak the soil. A stick won't push into dry earth (or through a rock). Leave the stick in the ground all the time, the bamboo won't be noticed. Use lots of them around your plants and place them where you want the roots to grow out to, and then add more emitters to this area. Use them in houseplants, too. This is a terrific way to tell what is going on down deep, at the bottom of the roots or pot.

The new leaves on my plants are burning up . . . the edges are getting crispy.

2. Don't fertilize shrubs/trees, lawns with high-nitrogen during the summer. Too much nitrogen causes spindly and tender growth that will burn-up in our hot summer weather. A little bit of soil sulfur will help to green-up foliage that is yellowing due to a lack of nitrogen. The sulfur lowers the pH a little, which helps to make the nutrients in the soil available to your plants. This process can take a couple of months, so don't get impatient. As always . . . follow package directions exactly. More is not better.

3. Foliar feed all parts of all your plants and lawn with Amazing Kelp; 3 times during the growing season for maintaining health, or once each month, or more if you have a stressed plant. Each plant is different and this is not an exact science, and don't worry about foliar feeding too much, it hasn't seemed to hurt my plants even when I did this every week . . . While testing this product I was just wasting it by overdoing it every couple of weeks. Anyway, this will really perk-up your plants and keep them looking good while supplying all the micronutrients, trace elements they need. It will make them stronger and more heat-tolerant. If you have any left after drenching the foliage, you can pour it into the soil. Amazing Kelp is not a stand alone fertilizer and as you know various plants need various amounts of NPK . . . grass feeds different than roses which feed different than bulbs and rhizomes and on and on. But kelp foliar feeding is important to the health of your plants, especially those under heat stress and will help to prevent over-fertilizing.

4. Water more frequently for shallow rooted plants. Or water longer to get the water deeper to the roots of trees and large shrubs. The bamboo skewers and bamboo stakes will tell you what is going on near the roots of your plants. Check them before each watering until you get the hang of it.

Also, don't use just any fertilizer on your tomatoes and veggies. If you do . . . the horror story you will tell me is that you had big beautiful plants, but small fruit, if any. I hear this every day. Please use an 8-10-3 or a 5-10-5 fertilizer. I like Arizona's Best Tomato & Veggie Food (Plant World & Grow Well sells this). It has a little soil sulfur in it which helps to adjust the pH of our soil.

Doing these 4 things should keep your plants healthy and looking good.

TIP: After mixing the foliar-feed, add a half teaspoon, (more or less), of Dawn or Dove or ? dishwashing detergent per 1-gallon of foliar feed. This will make the water softer so that it sheets across the leaves instead of beading up . . . it will make the water 'wetter' and this is good. Foliar feed (spray) after the sun goes down or before it comes up. You want the leaves moist for as long as possible so the nutrients can be absorbed by the plant. In Las Vegas you can buy water-soluble Amazing Kelp powder at Plant World or on my website if you live elsewhere. As a powder it lasts up to 4 years . . . as a liquid it begins to deteriorate, so mix-up only what you are going to use in a season.

Adenium Obesum

My adenium obesum was blooming its head off at our Garden Open House June 2nd. This plant typically grows like a stalk, but it can be pruned and manipulated to look like these. My thanks go to Carol and Ron Mendicino for this picture.

The adenium on the right is a grafted adenium . . . it has branches from 5 different colored adeniums cleft-grafted onto another adenium plant. It is easy to do and if you want to experiment you'll find all kind of info on the web.

The caudex swells up to a ball shape and holds nutrients. Regular feeding combined with snipping branches to force growth to the shape of a tree makes the plant look like a bonsai tree. Some of these adenium get huge . . . many feet wide and tall. As they approach a size where they will become difficult to move, you might consider selling them to a hotel or office building and starting again. They like temperatures above 60 degrees, so I bring mine inside when the nights start to get cold, and then they go outside again in the spring . . . this year I put them outside in April. They go dormant in the winter and need little water or care until they begin to grow again.

Weeping Santa Rosa Plum Tree

It's almost time for me to pick the plums. Here's how to tell if they are ripened enough. Gently lift the plum and the little stem attached to it . . . if the stem separates from the branch easily, the plum is ready to be picked. The stem should stay on the plum, but the stem should separate from the branch with not more than a tiny tug. This indicates peak flavor. I let mine ripen a few days more on the kitchen counter; I like them soft and juicy. If you pick them too soon they will ripen wrong and be rubbery. They won't all be ripe at the same time, so don't strip the tree all in the same day. We usually get our plums over a couple of weeks. If you put something soft on the ground under the tree, like a quilted mattress pad or old towels, they will get some protection from damage when they fall from the tree. This year I am going to make lots of fruit leather from the plums. It stores easier and I like to snack on it. I did this with my apricots.

My Meyer lemon tree lost every blossom and all the little lemons in our spring winds. One of my pleasures in life is to mail boxes of lemons in November and December to my family back in snow country; they look forward to this and for one season I am a very popular relative. I was devastated.

But, just when I was at my lowest emotional NO LEMONS point, the tree burst into bloom, AGAIN. Imagine that ! I love this tree. I have no idea when they will ripen this year because this second bloom was months later. Any information you have on my Meyer lemon phenomenon would be welcome.

Gardening Seasons, (According to Bill Doyle)
Las Vegas has Only 2 Seasons . . .
Tomato Season and Waiting for Tomato Season.

The April and May winds took a big bite out of my tomato plants. But even though somewhat broken and bent, they are loaded with tomatoes of all sizes . . . and I just picked a lot of them last weekend. You can see some pieces of shade cloth laying over tomatoes that could get sun-scalded if not covered by leaves; it is double-folded. If I can see the tomato, the sun is going to scald it . . . so I cover the clusters. Not the leaves. Also, I pick my tomatoes at the first sign of a pink color, I don't let them get orange or red on the vine.

This may make the plant look good but, the birds will get them before you do. Tomatoes ripen from the inside out and once they start to ripen you can't stop this and you can't improve the flavor by leaving them on the plant. In our taste tests we found absolutely no difference in the tomatoes that were left on the vine until red than the ones we finished ripening on the kitchen counter. The flavor depends on the variety and the soil and once it begins to ripen there is nothing you can do to change the flavor . . . other than salad dressing, etc. Putting tomatoes in the fridge will not stop the ripening . . . the cold will change their texture to mealy and watery and they will loose much of the flavor that makes them better than grocery store tomatoes. Don't store them in the fridge. . . eat them or cook them. Keep them away from apples and other fruit that produce ethylene gases (which makes them ripen faster.)

Tomato Hornworms.

Sphinx Moths are flying around now ... There are hundreds of different Sphinx moths . . . here are pictures of 3. Some can be mistaken for a hummingbird.

If you have these moths, you will have hornworms. I swat them with a fly swatter to knock them out . . . then step on them lightly enough to kill them with out creating a mess on my shoe, and kick them into the soil for some other critter to feast on. There is a little murder in all of us sometimes.

There is Much To-Do About the Missing Bees

It seems the European Honeybees have left their hives and gotten lost . . . or something. This is a world-wide problem, not just here in Las Vegas. No one knows why, and most scientists are not too worried about it right now. It seems this has happened before. The thinking is a wait and see approach.

In the meantime, they are not the only pollinators we have in our gardens. We have our native honeybees, mason bees, bumblebees, leafcutter bees, bee-mimicking flies, butterflies, and hoverflies, also called syrphid flies, plus some moths and beetles that also collect pollen. Many insects actively and passively collect pollen and transport it to other plants.
So we're OK for now . . . so I'm told.

But, whatever the reason for the disappearance of the European honeybees, we need stop and think twice before reaching for the pest killers. It might be better for all of us if we spent a little time in washing the damaging insects off the plant before we reach for the poison . . . the next visitor to the plant might be one of our buddies . . . a pollinator or a hoverfly looking to munch on some aphid larva . . . and then move a little pollen over to your veggies.

My garden is now a test garden for Rodale Press and Organic Gardening Magazine. I am their USDA Zone 8 Test Garden and I will be writing some gardening stuff for them. However, since they are an Eastern based gardening magazine you might not see so much of my writings but more from the other Zone gardens. But, if their subscriptions grow in the desert communities this could change.

I think it's a good magazine, I like the format and I am a subscriber. You can subscribe by Googling the magazine on the web . . . there are several people selling it . . . including Amazon.com.

One of the plants I am testing is a compact-growing squash. No name to give you yet. But it is growing in a perfect and compact circle and looks very tropical with its big leaves. This plant is a winner in my book because it is thriving in the heat, producing food and it is a beautiful plant. I think it would work well as an annual in a Xeriscape landscape. Here is a picture of it among my ground cover plants . . .it's still a fairly young plant and just starting to produce little squashes.

Good Ground Cover Plants
I am using blue verbena, white sweet alyssum, ice plant, and New Gold lantana and Bougainvillea 'Barbara Karst' as a living mulch and they are spreading rapidly to protect the soil from the sun. The verbena, alyssum and lantana are planted to grow right up to my tomato plants and there is no Silver Reflective Mulch for the tomatoes in this bed . . . (it's a test). The sweet alyssum, in particular, is excellent for attracting the pollinating insects to my garden. It's a neat plant for the desert as it reseeds itself and appears before the hot weather to protect the soil from the sun. My tomato plants line the edges of this full-sun, no-shade, bed.

Meyer Lemons

By Leslie Doyle

"The Tomato Lady"

January 2007

My Meyer lemons have been ripe since just after Thanksgiving and we are still picking them. If you don't have one of these wonderful trees, either dwarf size or standard, think about adding one to your landscape. They are evergreen and easy to care for and are hardy in Las Vegas . . . IF YOU PLANT IT WHERE IT WILL BE PROTECTED FROM THE FREEZING NORTHWEST WINTER WINDS. They are citrus and we all (?) know the best place to grow citrus is where there is a warm winter climate . . . or in your atrium or greenhouse.

Be sure there is no green on them and that they are fully ripe. Lemons don’t ripen off of the tree like peaches, plums, apricots, etc . . . (the stone fruits), neither do other citrus.

It was thought that Meyer lemon was a cross between a lemon and an orange. But it was a USDA plant explorer, named Frank Meyer, who discovered them growing as a dooryard tree in Beijing, China in 1908. So, its history before then is unknown, so are its parents.

This year I am making Meyer lemon marmalade, but for years I have been juicing our winter Meyer lemons, freezing the juice into cubes for storage and then throwing away the rinds. However, with the discovery of the high cost of pectin, I am boiling down the rinds into a mash and draining out the pectin to use in my pomegranate jelly. It’s a busy kitchen as I make mistakes, learn and finally get it right.

This November I was in the kitchen, via the internet, of a lady in Pennsylvania, learning that I don’t have to buy pectin. I only need to boil down my lemons. “That’s how we’ve always done it,” she said. “Lemons and apples are some of the best fruits for pectin, and there is more pectin in apples when they are not so ripe.” No degrees needed here, just good old-fashioned experience from a friendly lady in Pennsylvania, now a new friend . . . and I sent her a box of lemons.

We get a few hundred pounds from our standard size tree, about 12 feet by 12 feet. You can ship about 9-1/2 pounds of Meyer lemons, as I did, in a Flat Rate Box, United State Priority Mail, for $8.10 anywhere in the U.S. We sent them to all of our family members in time for the Christmas holiday, but last year they ripened in time for Thanksgiving.

We strip the tree of the remaining few lemons just as the new buds begin to swell on the branches sometime during late winter. We like to leave some lemons on the side of the tree that can be seen from the street . . . it's a beautiful tree.

October 26, 2006 - The following article was written by Carle Hodge and given to Don Vito for publication on our site. We have retyped the article and resized the photo to fit our page. Thank you for the use of this very interesting article. To see a larger picture of this ancient bush, click the photo. Read on:


By Carle Hodge

Creosote bush, Larrea tridentata, is the most common and widely distributed shrub on the
driest and hottest areas of the North American deserts. Flowering occurs from
mid-March to mid-April, depending upon the amount of moisture in the soil.

Not long ago we were told the redwoods were the world’s oldest living things. Then science nominated the bristlecone pines. Now yet another plant is singled out for superlative age the lowly creosote bush. Although a utilitarian shrub for humans for centuries, it is not held in high esteem by moderns. Yet some creosote bush specimens may be 11,700 years old!
Eleven millenniums or so ago, as the pervasive chill of the last Ice Age ebbed, the seeds of the desert were sown. Mystery still shrouds their odyssey. Perhaps the winds wafted them or birds brought them into that place and time of transformation. How they arrived no one knows.

As the world warmed, though, so did the face of the land. Piñons, junipers, and other cool country trees, which had invested much of what now is our continent’s desert, retreated to the uplands. Scientists have learned this from the nearly indestructible nests of pack rats that lived there then. Remnants of the vanished forests remain locked to this day in the legacy of the little rodents.

Some of the alien plants must have been driven out as the soil warmed and water virtually vanished. Others, over the centuries, developed incredible survival strategies. None of the very specialized newcomers homesteaded more tenaciously than the creosote bush, climaxing a journey that started in the deserts of South America thousands of years earlier.
Today, that lacy, drab olive shrub with shiny leaves—and tiny but bright yellow flowers—is the most obviously common place plants to be found across the lowland southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. From the depths of California’s Death Valley, below sea level, to the Big Bend of the Rio Grande, in Texas, they are all but inescapable.

After a summer storm in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona, the ubiquitous bushes infuse the air with the faintly acrid scent that brought about a misnomer. Creosote bushes have nothing to do with the chemical creosote, distilled from wood or coal tar. Hediodilla, the Mexicans call them, or literally “little stinker.” It is an odor many of us find soothing, like the saltiness of the seashore, rather than unpleasant.

Still, those somewhat heart shaped shrubs thrive by the billions. Each is a miniature oasis sustaining a chain of life unlike any other. They harbor insects that could not continue without them. Because creosotes are so prevalent, they tend to provoke boredom among some people. A botanist named Frank Vasek once was one of them. When he first encountered them in 1950, as he drove across the Mohave Desert in California, he was struck by their sameness. For years, he conceded not long ago, “I looked upon creosote bush as something that was just there, filling in desert space between the times and places when the ‘real’ desert plants put on a show of flowers.” His decades of research at the University of California at Riverdale produced a profound change of attitude. That was fortunate. Dr. Vasek discovered a few years ago a circle of creosote bushes—cloned from a single seed—which he defends as the oldest living thing on Earth.

Unlike Dr. Vasek, microbiologist Emilio Mora grew up in southern New Mexico among the creosote of the Chihuahuan Desert. He was reared on the conviction of Indians and his Mexican American neighbors that the plant possesses curative powers. That too, was fortunate.

Dr. Mora now has found, years later, that an extract from the shrub—known to science as Larrea tridentata—kills cancer cells in test tubes. His laboratory at Auburn University in Alabama is assaying the extract as a curative of tumors in laboratory animals.

Perhaps this disease-fighting broth, and almost certainly Vasek’s ancient clone, are consequences of Larrea’s reactions to stress. Stress is what makes a desert a desert. When blowing sand all but buries them, the bushes resist. Often in the Algodones Dunes, west of Yuma, Arizona, only the top few inches of the branches show themselves. They stand resolutely where rainfall rarely exceeds a few inches a year. If there are years without rainfall, they still cling tenaciously to life. They persist even in North America’s most rainless reach—in the Gran Desierto at the mouth of the Gulf of California. They seldom rise more than a foot and a half on that parched plain, however, about one fourth their usual height.

Several ploys, at least one of them peculiar, permit creosote bushes to survive in settings so dry. As with much of the desert flora, a waxy coating on the leaves conserves water by slowing evaporation. To capture every drop, the roots plumb deep into the ground and spider-web outward just beneath the surface. Certain other plants, notably ocotillos, simply shed all their leaves when drought descends. Creosote bushes change covers. They doff their familiar foliage, and then grow a tougher, drier canopy as much as two thirds smaller than the quarter-inch long leaves that were lost. This new growth still can feed itself—produce food by photosynthesis—even after drought has dissipated half its weight in water. The leaf cells generally do. And when more moist conditions return, the shrub is ready for renewal.

Vasek, the botanist, believes it was precisely such a pattern that caused his clone to grow in circles. That notion entered his thinking early in the 1970s when he was cataloging vegetation in one part of the Mohave.

“I noticed that the creosote bushes grew in large clumps and that each clump had numerous stems at approximately ground level,” he remembers. The question arose as to whether these clumps were derived from multiple seedlings or from a type of vegetative spreading from one initial seedling.

Although the latter turned out to be true, Vasek was not to learn that for some time. For several years, in fact, he devoted little thought to the possibility. Then he and other scientists visited a scene increasingly and unfortunately common in the sun baked southwest: a swath of desert where off-road vehicles had ground the vegetation into oblivion.

A reporter with them wanted to know how old the creosote bushes were. To the botanist, the question was troubling and intriguing. “I started to answer that they must be about 300 to 400 years old,” he says, “when it suddenly dawned on me we simply did not know.”

He knows now: The newsman’s question launched him on an intensive quest. Vasek located more Mohave locales where creosote bushes appear in circles, ragged ellipses, radiating outward from a bare-center. He compares the fringes of these rings to “the outer layer of living bark on a redwood tree. The inside wood has long since rotted away. The entire distance to the center of the creosote ring was at one time solid plant matter, the creosote bush starts with a center stem and grows outward, with the inside dying and rotting away, and the circle keeps getting bigger and bigger.

One of the biggest he found, 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles, measured seventy feet long by twenty-five feet wide. It has since been named King Clone. Chemical studies showed the clusters of King Clone, instead of individual plants, were genetically identical, an outgrowth of an original bush. Samples from the still green outer edge were estimated to be 100 to 150 years old. But old wood specimens nearby were radiocarbon dated at 540 years. By determining the rate at which creosote bush spreads across the surface in that locale, Vasek calculated the time when King Clone took root: 11,700 years ago. Thus, the King would be three times as old as the oldest California redwoods and twice the age of the bristlecone pines previously considered the world’s oldest living things.

The man who once dismissed creosote bushes as dull becomes emotional when he discusses them now. Surrounded by King Clone, Vasek feels “reverent.”

If he is correct, that such cloning results from environmental demands, he probably also is right in his view that the creosote bushes present in the Mohave predate those still living in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. The Mohave Desert is the harshest of the three.

Paradoxically, Vasek and most other plant specialists are convinced Larrea, from its genesis below the equator evolved first in the Chihuahuan. They agree the species edged then—over thousands of years—into the Sonoran Desert and finally across the Colorado River into California’s Mohave.

Arizona’s most ancient carbon-dated creosote fossil is a 10,850-year-old seed uncovered near Yuma in the concreted waste of a pack rat midden.

The creosote bushes of the Northern Hemisphere and their remaining relatives in the Monte Desert of western Argentina are so similar laymen can’t tell them apart. For years scholars labeled them a single species. Now they say those of the three northern regions differ from one another and from the Argentine plant—chiefly in the number of chromosomes they contain and in minor differences in the leaves. In the Monte, almost a carbon copy of the Sonoran, the natives burn creosote bushes as fuel and thatch their adobe houses with them.

How did the scraggly shrubs make their way north from South America? No convincing explanation has been offered. Birds? Some scientists think so. Golden and upland plovers migrate annually between South and North America. So do peregrine falcons and Swainson’s hawks. But seeds generally travel the avian digestive system for only a few hours. However they were transported, Larrea landed in the Southwest at roughly the same period as the earliest Indians—who were to find an amazing array of uses for the plant.

Along the Mexican border, the Papagos, a few of whom continue to use it as a medicine, credit the creosote bush with a special magic. Soon after time began, they believe, it spared their major deity, I’itoi, or Elder Brother, from drowning. Forewarned of “the great flood,” I’itoi, built a boat of the black shellac—a lac or gummy substance—secreted on the bush’s slender stems by scaled beetle. While the world was engulfed by the rising waters, it is told, he circumnavigated it four times—before reaching the safety of the peaks of the Pinacate craters in Sonora, Mexico.

That same lac gum provided the first Arizonans with waterproofing for baskets and glue for mending pots and affixing arrowheads. The aboriginal applications were mainly medicinal, however Creosote bushes offered a whole drug store for a variety of afflictions, from coughs and chills to bruises, bladder stones, and rattlesnake bites. Dried, the leaves were rubbed on rheumatic limbs. The Pima Indians chewed the gummy substance to ward off intestinal ills. Even now, there are non-Indian professional people in Phoenix who swear by a “chaparral tea” brewed from the leaves. They are convinced the drink abates the symptoms of arthritis, among other things. (Actually, chaparral is the dense mixture of small trees, mainly manzanita and oak that populates the Southwest’s lower mountains. Sometimes, Arizonans also mistakenly refer to creosote bush as greasewood, an unrelated plant.)

Mora, the Alabama microbiologist, remembers Indians in his native New Mexico who specifically relied on the same.

October, 2006 - It's been a while since I've posted new tips for gardening. Don Vito has sent me the following tips, which I'm sure you'll enjoy reading. I will also be posting an article regarding the Creosotebush, found throughout the Baja deserts, as soon as I have time to reype it, as it does not scan well. Here are Don Vito's latest tips for gardening:

Commonly asked questions about Agaves

Do all agaves die after they bloom?
Most agaves die after blooming, however several species bloom several times during their life.
The rosette that flowers will die if the infloresscence comes from the center of the plant.
The off setting types will have other rosettes that live, but the one that flowers will eventually die.

What are the differences between agaves and Yuccas?
yuccas bloom almost every year, agaves do not;
yuccas have typical bell shaped blooms,
agaves do not have true petals (they have tepals - petals and sepals are nearly indistinguishable)
yucca flowers are white, agave flowers may be white, pink, red or yellow.
Yuccas do not have showy teeth along their leaf edges while many agaves do.

How often should I water my agaves plants?
Agaves will withstand long spells of drought (especially in winter);
they are capable of standing prolonged dryness, but look better with regular irrigation.
My suggestion for our San Felipe area is: plant cactus in full sun (southwest exposure from your house);
plant agaves (northeast exposure from your house) or under a tree or big shrub or east of a wall.
Unless you live permanetly in your house, remember that in a very dry year, agaves will became food
for our desert critters (jack rabbits especially) otherwise they leave them alone.

How often do I fertilize my agaves?
Agaves can survive on very low fertility soils but will grow more rapidly and look better with
fertilization and watering during the spring through fall. No fertilization is recommended during the winter and cooler months. I will repeat again: Desert plants love water (provide a good drainage), but they have mechanized themselves to survive for the longest time without it.

How long do agaves live?
We call most of the agaves "Century plants" believing that they liveto be 100 years before to die.
The longevity depends on the species......30 years maximum. Near my home in LasVegas is a house who had 4 weber agaves in the front yard. Finally I saw onesending up a 20 foot flower stock growing almost 8 inches a day and die afterapproximately 2 months. I could not resist on going knocking on the door and when a lovely little older lady appeared I asked; How old are those Agaves out in front? She answered that they were planted 21 years ago when she moved into the house. The next year 2 more died and the last one survived to 24 years old.

There are up to 250 species of agaves and they grow in areas from 0 to 7000 feet.

Ciao Don Vito :-)

Submitted October 24, 2006 by Don Vito:

More about Cactus

Cactus don't really need to be fertilized.....but if you do, don't do it from October to the end of February.
(This relates to the San Felipe Desert)
Don't over water them; they can withstand long spells of drought (especially in the winter) unless they are in a container or pot.
If repotting is needed, do it when the soil is dry. Damaged roots should dry for a few days before potting.
Mark the south exposure and try to replant in the same direction.

Tips about Cactus, by Victorio Locatelli

Did you know?

All cactus are native to the Americas except Rhipsalis Baccifera Which is from Tropical Africa.
Cactus can be from .4 inches to 330 feet. (horizontal)
Desert Plants store water in stems or trunks. (cactus, bursera, boojum and ocotillo)
Desert plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen at night (crassulacean acid metabolism)
when is cool and more humid, storing the co2 for daytime photosynthesis. (This helps conserve water)
Cactus develop extensive shallow root system. The root system can absorve water fast.
Most cactus roots are found in the top 3 inches of soil and most of the absorbing root hairs are found
in the top 1 inch of soil. Extensive root system aid obtaining nutrients from poor soils.
Desert plants have: Small leaves. Gray or bluish colored leaves. Waxy (example the creosote bush)
or other coating on the leaves. All these characterisics help conserve water.

Cactus uses: Food (Fruits, Pads....nopalitos). Dye (red from cochineal scale). Animal food.
Medicine. Cerimonials and Religious Uses.........and of course, landscaping.

Cactus uses: Candle making. Fences. Fish hooks. Firewood. Shelter and shade. Needles. Perfume. Soap

Most of Cacti lack typical leaves. Spines (not thorns *) are modified leaves that arise from areoles.
(Thorns are the the woody part of a stem of a woody tree or shrub)
Spines serve several purposes. Protection. Camouflage. Reflect light. Shade the stem. Reduce evaporation.
Reduce air movement around stem. Condense fog into liquid that drips to the ground.
Some spines are decidous (glochids) for protection and for distribution.

Plant cactus in warm weather to enhance root development. Know the mature size of the plant.
Plant well armed cactus away from high traffic areas. Many species need to be shaded up to 3 weeks while establishing.
(I talked before about this subject). If root damage is being done, wait a few days before watering.
Read my previous article about this subject. Use rocks or gravel for topdressing.

Tools for planting : Leather gloves, Old garden hose, Tarp or old sheet or carpet, Hand truck, Duct tape, Safety glasses.

Tune in soon for more Cactus news. Ciao Don Vito.

August, 2005. The following was submitted by Don Vito, in response to a question sent by Sybil Stanton, a winter visitor. Normally, I would edit the English, as Don Vito is very, very Italian, but it sounds so cute with his accent that I've decided to post it exactly as he sent it in. Also, Leslie Doyle, our Tomato Lady will be submitting an article very soon. Enjoy!!

Palo Verde Trees, by Victorio Locatelli (Don Vito)

Dear friend,
  (my English is not very good) Palo Verdes, are very drought resistant desert trees. Cold sensitive below 20 grades. But (different from cacti) and like most of desert trees they love water.  They are used to be widout and developed a mecanism to survive long periods fo dryiness. First the drop the little leaves, after they drop the leaflet, ( the little tweeg that olds the leaves), after the start die out at the tip of the branches, but they still respire tru the green bark and spines. The bark, no more the leaves become their pulmons.
Their root sistem is different from trees from more temperate climates.  This trees have all the roots in the first 2 or 3 feet of soil, and spread out and a small center anchor root (Tap).   Desert trees have a long Tap root with many small little roots coming out from it, (like a carrot) and few advantagious roots on the top to collect rain water.  Roots from Mesquites are been found by miners at 120 feet below the surface and I am sure that Palo Verdes are not long above.  Unfortunately, it takes many years to develop this root system and if the tree is in a lawn area will get too much (loved) water and he will develop more the small weak advantegious roots in the top and a huge canopy.  The tree will prosper unless you have poor drainage and he will get waterlogged in the roots (Drowning).
It is not going to die (who told you that, is wrong) but the root system will be too weak to support the canopy so you need to hold the trees with poles and ties especially if you choose to let him grow in a single trunk.  Multi trunks ( like a shrub) would be better for balancing the canopy if you have the room.  Remember do that Palos Verdes are trees, not shrubs. They are better off in a desert landscape and watered manually and rarely but deep, with a hose and let a very small amount of water drip for one hour douring that time moving the hose occasionally around the tree.
Cercidium Microfillium, Little leaf Paloverde, also called Foot hill Palo Verde, also called Yellow paloverde (the bark is a yellow green in the spring) is the smaller of all Palo Verdes.
is the native of the San Felipe desert.  Dosen't have torns but the branches end in a long spine. Has very, very, small leaves.
Cercidium Floridium, Blue Palo Verde, you could find him along the Colorado River, in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and California.
Has small thorns, almost delicate (less aggressive) has a blue cast in the green of the neewly grown branches, has more flowers than the others Palos Verdes, the leaf a little bigger than the Microfillium.
Parkinsonnia Aculeata, also called (wrongly) Mexican Palo Verde. Native of the Caraibians. Has big hooked spines (very aggressive).
a very long leaflet with small oval leaves, a usually sparce canopy, (unless you have grown as a shrub).
Palo Verde Brea, very similar to the Blue but with more sharp torns.
But now they developed the ultimate Palo Verde at he Desert Museum in Tucson Arizona. It is a cross between the Microfillium, Floridium and the Parkinsonnia and it is......spineless and thornless and of course, it is called  "Desert Museum Palo Verde".
I hope I answer your question. I was very busy today but  you put my passion on drive :-) Tell to Katerine to polish this letter and to put it in her Cat Corner. Has too much valuable information just for one person to use for :-)))))  Love  Don Vito.

Footnote to his reply to Syb: My guess is that the Palo Verde you describe is a Blue, where do you live ? The Mexican Palo Verde( not native) is taking over areas of the Blue and in Arizona are considering as a pest like the Salt Cedar (small Tamarisck).  The seads are ready now to be harvested and you could "scarafied" them and plant them in a gallon container of desert dirt or in the ground.  Scarified means to scrach them in the cement floor of your patio untill the innercore is exposed in a couple little sides of the seed, othewise save them in a dry place like the garage and plant them in the spring.  Never fertilize with kimicals!! ONLY VERY LITTLE COMPOST OR NATURAL AMENDAMENTS .  CIAO DON VITO

April 29, 2005 ... We have a new article submitted by Norm Schilling of Schilling Horticulture and Don Vito and you're going to love reading it. It's very informative. It's below the first graphic strip. Enjoy!

The following is brought to you by Leslie Doyle, Master Gardner from Las Vegas. Leslie is Vito's Tomato Lady, being an expert on growing tomatoes, among other things. She also publishes the following Insider's List. She will start filming TV and Radio commercials for Plant World in the next couple of weeks, but she has graciously offered her advice below. Keep in mind that growing in Las Vegas, being a desert, is similar to Northern Baja. Please click here and thank you Leslie!

A Few Gardening Tips I Taught Myself......and Did you Know?

By Norm Schilling and Vito Locatelli

When buying trees many people think "bigger is better".  Wrong !....  Maybe I am cheap :-) I prefer to call myself frugal or conservative, but it is a big difference of price when you buy a tree in a 1 or 5 gallon container versus a 15 or 25 gallon container, but think of the advantages. You save money; they are easy to transport; you don't have to dig a big hole in the ground and in most cases smaller trees adapt easily and survive the shock of transplanting better and in a very short time will catch up to the bigger brother.

Sometimes bigger trees are root bound in the container (roots going around in circle) and require a little more maintenance when transplanted. They are more susceptible to sunburn. The only disentangle about  a smaller tree in our San Felipe desert is that it is more vulnerable to desert critters' appetite, so you might have to put some chicken wire around the plant for awhile until he gets its foliage out of the reach of them. The nursery will sell you all kinds of shock treatments, fluids etcetera and etcetera. A waist of money is my opinion.

Desert trees only need water ... their metabolism can survive without for long time....but they love water in a well drained soil.

Of course you could enhance the soil around them by mixing the native soil with no more than 1/3 of compost or other natural components, but remember that too much love sometime kills.  There is a feud going on now about if is a good idea to throw a hand full of granulated sulfur in the bottom of the hole before putting the tree in. I've been doing it for long time but sometimes I forget and I don't really see a difference. I hope that my friend Norm will answer that one for me. 
Norm here - Sulfur helps to reduce soil pH over time.  Desert soils are notorious for having high pH levels and many plants prefer lower.  But the key here is that the soil pH should approximate the soil pH of the plants natural habitat.  Therefore "non-desert" plants benefit from lower pH's, but true desert species are fine with higher, for that's what they naturally grow in.  While this is a bit of an over-simplification, for pH ranges in soils can vary greatly as can plants tolerance to them, it is a good rule of thumb.
If you do decide to do non-desert plants, you know that their water needs are greater, but other needs arise as well.  Sulfur helps.  Throw some into the planting mix, then turn the pile and let them sit in moist soil.  The next day or thereafter, turn the pile again.  This allows the sulfur pellets to soften in the moist soil, then disintegrate into small bits when the soil is moved the second time.
However, when I plant moderate water-use (non-desert) plants, I also use other amendments.  I use a compost at about 15-25% by volume, some slow-release, organic, low-nitrogen fertilizer with a good micro-nutrient package (2 such products are produced under labels of Gro-Power and Grow More, both with a 3-12-12 fertilizer ratio - the numbers on the bag), some bone meal and a little worm castings (worm poop - a great microbial stimulant).  All of these are added to the pile and the entire pile is shoveled to an adjacent location.  It's then allowed to sit overnight so the sulfur will soften, then the pile is moved back.  Next step is load it in the wheelbarrow, then throw it in the hole.  That way, the pile gets turned a total of four times and the amendments are thoroughly mixed in.
But I also want to include a couple of other thoughts about moderate water-use plants.  First off, because of the potential limits and problems getting them enough water in a desert (hot, dry) climate, if you decide you want to grow some anyway, put them in a "mini-oasis" zone.  Such a mini-oasis is usually located close to the house and also hopefully gets some protection from wind and sun, especially afternoon sun.  Thus the north and east sides of a structure offer the best microclimate for growing such plants.  The other thing I want to emphasize for best long-term plant health is the use of organic mulches.  Organic mulches are things like wood-chips, straw, pine needles (and pine cones, as Don Vito points out later) all make great mulches.  And the other thing is, don't rake up the dead leaves and other natural debris...over time it accumulates and makes a great mulch...and you have less work to do.  Such natural mulches greatly reduce water loss from the soil surface and slowly break down into the soil, greatly enriching it over time.  It does take time, but I've long said that its the single best thing you can generally do to achieve happy, healthy non-desert plants in a desert climate.
Ok, one final thought.  If you do decide to plant from container stock, the best time to plant most plants is in the fall.  That way the plant has the maximum amount of time to send out roots in response to wetting patterns in preparation for the hot, dry summer.  New plants in the ground need water more frequently at first, because of their limited root balls.  But be sure to water deeper and wider then the root ball, because the roots will then expand.  That's another key to success to growing plants in a desert climate...water deep, water wide and water (relatively) infrequently - after the plant has had a chance to develop more roots.  Older plants can become amazingly drought tolerant, even some non-desert species.  And the water deep, water wide rule applies to both desert and non-desert plants.  The difference in watering between, say, a Mesquite (low water user) and a Magnolia (higher water user) is not in how much water you give them but in how often.  Both should be flooded deep and wide if possible, but the Magnolia needs it much more often.  By the way, generally speaking, don't even try to grow a Magnolia unless you're willing to give it a protected location, lots of amendments, organic mulch, fertilization, love and prayers...I only use it as an example.
Ok, another final, final thought! <grin> I don't amend soils for desert plants and I do for non-desert.  I use rock mulch or none at all for desert plants, organic mulch for non-desert.  For both I prefer to let plant "litter" lay in its place to become a natural mulch...and I think it looks good.  Frankly, to me, over-manicured landscape look artificial...and in most cases the whole point to planting ornamental plants is to bring the beauty of nature into our properties.
Ok, ok, one more final, final, I swear this is the last one, thought!  If I were concerned about how often I could water new plants (not a concern here in Las Vegas, because we always give our own and our customers plants an automated irrigation system, but I understand there are usually greater limitations in the San Felipe area), I would even amend the soils a bit for my desert plants...just not too much, especially in organic matter (compost) mixed into the soil, no more than 5 to 10%.  Use the other amendments too, if you can, just as directed earlier, mix them all well, and give your desert plants a little extra soil-love. <smile>
That's all for me this time. Hello from Las Vegas...now back to Don Vito!...
I started many desert trees from seeds in a one gallon container (usually you need to scarify (to hasten the sprouting of hard covered seedsby making incisions in the seed coats - Websters) theseedordrillasmallholetoexposetheinner core)  I use pine needles in the bottom of the container to avoid the dirtto drain out from the holes. Pine needles are very acidic and will lower thePH in the soil, also they are very good for weed control.  I bring also pine cones I collect in the States to Baja and lay them in the saucer bowl of my trees. To me they look good, when I water the trees they help me disturb less the soil around. They look foreign in Baja :-) and probably help to conserve moisture.  Did you know also that if you collect flowers in the desert just about at the time of the end of their life span and you throw them around your property there is a good chance that some of the seeds will flower in the next rainy season.
Ciao for now.  Don Vito 

Agaves, Yuccas and Nolinas

By Dennis Swartzell
Mountain States

This collection of plants falls within the plant family Agavaceae, a large group of monocots that is linked more closely with Lilies. The name Agave is derived from the Greek, meaning noble or admirable. The family is mostly xerophytic, which means the members are capable of surviving long periods of drought. They are native largely to the southwestern United States, but many are found throughout Mexico and even into the coastal regions and islands of the Caribbean.
Often it is difficult to distinguish between the three genera (subsets) of the family. If you look closely, it becomes much easier to identify them. Agaves typically have thick, fleshy leaves while those of the genus Yucca and Nolina have more fibrous, strap-like leaves.

Agaves have mostly yellow to greenish flowers, while the latter two have white to purplish flowers. From a botanical point of view, the structure of the flower really tells the tale. The flowers of Agave have inferior ovaries. This means it would appear that the floral parts (petals and sexual organs) arise on top of the ovary. Yuccas and Nolinas have superior ovaries, where the floral parts appear to arise below the ovary. Although this may be a bit technical, it is the best way to identify the plants correctly.

To further separate these plants, it would be useful to indicate whether they were trunk forming or not. Most all agave plants are stemless. But many of the Yucca and Nolina species develop prominent trunks, becoming almost tree-like. This is known as being arborescent. Remember there are some that do not form trunk though. This is where the flowers help to identify those that closely resemble one another.

Most species of Agave are monocarpic, meaning they flower only one in a lifetime. This is where the common name century plant comes is derived. There was a misconception that Agave plants bloomed once they reached and age of 100 years. This is not true, as Agaves bloom any time after they reach maturity. This is typically more like 10 years rather than 100. In contrast, most Yucca and Nolina species are polycarpic, or meaning that they will bloom repeatedly during the life of the plant. One exception is the Yucca whipplei or Our Lord’s Candle, which dies after flowering.

Many species of Agave produce small plantlets at the base of the mother plant. These small clones are called “pups” or offsets in the nursery business. This phenomena may occur at any time during the life of the plant or in some species, when the plant goes into stress or has flowered and is about to expire. Some species produce no plantlets at all. Yet others produce small plantlets along the flower stalk, known as bulbils. All of these plantlets may be propagated to produce exact replicas of the mother plant.

The leaves of Agave are formed in fairly dense clusters known as rosettes. The number and the spiral placement of the leaves are often used to identify the plant species. Rosettes are often seen in xeric plants, as the foliage arrangement helps to channel rain water to the root zone. The leaves may be lined with sharp teeth or the margin may be smooth. Almost all species have a prominent, rigid spine on the tip of the leaf. The tight bud arrangement of agaves causes the leaves to retain an imprint of the leaf it was held closely next to within the bud. The pattern of the teeth will often be prominently displayed on either side of the adjacent leaf. The exterior of the leaves is coated with a waxy cuticle that helps to retain water in the fleshy leaves, a characteristic that greatly aids the plant in surviving the harsh desert conditions. Leaf color varies from apple green to bluish-green.

The flower spikes of Agave plants often grow very quickly from the rosette growing to spectacular proportions. Some species can produce flowers stalks in excess of forty feet in height. The flowers have three sepals and three petals, which are nearly identical, and are often referred to as tepals for that reason. The ovary forms a woody capsule with three chambers containing numerous, flattened seed that turn black when ripe.

Yucca species, as previously mentioned tend to have flattened, strap-like foliage, often with fibrous filaments peeling from the leaf margins. Some are trunk forming, and may become quite tall. The Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, is the most familiar arborescent type. This one is multi-branched while other species may only branch once or a few times during a lifetime. Some of the more common species of Yucca do not branch at all, and remain more shrub-like.
All Yuccas will flower eventually. They too produce an elongated spike held above the foliage, with white or sometimes purplish tinged flowers that look very much like the flowers of a lily. This is why the relationship was so close to that of Lilies. The flowers of Yucca are almost exclusively pollinated by moths which have developed a close relationship, providing fertilization for the plant and in exchange the plant harbors the larvae for the species.

Nolina species are often referred to as Beargrass. The strap-like leaves are often more narrow and grasslike than Yucca, but not always. They too may be trunk forming, growing to great heights. Minute teeth may be held on the margin and although they may be mostly invisible, they can cut the skin quite easily. For this reason, great care must be taken in handling certain species.

The flowers of Nolina are not nearly as spectacular as those of Agave or Yucca. Flower stalks are produced containing dense clusters of tiny white to cream flowers. On some species the stalk will barely clear the foliage while in others the flowers may be held high above the foliage. Regardless, bees congregate in large numbers around the flower stalks. Generally all members of the Agave family are long lived and require little to no maintenance. Once Agave plants flower and expire, the bulk of the plant must be removed from the landscape. Upon completion of the flowering cycle for Yucca and Nolina, the flower stalk may be removed to keep the landscape tidy or left in place to remain natural looking. Very little other maintenance is required. Some prefer to remain the thatch of old leaves from the base of Nolina and Yucca, but this is totally dependent on taste and not a requirement for good plant health.

Fertilization is generally not required for any of these plants, and it may hasten the maturation for Agaves, leading to premature flowering and termination. There are occasional problems for all of these species with a particular pest known as sisal or agave weevil. The insect is not particular about species and will attach anything related to Agave. Often the damage is not noticed until the plant is totally dead. The adult weevil and the grubs attack the roots and the interior trunk unseen working to completely destroy the conductive tissue. Often the plant will collapse, appearing wilted and in need of water. The main plant can be easily pushed over to reveal a mass of rotten tissue and no connection to the root system. At this juncture, the plant is basically dead. The best control is prevention. A semi-annual application of a systemic insecticide works to keep the pests at bay. Merit or Disyston have been reported to work effectively on this weevil.

All member of the Agave family are regal. Many are worthy of use in the landscape. Perhaps in future articles we can look more closely at the various species and the delicate features they offer. Dennis Swartzell

Cactus of the San Felipe Desert and How to Care for Them

By Vito Locatelli (Don Vito)

The area around San Felipe is rich with many different species and types of cacti. I am only going to mention a few of these; the most popular and abundant and simple techniques to transplant and care for them. Since it is illegal in the United States and Mexico I do not suggest that you remove cacti from their natural habitat. You can however, acquire them during the clearing of a construction site, from private land or buy them from nursery.

The main difference between trees and shrubs versus cactus is that trees and shrubs need to be planted soon after their removal from the soil. Because their root system is very different, Cacti need to go through a period of callusation. If you remove the cactus from the ground the roots become obsolete. If the wound is not callused and comes in contact with water or moist soil, the plant will root rot and the cactus will become infected and die in a short period. I suggest you remove all broken roots and loose soil manually from the root system and place the plant in a shaded area for 4-5 days in the summer and at least 7 days in the winter. After this you can plant in loose soil in the ground or container avoiding injury to the cacti. If the cactus does become injured from cuts or breaks, then an additional 2-3 day waiting period is recommended before watering. Remember, cactus store water within its flesh and can survive months uprooted. Cactus never really need fertilizer and can grow in the poorest of soils.

I once transplanted some barrel cacti in which the bottoms were severed and some of the flesh was left behind with the root system. After a good period of the callusus and then planted and watered, the cactus sent down new roots. Cactus are very resilient, the plant is thriving now. If you re-pot a cactus from one container to a larger one remove it only when the soil is completely dry. Wait a few days before watering the plant in its new pot.  You also need to remember that cacti are susceptible to sunburn. Because of the position of the cacti in its original environment some areas of the plant would be normally more shaded than others. In its new environment it may now realize a different exposure to the sun. The side that was shaded could now be in full sunlight and become sunburned causing damage to the plant. During this time when the plant is becoming established to its new position, you need to fully cover it with burlap cloth to filter the sun for 2-4 weeks. Allow the cactus to slowly get acquainted with its new sun exposure.

Now let’s talk about some of the most popular and abundant cactus of the San Felipe area.  The Red Barrel Cactus (Biznaga) has many types to include the Compass Barrel, which is the most numerous. It is called this because of its tendency to grow leaning towards the southwest. They are easily removed from the ground with a strong boot with a hardy sole by applying pressure and wiggling. You really don’t need a shovel. I like to plant mine in clusters of 2-5 versus planting them individually in a row. This cactus generally blooms all through the spring starting in early March and has beautiful yellow flowers.

Old Man Cactus (Garambullo) This cactus has many shoots that resemble the pipes of an organ. It has many fuzzy pale in color spines on its top; this makes it look like an old man, the reason for its name. A beautiful small white flower will appear only at night from a small bud during spring and summer which bats like to eat the pollen. It is easily transplanted, even from a cutting off a larger plant. I picked up one in the desert which had been uprooted completely by an ATV. It was lying on its side and had already started rooting itself where it laid on the ground. I planted it in its upright position and it now looks strange due to the dead roots coming out of its side like little arms.

The Beavertail Cactus has one of the most beautiful short lived magenta flowers which usually bloom during March in our desert. The pads are spineless but bear glochids which look innocent but are extremely painful when they come in contact with the skin.  When handling this cactus use cardboard, old pieces of a rug, or a big pair of pliers. If you use gloves, you will never be able to remove all the glochids, destroying the gloves. There are many non-native types of this cactus that are equally suitable for our area.

The Prickley Pear Cactus are very suitable for are area and is similar to the Beavetail. Both these types of cacti are easily prorogated from cuttings. Detach one of the ear shaped pads, allow it to callous and then place it almost half way into the ground and water.

I should mention the numerous type of Chollas; Buckhorn, Teddy Bear, Diamond and Pencil. These are all interesting cactus, but if planted near walkways or too close to your home they pose a danger to small children and pets. I would suggest placing these in a remote and inaccessible spot in your yard. These cacti also have numerous white or yellow flowers in the spring and are easily prorogated from cuttings.

That is all for today folks; my garden is calling me. I will get back to you in the next few days.
Ciao Don Vito 

On Propagating and Growing Cactus

By Norm Schilling

Of all the groups of plants well suited for easy care and reliable growth in the Deserts of North America, the first to spring to mind are the many species of cactus. Because they are so very conservative in their use of the limited resource of water, they are especially well suited to our arid homes.

As with all plants, there are a few considerations and caretaking techniques that are going to make our interactions with these plants so much more pleasant. Sometimes, a little bit of knowledge really can go a long way. So here are some of my tips for successful cactus growing.

Many type of cactus, especially those that have a pad-type form (think beavertail), are very easy to propagate from cuttings. Basically, all that need be done is to have a significant section (at least one pad) cut off of one plant, and later planted with bottom half buried in the soil. The key, though, is that it is planted later. For this technique to be successful, the cut pad(s) need to be allowed to sit out of the soil for at least several days, for the wound to callous over. I actually prefer to leave them out for a week or more. Then shove them in the ground and get a new plant.
Don’t forget, cacti need water too. Some people think that they need none. They can withstand very long periods of drought, but they look better with some occasional moisture. One way to tell if cacti need watering is to look at the swell of the plant. A well watered plant looks nice and plump, full of water. One that is dry looks somewhat wizened, like a balloon that’s had some air sucked out.

Cacti sometimes get pests. In particular, I have an on-going battle with scale insects who want to suck all the precious juice from my cactus. Scale insects usually appear as indistinct, whitish and usually fuzzy blobs on the pads of cactus. This weird little creature crawls up a cactus when young, finds a place it likes, settles in and starts sucking, and then actually sheds its legs! However, this strategy can be its downfall, for all you have to do is knock him off the plant and he can’t get back up. Hard blasts of water work best for this (plus your plant gets watered at the same time) but you can also do it by poking them off with a stick.

Here’s a simple but important rule with cactus. Keep them away from where they’re likely to poke you. Everybody has a clutzy moment now and then, and if there’s a cactus nearby, sometimes its not pretty. Make sure to keep them well away from walkways and other areas where people might frequent without paying attention.

So why all this fuss about cactus? One reason is because cactus flowers can be spectacular. Their petals always seem to have a succulent shimmering that can be breathtaking. Often the colors are spectacular and vivid. Plants can cover themselves in blossoms and sometimes the flowers are huge. But perhaps one of my favorite features is that some cactus flowers are fun to play with. You see, any flower in the genus Opuntia (those are most of the pad or cane type cactus) is thigmotropic. That means it moves in response to touch. So if a flower on any beavertail or cholla type flower is fairly recently opened, and you lightly touch the whorl of stamens (the little hairs in the center), you’ll see that they wiggle a bit in response to your touch. Be careful though; check to see if a bee is playing in there before you stick your finger in.
Generally speaking, cacti are tough, beautiful, easy to start and grow, and so very water conservative. Some of their beautiful flowers even wiggle when you touch them. What more could you ask from a plant?

On Summertime Pruning

By Norm Schilling

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is when to prune. Though the answer varies with particular species and needs, I believe that for the most part, pruning on woody perennials is best spread throughout the year. Rather than going in one time (usually winter), if the same amount of wood (foliage) is removed, it is often better if this is spread out over the course of several lighter prunings. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the act of pruning is the act of creating injuries, injuries cause stress, and stress is better handled by living beings if given in several small doses, rather than one large one.

The other reason is that by pruning lightly several times a year, we can be both more immediately reactive to the way the tree or shrub is growing, and more proactive in leading and coaxing growth into forms we desire more and that are better for the plant.

Lets imagine a Desert Willow for example, well established and growing well. A good rule of thumb for pruning woody perennials, especially trees, is not to remove more than 25% of the foliage in a year. Normal procedure would be to remove all of that in one pruning in the winter. However, say that winter pruning was reduced to just 10%. Later, in the spring, after new growth has pushed forth, the same tree is revisited. One can then observe how the plant is responding to the winter pruning. Selective pruning of new water sprouts and suckers should occur, removing them entirely, or heading them back to a bud, to slow them down. The other responses of the tree can be studied, and the new growth that is not “behaving” well can be slowed down or removed. In this pruning, only a small percentage of foliage is removed, around 5 to 10%. The tree then responds to the work of the arborist, and energy is allocated based in part on the pruning just done, and growth corresponds. Following this, in summer or early fall, the tree is visited again, and the pruner then responds to the trees late spring growth, and influences and redirects growth again. Another 5 to 10% is removed, and the total for the year not exceeding the approximate of 25%. The tree responds in its fall growth to the pruning of the summer.

This approach is much more interactive with the trees growth, and better results can be achieved.
A note of caution is in order though. I think that desert-adapted species are better candidates for summer pruning than are more moderate to high water users. The higher water users are often much more susceptible to sunburn of foliage and trunk, and when tissues that were previously shaded by other foliage are exposed to brutal summer sunlight conditions, damage can ensue. Minimize or eliminate pruning of such plants to cooler times, and be sure not to remove large enough chunks of shading foliage, so as not to open new tissues to extensively more sunlight.
Remember also, that if you do just one heavy pruning a year on trees and other woody perennials, that pruning is usually best done during the dormant season, winter.

One final thought on summertime pruning. Dead wood can be removed at any time. Whether it be spent flower stalks, dead twigs or dead branches, removing them never hurts the plant, and will actually allow the wound to close more quickly. Just cut all the dead off, back to, but not into, live tissue. It is usually visibly obvious where the line between dead and live tissue is.

So, in the summertime, if you’re just aching for some pruning to do, go for it, just go light. And if there’s just one or two minor branches that are bugging you, or whacking you in the forehead, or obscuring a view, whip out the hand pruners and saw, and have at it!

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is when to prune. Though the answer varies with particular species and needs, I believe that for the most part, pruning on woody perennials is best spread throughout the year. Rather than going in one time (usually winter), if the same amount of wood (foliage) is removed, it is often better if this is spread out over the course of several lighter prunings. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One is that the act of pruning is the act of creating injuries, injuries cause stress, and stress is better handled by living beings if given in several small doses, rather than one large one.

The other reason is that by pruning lightly several times a year, we can be both more immediately reactive to the way the tree or shrub is growing, and more proactive in leading and coaxing growth into forms we desire more and that are better for the plant.

Lets imagine a Desert Willow for example, well established and growing well. A good rule of thumb for pruning woody perennials, especially trees, is not to remove more than 25% of the foliage in a year. Normal procedure would be to remove all of that in one pruning in the winter. However, say that winter pruning was reduced to just 10%. Later, in the spring, after new growth has pushed forth, the same tree is revisited. One can then observe how the plant is responding to the winter pruning. Selective pruning of new water sprouts and suckers should occur, removing them entirely, or heading them back to a bud, to slow them down. The other responses of the tree can be studied, and the new growth that is not “behaving” well can be slowed down or removed. In this pruning, only a small percentage of foliage is removed, around 5 to 10%. The tree then responds to the work of the arborist, and energy is allocated based in part on the pruning just done, and growth corresponds. Following this, in summer or early fall, the tree is visited again, and the pruner then responds to the trees late spring growth, and influences and redirects growth again. Another 5 to 10% is removed, and the total for the year not exceeding the approximate of 25%. The tree responds in its fall growth to the pruning of the summer. This approach is much more interactive with the trees growth, and better results can be achieved.

A note of caution is in order though. I think that desert-adapted species are better candidates for summer pruning than are more moderate to high water users. The higher water users are often much more susceptible to sunburn of foliage and trunk, and when tissues that were previously shaded by other foliage are exposed to brutal summer sunlight conditions, damage can ensue. Minimize or eliminate pruning of such plants to cooler times, and be sure not to remove large enough chunks of shading foliage, so as not to open new tissues to extensively more sunlight.
Remember also, that if you do just one heavy pruning a year on trees and other woody perennials, that pruning is usually best done during the dormant season, winter.

One final thought on summertime pruning. Dead wood can be removed at any time. Whether it be spent flower stalks, dead twigs or dead branches, removing them never hurts the plant, and will actually allow the wound to close more quickly. Just cut all the dead off, back to, but not into, live tissue. It is usually visibly obvious where the line between dead and live tissue is.

So, in the summertime, if you’re just aching for some pruning to do, go for it, just go light. And if there’s just one or two minor branches that are bugging you, or whacking you in the forehead, or obscuring a view, whip out the hand pruners and saw, and have at it!


Note from Don Vito: Sometimes I am asked to help a relative or friend prune a tree in their yard and when I realize that the tree has never been pruned before and it is Winter (unless it is a Pine Tree), sometimes I prune up to 40 %. Desert trees, like Palos Verdes, Acacias or Mesquites have no problem with 40% pruning in the winter (40% of the canopy only.)  Pine Trees (among others) go into shock if you over prune them and will take 2 or 3 years to get out of it.

Right Plant, Right Place

By Vito Locatelli with the help of arborist Norm Schilling

Right Plant, Right Place Plants perform best when their environment in the garden most closely approximates the natural environment from which they originate. They also need space in which to grow and best display their unique beauties.

Considerations that should be taken into account include: plants should be in an irrigation zone that meets their needs. Putting non-desert plants into a desert landscape or vice-versa is problematic at best, and can be disastrous. Place plants in an area where they receive an amount of sun in which they can thrive. This seems obvious, yet it’s a very common mistake. Sun-lovers and shade-lovers are straightforward enough, but there’s also a group of plants that need both quite a bit of sun, yet also need protection from the hottest sun of the summer. These plants should be planted on the east side of shading structures or plants, or in filtered shade beneath trees.Plants need room to grow to maturity. All too often beautiful plants are sheared or cut way back, destroying their natural beauty, and often their health too. Other wonderful plants are removed all-together, because they just get too big. This is especially true of trees.  The other consideration in all this is that if you plant too large a plant, it means you have to do more work...and often times there is another species or cultivar that's smaller, so it'll take less work AND look more attractive.  A good example of this is a group of beautiful plants called the Texas Rangers (Leucophyllum species).  Some of these heavily flowering and very drought tolerant shrubs reach a size of 6 or 8 feet, yet others only grow 3 or 4 or 5 feet, depending on the individual species or cultivar. Arrange plants to draw the eye into the landscape. Generally speaking, this means the largest plants are in the background, middle sizes in the middle and the smallest and lowest plants up front. However, this rule of thumb should also be slightly violated, so that monotony is avoided, and hence some groups or individuals of larger stature should be used in middle areas. Also, large shrubs or grasses near walkways can be particularly offsetting, blocking views. Even low hedge plantings can be a barrier to both the feet and the eye.Arrange plants to both contrast and compliment in color, form and texture. The fall-down of many a garden is when all the plants are far too similar, usually all a similar color of green. This is where bluish, silver and purple foliaged plants are so wonderful. Contrast of form and texture works in a similar fashion. An example of all three brought together would be to plant a bold fountain-shaped bluish Agave in the midst of a soft, small-leaved greenish plant like Sierra Gold Dalea.Give tree root systems room to grow. While small trees can be planted almost anywhere, larger specimens should be kept at least 5-10 feet away from walls, driveways, sidewalks and foundations, so they won’t damage the structures with their roots. Deep, infrequent watering promotes deeper root growth and helps reduce the potential for damage. Also, trees placed too close to walls adjoining a neighbor’s property are often subject to severe damage from the neighbor.

Natives make sense.  If you have a desert landscape, try to incorporate as many native plants you can, or buy plants from areas who have a climate similar to ours, even places as far away as Peru, Chile and Australia. If your place is in one of the campos north or south of San Felipe and you visit it sparingly during the year, my suggestion is to plant only very drought resistant plants.

Many desert plants can survive and even thrive for many months without watering, once established. The first months are the most critical, especially the first summer. Desert plants will need supplemental water for awhile, but less and less after they get established.  This past wet winter and spring has made this a great time to plant.  The high moisture will likely be around for a while at least in the form of higher humidity, and that means plants lose less water through transpiration and establish more easily.

I don't water my plants for 3 or more months in the summer and they all survive. When I water them I make sure that it gets down deep many feet to the root system.  I'll write more on another occasion more specifically about watering.

Place some plants strategically.  One example would be a place where the water runs off of the roof in case of rain or even mist.  On summer nights, mist from the sea collects on top of my roof and usually around sunrise big drops of water come down onto my strategically placed Desert Birds of Paradise (Tabachin) <---Vitorrio, what is this word?  Is it the name of the genus or the Mexican name?  Do you mean the Caesalpinia?)  But, if you do use the water that collects as dew and then drips off, remember not to put too large a plant too close to the house.

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