Southwestern Deserts

February, 2011
Regional Report

Reduce Olive Pollen

Does your landscape contain older flowering and fruiting olive trees, as opposed to newer fruitless varieties? Do you suffer from allergies? If so, the best option for reducing the copious amounts of pollen produced by olive trees is to trim the canopy in February to eliminate the new wood that bears flowers. If you have a large, substantial tree it can be a difficult task, and it's unlikely you'll eliminate all the flowers. You might want to consider hiring a certified arborist. Don't let untrained people hack away at your tree! Another option is chemical sprays that interfere with flower production, but these must be timed precisely, and again, you won't eliminate all flowers on big trees. Be absolutely careful that chemical drift doesn't end up on other plants, or they, too, will have problems with flower development. Over the long haul, it's not a great solution, as chemical sprays will decrease the tree's vigor, which makes it susceptible to disease.

Don't Prune Frost Damage

Like the rest of the country, the Southwest was hit with yet another freeze in early February. Don't be tempted to trim away that blackened foliage yet. It adds a layer of insulation to protect the remainder of the plant if more cold weather is in store. Wait until spring truly arrives, and then cut back to where new growth is emerging.

Gather Tomato Plants

In the low desert, some gardeners will transplant tomatoes in mid-February to get a jumpstart, even though our last average frost date is a month away. It's so cold out as I write this, that there is ice on my shaded Phoenix driveway, so planting cold-tender tomatoes is not on the top of my suggestion list! However, if you low elevation gardeners haven't sown your own starts, you may want to start patrolling your local nurseries for the best selection because unusual varieties tend to go fast. You can set the tomatoes out in full sun during the day, but bring them indoors at night until temperatures warm and it's safe to plant them. Higher elevation gardeners can wait a month or so or have time to start their own seeds.

Continue Sowing Cool Season Salad Greens

Baby greens harvested fresh from the garden are so sweet and tasty they don't require salad dressing! As temperatures warm and day length increases, salad greens start to bolt and become bitter. However, there's still time to plant a crop of leaf lettuces, as well as specialty greens, such as arugula, mizuna, spinach and tatsoi. Planting in containers that can be moved into afternoon shade when temperatures heat up will help continue the harvest somewhat.

Plant Bare Root Roses

Nurseries offer bare root roses now, or try a mail order nursery for that special variety. Dig a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball but only just as deep. Using backfill, build a soil "cone" in the center of the hole. Drape the roots over the cone to help them spread outward rather than tangling around themselves and becoming girdled, which will eventually kill the plant. Set the plant so the graft point, which is a slight bump in the stem near the soil line, is above ground.

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