Apple seedlings need plenty of light to thrive

Here are some questions I handled this past week.

Question: I’m growing an apple seedling in my home. How can I thicken the trunk?

Answer: First, plant your apple outside where it can get plenty of light. When the seedling gets waist-high, nip off the growing point. This will stimulate branching to thicken the trunk. These branches will produce the easiest fruit to pick.

But here’s my real concern: Apples started from seed will probably never produce the apples you’re expecting or that you will enjoy. Finally, it takes up to 10 years to produce apples from seedlings. That’s when you find out if the apples are any good. But have fun trying. Maybe your seedling will replace some of the favorites of today.

Q: Why won’t my palo verde seeds germinate and grow?

A: Nick or scratch their hard seed coats and soak them overnight. Use coarse sandpaper to do the scratching. Water can now get in the seeds to trigger germination and they’ll come up quickly.

Q: Why are Swan Hill olives not available in smaller containers?

A: Dr. Tom Russell of Swan Hill Nursery said he grafts Swan Hill olives on oblonga rootstock because it is resistant to verticillium wilt, a disease found in our soils. He wants to make sure the rootstock is under control before marketing the trees in 24-inch or larger boxes. Otherwise your tree may revert back to producing pollen and olives if suckers develop around the base of the plant. If suckers develop, remove them or they will develop and produce olives. This is generally not a problem.

Q: Why is my Swan Hill olive producing fruits about the size of peas?

A: Russell said the female portion of the flower might give the impression it’s going to produce olives. This enlargement is due to a form of nonsexual reproduction called parthenocarpy without pollination. It is often called “false pregnancy.” The false fruit aborts and quickly dries up and disappears, leaving little or no trace.

Q: We want to plant Mediterranean fan palms in containers. Is there a way to keep them small?

A: Just planting in containers will have a bonsai effect, keeping them small, and be stingy with the water and fertilizer.

Q: I am harvesting hundreds of figs, but the birds are harvesting thousands! How can I keep the birds from pecking and the weevils from souring the figs?

A: Those birds know exactly when your figs ripen. And it’s just before the fruit softens when you want to harvest them. This calls for covering the tree with netting. The netting must cover the entire tree and be gathered at the trunk. If not, the birds will get inside the net to do their feasting.

As fruit ripens, it may also spoil because of sour fruit weevils invading the fruit. So you still need to harvest early. Unfortunately, figs do not ripen much after harvest. They will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

Q: Why do my figs get about an inch wide and then dry up? I water it with three emitters an hour each day. It is a large tree.

A: Fig trees require lots of water to mature their fruit. Since it is a large tree with only three emitters, expand your irrigation system out to the tree’s drip line. In the meantime, irrigate the area under the tree with a lawn sprinkler. Figs are shallow-rooted, so heavily mulch under the tree to reduce your watering needs.

Q: We have Italian cypresses lining our property, but we now want to put in a block wall. Will severing their roots damage them?

A: Italian cypresses are tough plants. They go years without much moisture. After cutting the roots and installing the wall, drench the area under the bushes with a root stimulator to generate more root growth. The heat from the block wall will not hurt them.

Q: My neighbor removed all the fronds on my queen palm. Will the plant send up more fronds or will it die?

A: Hang tight to see whether new growth emerges from the top. Palms love warm weather, so you should see new fronds emerging soon. In the meantime, continue to irrigate it.

Q: What is the best way to control tumbleweeds?

A: Hoe them out before they spread their seeds. In the spring, apply a pre-emergent herbicide to the area.

Linn Mills’ garden column appears on Sundays. He can be reached at or 702-526-1495.

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