Be careful when pruning a Mexican blue palm

I have settled in at my new office at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. You can reach me at 822-7754, and I will assist you with your gardening and water conservation concerns. Here are some questions that came to me this past week.

Q: You always write about pruning Mexican and California palms, but you never mention how to prune a Mexican blue palm?

A: First of all, figure that as long as fronds are green, they are still producing for the plant. It is OK to remove dead fronds and those showing signs of aging, but because Mexican blue palm fronds are so vicious, always approach them with tough gloves, sharp pruners and saws. When fruiting stalks come along, remove stalks as they finish blooming.

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Mexican blue palm in bloom. In the spring, fragrant creamy-white flowers from fruiting strands called “garlands” extend well below the arching fronds and to the ground as the palm reaches maturity. You can walk up to the garlands and enjoy their beauty and fragrance. The blue-green, waxy fan-shaped fronds also grab your eye. They arch out from the trunk to form a wide-spreading crown, and retain their color until they bend down to form a hanging brown skirt. What a pleasant contrast this palm brings to traditional green landscapes.

Q: We planted honeydew melons this spring and are wondering why we are getting everything but honeydew-shaped melons? Some look like overgrown cucumbers.

A: A seed grower I consulted said it is possible that you got poor-quality seeds. The seeds may have come from honeydew plants that were cross-pollinated. Translated, vine crops must be grown in a controlled environment to manage pollination, and if you don’t know where the insect has been, then you end up with fruit like yours. If this is so, you don’t see the results of cross-pollination until the next generation, which you planted. Sorry.

Q: We have a beautiful long hedge of rosemary running along the front of our property. We are now wondering why dead portions show up along the hedge and how to control them. Along the inside of the hedge, we have some beautiful roses.

A: You have two possible problems happening. Rosemary cannot tolerate poorly drained soil or frequent irrigations. The excessive water may have led to fungus attack. Keep your rosemary on the dry side.

Secondly, you can shear rosemary, but be careful not to prune into the wood or dead zone. Plants cut too far into the dead zone generally do not resprout. Since you frequently prune, you may have cut into the dead zone.

Q: Is there a plant that grows about knee high and doesn’t require much maintenance?

A: Yes, it is dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’). It makes an excellent plant for a low, formal border or hedge. Unlike better-known hollies, it doesn’t have spiny leaves. It gets about 18 inches tall and as wide. Its grayish-green foliage blends well with both desert and nondesert plants, and it tolerates our alkaline soils.

Q: We ordered a flowering purple plum from our landscaper contractor. It was awesome while in bloom, but green leaves followed. Did he make a mistake?

A: True, your contractor delivered a flowering plum, but there are several varieties and some of them come with green leaves. This is a classic example of dealing in common names. Take a look in Sunset’s Western Garden book to check out the varieties available.

Q: We have just moved to town and are building a new home. Can you recommend a landscape architect and/or landscaper who is creative and concerned about water conservation? We want a pool, ramada, barbecue and a vegetable garden.

A: The Southern Nevada Water Authority does not recommend one company over another. Therefore, go to our Web site, and look under landscapes, then under Water Smart contractors and select from that list. These are companies that have been through our Water Smart training program. With your type of request, I find you’ll get best results by using a licensed landscape architect. You will find them listed in the Yellow Pages.

Q: Do you know why my 10 year-old photinia suddenly died? It was so pretty until now.

A: Over the years and after digging up numerous plants that suddenly died, I often found evidence of root-bound plants. This happened way back in the early stages of its growth. It is easy to point the finger at our local nurseries but the problem started long before that. Here is an easy way to avoid the problem again; stick your index finger down along the side of the trunk; if you run into roots, move to the next plant until you don’t hit what are most likely the beginning of girdled roots.

Q: We have grown sunflowers for several years for their seeds and show. Last year we saved seeds to plant this spring; now one plant has 22 heads on it. Why not the mammoth heads?

A: This is a normal phenomenon when you save sunflower seeds from the original variety, so plant next year. Controlled breeding by seed producers makes it possible to get the mammoth head, but when insects became involved, cross pollination took place and you ended up with the many heads.

Q: Why is my four-year-old kadota fig producing small figs? I fertilize and water it all the time.

A: First, the fig tree is just beginning to come into production. I recall a parable in the Bible, Luke 13:6-9: “…A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.

Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, ‘Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?’

And he answering said unto him, ‘Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it.’ ”

Too many of us want fruit from trees the first year; you must let it develop first.

And it sounds like you are pampering it too much. Excessive fertilizer and overwatering encourages rank growth at the expense of fruit production, which often ripens improperly, if at all. Figs can get by on very little fertilizer and deep, infrequent irrigations.

Q: Is there a pine tree that does well in Las Vegas that doesn’t shed needles?

A: I’d like to say yes, but all plants shed at one time or another during the year. Evergreen doesn’t mean they keep needles forever — they only keep them through the winter. Now the trick comes in slowing needle-drop down. If you overfertilize and water it too much, that creates lots of growth (needles) this year and next year all these needles fall. So avoid overwatering and fertilizing it too much so it doesn’t put on excessive annual growth.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Thursday. You can reach him at or at the Gardens at the Springs Preserve, 822-7754.

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