Cold recovery continues in backyards across valley

Q: We have a pygmy palm that took a beating last winter even though it was covered. It has three trunks. The main, largest trunk has recovered quite nicely and has sprouted new leaves, but the other two trunks seem pretty dead. You can pull out the center leaves and they look brown and mushy. How do we go about removing these two lifeless trunks without affecting the main living one?

A: From your description it sounds as if the smaller trunks died from exposure to the cold. Pygmy dates (Phoenix roebelenii) often receive damage to the foliage at temperatures below 26 degrees Fahrenheit. The lesser stems likely froze while the main trunk remained alive. The mushy stuff is the dead tissue in the trunk that is being broken down by fungus. To remove the lesser stems, take a sturdy hand saw and cut them off where they branch off the larger trunk. This wound should seal over with time. At some point, new shoots may emerge from the base. To stimulate new growth, apply a fertilizer made for palms available from local nurseries. Apply this specialty product twice this summer to stimulate new growth. Next winter you may want to place a shop light under the blanket as well to provide more protection.

Q: We designed our backyard to be a serene retreat that would attract hummingbirds. To our delight, hummers and many other birds show up on a daily basis. Our problem is with the other wildlife that finds our yard attractive — stray cats.

We have tried commercial products, folk remedies and barriers to keep the cats from turning our yard into one big litter box. We have raised the height of our block wall and plugged the extra space under our gates to keep them out, but this is not enough. What does it take short of buying a dog to discourage them from coming into our yard in the first place?

A: This is a tough one, and I am sure that many people may differ in their opinions on how to handle this situation.

If these are truly feral (wild) cats, then the only two viable solutions are exclusion and elimination. You tried the first one and were marginally successful. The second one may sound extreme, but it does not have to be lethal.

I would first consult with the local animal control people to give you an assist. According the Clark County Animal Control Web site, the organization will loan out humane traps for feral and stray cats for a two-week period at no charge. (A $60 refundable deposit is required.)

Once caught, an animal control officer will pick up the caged animal. According to Animal Control Supervisor David March, the best bait is a tin of fished-based cat food with holes punched in the lid. The animal will smell the food but cannot get to it. Place the trap in an area that will be out of direct sunlight for the entire day. For more information, log on to, or call 455-7710.

Remember that wild animals also can carry diseases to nearby pets, so this humane way of dealing with the problem is in the best interest of everyone and everything.

Q: I was pleased to learn that I had been treating my blue palo verde trees with respect to their pruning desires. Yes, pruning in warm weather is just the ticket. On another issue, I have a grouping of three very mature desert spoons that are in stress (yellowing leaves), as I am certain they need a fertilizer, but my efforts have failed to find out which is best. What can you suggest?

A: Desert spoons (Dasylirion) are true desert dwellers, as they hale from the Chihuahuan Desert. They rarely require fertilization. If the yellow leaves are at the base of the plant, then this is normal. As the lower leaves age they turn yellow, then tan and remain with the plant indefinitely. Be sure you are not over or under watering and they should be just fine. You may trim the old leaves off, but I prefer to leave the thatch in place as it looks natural.


Dennis Swartzell is the marketing director for Mountain States Wholesale Nursery. As an ISA board-certified master arborist and a member of the American Society of Consulting Arborists, Swartzell has been helping Southern Nevadans with their gardening questions for more than 20 years. If you have a question about a particular plant, or a general gardening issue, send it to Swartzell at

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