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Desert gardening just requires good practices

This Saturday I will be teaching a class on how to prune apples and pears at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Orchard in North Las Vegas. The class, which is open to the public, will begin promptly at 10 a.m. and run until about noon. I will include Asian pears as well as quince.

For directions to the orchard please call the master gardener help line at 257-5555 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Q: I have retired and moved to Henderson from the Pacific Northwest and I would like to pursue gardening. I am interested in growing potted vegetables and fruits. Please recommend which varieties of citrus plants and vegetables would grow best in this desert climate. What type of soil and fertilizers should I use?

A: Welcome to the desert. As far as vegetables go, as long as you improve your native desert soil with composts, fertilize and water appropriately, change your planting schedule to adapt to this climate zone and follow good gardening practices, there are many, many vegetables and fruits you can grow here.

I have sent you a vegetable gardening primer and planting schedule for your garden warming. Use raised beds, but keep your feet out of the beds except for soil preparation, planting and harvesting.

Use mulches when appropriate. The same fertilizers recommended for gardening in other places will work here. These soils are alkaline, not acidic, so avoid using soil amendments that create alkalinity and use products that are acidic in nature or create acidity in the soil.

As far as citrus goes, it depends on the microclimate in your yard and how well the area growing citrus is protected from winter winds. Most foolproof are kumquats and Meyer lemon. Grapefruits can also be a favorite.

After that we start getting into some citrus that need more protection, so you must proceed with caution. We do have people in the valley growing very sensitive citrus, such as limes, but they are in very protected locations.

Container gardening is more difficult because of the small soil volumes, rapid drying, extreme temperatures and intense sunlight. Use large containers and double pot them (one pot inside another) or shade the walls of the pots to keep direct sunlight off of the sides.

There are some gardening classes offered in the winter and spring at our cooperative extension offices or at the Springs Preserve so you might want to get signed up. Call our master gardener help line at 257-5555 for further assistance.

Q: We have a fig tree that needs extensive pruning. We also have a smoker. Is the wood from fig trees safe to use in the smoker? I had been told that all of the fig tree except the ripe fruit is poisonous. Is this true? I hate to waste all that good wood but I also would hate to make us sick.

A: Fig wood is the newest rage in New York restaurants and is a common wood for smoking and grilling in Italian cuisines. I will e-mail a handout on smoking wood to anyone who e-mails me or calls or master gardener help line at 257-5555.

By the way, we will have all of our orchard wood available to the public for smoking and grilling. This will include peach, nectarine, plum, apricot, apple, pear, fig and grape.

Bob Morris is an associate professor with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Direct gardening questions to the master gardener hot line at 257-5555 or contact Morris by e-mail at morrisr@unce.unr.edu.

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