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Heavily amended soil may help rhubarb

The deadline for ordering bare root fruit trees for a January or February delivery date will be in about two weeks. They will be ordered from our recommended fruit tree list. This list can be obtained by emailing me at Extremehort@aol.com.

Q: We had a cattle ranch in Glade Park, Colo., at a 7,000-foot elevation and had a terrific stand of rhubarb that was estimated to be 50-plus years old. We sold the ranch in 2010 and transplanted some starts eventually to Mesquite.

We have seven starts now and none has produced any usable product. Some of the starts grew a leaf about the size of a Frisbee but grew no higher than ground level. The rest of the starts grew a single stock of about 4 inches high. Now, the starts look dormant. Is there anything we should do other than fertilize and water?

A: We also tried to grow rhubarb at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Orchard in North Las Vegas. We did not have much success. Admittedly, we did not do a very good or thorough job in managing the plants so I was not ready to throw in the towel.

The common agreement among gardeners and horticulturists is that rhubarb is out of its appropriate climate in the hot desert. This is very true. The common explanation is that the plant doesn't have enough chill hours or our climate is too hot.

Just because this is the common agreement does not mean that it is necessarily true. We have grown things at the orchard which are not supposed to grow here. There are some management techniques that we can try to see if we can get it to grow here. There is no guarantee that if we can get it to grow in the hot desert and in our soils or what the quality of the product might be if it is successful.

So the first thing to do is soil improvement. This would mean lots of additional compost added to the soil along with the right fertilizers. So make sure that any compost you use is the highest quality you can find. This means make it yourself. If you can't make it yourself, then purchase a bagged one from a company that has a good reputation.

Don't be afraid to add lots of it, more than 50 percent of the blend. Then add a high-phosphate starter fertilizer to your soil-compost blend. I would also add a good quality iron chelate. This should get your garden soil up to speed. Garden soils amended from desert soils can take a couple of years of growing to get up to prime.

The next thing I would do is try to put the rhubarb in an area that is not excessively windy and does not have a lot of reflected light or heat. The north or east side of the building would be ideal. I would try it first without any shade over it. If the leaves are scorching during the heat of the summer and the plant seems stunted, I would put some shade cloth over the plant.

Do not use more than 30 or 40 percent shade when purchasing a shade cloth. With crops such as leafy vegetables or rhubarb you could go higher but certainly never go into the 80 or 90 percent shade level.

Q: Is there a link on your blog that I am missing with all your fruit tree recommendations? How long will it be before a bareroot fruit tree produces fruit? Should I still be planting fruit trees in January if I am buying something at a local nursery?

A: On my blog at Xtremehorticulture of the Desert there is a search engine at the top of the page. It says, "Search This Blog" with a long box under it. To the right of the box it says "Search." Enter the words "fruit tree recommendations" in the box of the search engine and click "Search." That should bring up my recommended fruit tree list.

If you can find the variety of fruit tree you want at a local nursery, then please buy it. Our local businesses can use your help. However if you cannot find a variety of fruit that you feel will give you the quality of fruit that you want, then you might consider buying a bareroot selection.

The orchard is involved in selling fruit trees for two reasons. First, local nurseries did not have an extensive supply of fruit trees we recommended. Secondly, none handled any bareroot trees. Bareroot plants grow more quickly when planted, will overtake a container plant in growth or production and are less expensive.

On the downside for the nursery, there are more plant deaths by homeowners because they do not handle or plant bareroot plants correctly, which leads to unhappy customers. Plus nurseries have better profit margins on container plants than bareroot materials.

Bareroot trees come into production at about the same time as container plants because the bareroot plants "catch up" to container plants quickly and have less overall shock, if handled correctly.

When a tree comes into fruiting or production depends on the type of fruit tree. Peaches and nectarines come into production about the earliest. Trees that produce fruit on spurs, like apricots, plums, apples and pears, are usually a year or more later. You can plant in January here with no problem.

Bob Morris is a horticulture expert living in Las Vegas. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com.

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