Q: We have an 8-year-old honeysuckle plant that will not produce blossoms. They get one or two blossoms each year but do not produce massive amounts. We tried various fertilizers to no avail. What can we do to stimulate blossoms?
A: I also had a problem with honeysuckle not flowering many years ago. It was on the north side of the home, and this may have been part of the problem. Honeysuckle produces more flowers if it gets adequate light. The absolute best exposure is eastern with six to eight hours of light.
However, we have a basic tenet in horticulture about plants not performing well. If it can be pruned, cut it back hard. I did that with my honeysuckle and it started blooming when it regrew.
Honeysuckle requires fertilizer once or twice a year in the spring beginning around February in our climate. The fertilizer does not need to be anything fancy. Just an all-purpose fertilizer like 16-16-16. Make sure it gets enough water to produce new growth, which is where the flowers will be produced.
This is not a desert plant but handles desert extremes. It grows better in improved soils rather than rock mulch. Applying half a cubic foot of compost to the surface of the soil surrounding the plant will improve its color, growth and blossoming. You can do that now if you like and repeat it again early next spring.
Q: I planted tomatoes in late February in my raised boxes. The cherry tomatoes did great producing more tomatoes than I could handle. However, the large fruited varieties developed good size fruit, but as they ripened, the fruit turned black on the bottom making them unusable.
A: This is a plant disorder, not a true disease, called blossom end rot. It is more common with some varieties of tomatoes than others. People believe it is caused by alternating wet and dry soils resulting in calcium deficiency.
The tomatoes are still usable; you just have to cut off the blackened areas.
Use mulch on top of the soil to reduce wet and dry cycles. Animal bedding, such as horse bedding, works the best among mulches for vegetables. Calcium sprays applied directly to the young developing fruits and leaves may also help.
Some varieties of tomato or more prone to blossom end rot than others. Keep track of the varieties you are growing and try different ones. Blossom end rot should decrease later in the season. It is usually worse on the first few tomatoes produced during the growing season.
Q: I buy steer manure as a substitute for compost. It’s less expensive and basically the same thing. Any problems using this when growing vegetables?
A: It’s OK to use straight steer manure with some precautions and you may be only saving about $1 per cubic foot. But let’s understand the difference between manure and compost.
Buying steer manure and calling it compost is like buying eggs and calling it an omelet. If you use steer manure in place of compost, then understand that steer manure is steer manure and compost is compost. Use straight manure with care when gardening.
Manures are used in the making of compost. The manures used in compost come from either animals or plants. Manure coming from plants is called “green manure.” Animal manure is just called “manure.”
All manures are high in nitrogen. Fresh animal manure contains a lot of urea and ammonia as part of its rich source of nitrogen. The ammonia in fresh manure escapes into the atmosphere as a gas and is lost. Have you ever driven by animal feed lots or a dairy operation and smelled the ammonia?
The usual term applied to packaged steer manure is “aged.” Aged just means it is no longer fresh but allowed to dry. Aged manure has lost a large percentage of its nitrogen to the air as ammonia gas.
The urea and ammonia in fresh manure are way too “hot” to apply directly to plants. Even aged manure can be hot. If too much is applied, both fresh and aged manure would kill plants unless manure is composted.
Composting binds the hot sources of nitrogen found in fresh and aged manure into a safer product for plants that gardeners call “black gold” or humus. The urea not lost as ammonia is bound by microorganisms into a slow release nitrogen fertilizer.
To make compost, manures are mixed with pulverized products high in carbon such as wood products. Composting high carbon products with manure blends the nitrogen and carbon together into a highly beneficial soil amendment and fertilizer.
Manure has stuff in it besides urea. Manure varies in nutrients depending on what the animal ate. The quality of a steer manure, as well as a compost, is directly related to what the animal was fed. The quality of a compost is also affected by the source of the carbon products.
Convert a bag of steer manure into compost by blending it half and half with pulverized wood chips, sawdust, straw or shredded newspaper. Moisten this mixture and place it in a pit in the shade. Cover the pit with cardboard weighted with rocks or cement blocks.
Uncover it every three days, turn it and sprinkle it with water. During warm weather, the compost should finish in about eight to 10 weeks. The compost is finished when everything in the pit is uniformly the same color and is no longer generating any heat.
Q: My fan palm has black spots on the fronds. Someone said it may lack iron. Or is it getting too much water?
A: It could be both. Black spots developing on the fronds or leaves of palms could be caused by several things including plant disease. However, in our desert environment, it is more likely to be nutritional. Iron deficiency, in particular, is a major problem among many plants grown in desert soils.
Nutrient deficiencies such as iron occur for a variety of reasons, not simply because it’s missing or unavailable in the soil. First on the list of reasons is, of course, the soil itself. There is a lot of bad soil surrounding homes. Soils surrounding the roots of palms should be amended with compost mixed in a 1:1 ratio with the backfill at the time of planting.
Most landscapers and homeowners don’t use enough compost when planting in our desert soils. Sometimes they buy a soil mix instead of compost and use that in its place.
Soil mixes contain compost but are not compost. They contain mostly sand. Use compost unless there is not enough soil. If there is not enough soil, then add a soil mixture rich in compost.
Amendments disappear in about three to four years if compost is not added yearly. As a result, the soil collapses, drains poorly and suffocates the roots of plants like palms. As roots die due to suffocation, plant nutritional problems emerge and are seen on the leaves.
Iron deficiency appears as leaves that begin yellowing, frequently with the veins of these leaves remaining a darker green. Over time, black spots develop first on older leaves.
Adding iron fertilizers to the soil in the spring may help in the short run. The same is true of a liquid iron fertilizer solution applied multiple times to the leaves as a spray. But water and poor drainage may be at the core of the problem. This can only be corrected with additions of organics to the soil like compost and wood chips applied to the surface of the soil as a mulch.
Other nutrient problems can cause black spots on leaves such as a shortage of potassium and magnesium. The same approach helps with these nutrient problems as well.
Bob Morris is a horticulture expert living in Las Vegas and professor emeritus for the University of Nevada. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com. Send questions to Extremehort@aol.com.