Soil preparation crucial to good vegetable garden

I will be at Plant World Nursery at 5301 W. Charleston Blvd. this Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. to teach how to plant and fertilize fruit trees, how to get larger peaches and answer questions. Bring in your current problems and let’s get them fixed.

I also will be co-hosting Star Nursery’s gardening program on KDWN radio, AM 720, at noon on Sunday to answer gardening questions.

Q: I want to put in a vegetable garden on the east side of my two-story house. My main concern is whether it will get enough sun. The area gets full sun in the morning with shade starting in the morning around 9 a.m. and progressing to nearly full shade by late afternoon or early evening.

A: It sounds like there is enough sun and I would guess that quite a few vegetables will thrive with protection from the sun in the late afternoon. I think your biggest issues will be wind protection and soil preparation.

Frequently spaces between tall buildings (two-story homes) can become wind tunnels . Wind protection does not have to be total. You just want to reduce the force of the wind, not totally stop it. Think of how a snow fence works.

You can either import a garden soil mix or work with your existing soil. Both will work. If you elect to work with the soil you have, then deep soil preparation might be needed if the soil is tough to dig. You can do some deep soil preparation with an irrigation trencher, water and compost. You will only need to do this once. I would recommend that you contact Call Before You Dig to get an idea of where your utilities are.

Don’t skimp on the use of compost and deep soil preparation. Water is critical in getting the benefits of compost to interact with your soil.

Cut parallel trenches at least 12 inches deep and as close together as you can in the proposed garden area. Trenches can be cut much easier if you “soften” the soil first by soaking it with water to this depth and letting it dry for about four or five days.

After cutting the trenches, add compost to the removed soil and trenches. Mix enough compost with this soil to get a blend of at least 50/50. Remove rocks larger than a golf ball. Put the amended soil back in the trenches and start rototilling the area, adding compost again to the existing soil and going as deep as you can rototill.

Build your garden area into raised beds, running north/south if possible, 3-4 feet wide. This is done by shoveling the prepared soil from future walkways onto the beds. The finished walkways between these beds will be about 18 inches wide, enough for walking through the garden without stepping where the vegetables will be.

These beds should be no wider than you can reach into from the walkways, usually 3-4 feet. You do not need to construct sides for these beds from lumber or cement block unless you really want to.

Once the beds have been prepared for planting you should not walk on them . Use kneeling boards for planting and harvesting and long-handled hoes for weed removal.

If you continue to add compost when you prepare your soil, it will take about two to three years of active gardening to get it into perfect growing condition. You will see a steady improvement in your garden and vegetables during this time.

Another important ingredient to vegetable gardening here is the use of mulch . Straw mulch, shredded paper or the like can be used after seeds emerge or after planting transplants.

Q: I read your column about pruning rose bushes too low. I have attached some photos and would like your opinion as to whether these are too low. I hired a landscaping company to do a general yard cleanup. I was sick when I got home and saw the rose bushes chopped down and most of the beautiful old wood gone. Is there anything I can do to help the roses?

A: It really does appear to be far too low to me. Some branches are only a few inches long.

But I think there are a number of other issues going on there.

The bushes are getting old and look like they have not done all that well over the years. It might be time to think about replacing some .

The height you trim them depends on the type of rose, its age and vigor, and selectively removing older wood to renew it. It is hard to see exactly but it looks like some of the branches have grown from below the graft in previous years. These would be root suckers and should be totally removed. You should be able to tell by watching the new growth. Real vigorous growth is usually from the roots.

For those that can be saved, start selecting five to six strong canes from above the bud union. Don’t prune below 12 inches and a bit taller than this would be even better.

Q: Living in Sandy Valley, we are subjected to frequent nightly visits from hungry and thirsty jackrabbits. My question concerns mesquite trees, both Texas and Chilean. When they were planted two years ago and were barely 2 feet tall, we put wire around the trunks to stop the rabbits from munching on the tender young trunks to avoid possible “life threatening injuries.”

Now that they have grown to approximately 5 to 6 feet and appear to be well-established, is it safe to remove the wire or can the rabbits still damage the trees by chewing on the bark? We do monitor the trees every few days to see if the darn jacks have been “buffeting” on our plants, but if it is no longer harmful to the trees, we prefer to remove any wire protection.

A: Jackrabbits and desert cottontails are a serious problem to nearly all desert plants in the winter when food is limited. They certainly don’t want to eat mesquite if they don’t have to.

All of our young fruit trees and vines are threatened all season long at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Orchard in North Las Vegas and have to be protected with chicken wire (1-inch mesh) until they reach about 1½ inches in diameter. After that they don’t seem to bother them.

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

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