Lawns act as feeder roots for trees

Here are some concerns I encountered this week. I hope they help you with your gardening problems.

Question: What is the effect of replacing existing lawn with artificial turf under an olive tree? We used a sod cutter to remove the turf.

Answer: Obviously the artificial turf saves labor and is porous so you can continue watering the tree. However, you removed a major portion of the tree’s feeder roots and compacted the soil to install the turf. Expect your tree to struggle even two to three years down the road. Do some deep watering and thin out the tree to reduce its demand for water.

Q: We just purchased a home with no landscape. Can we landscape now or should we wait until fall?

A: Yes, you can plant now. However, fall is the ideal time to plant in Las Vegas. Our warm winters allow plants to develop roots to cope with the heat next summer.

Q: Is there a preferred fertilizer to use on irises?

A: Use any balanced fertilizer high in phosphorous to create those beautiful irises. Surprisingly, irises are very drought-resistant.

Q: Why do my eggplant flowers fall off?

A: It’s a warm-weather plant, and our cool spring slowed their setting down. Eggplants are self-pollinating, so flick flowers occasionally to set more fruit. Cross-pollination does occur, but rarely. Eggplant, along with tomato and pepper, is in the nightshade family.

Q: Can I propagate a shoot from my black mission fig?

A: Yes, but do it in the winter when it’s dormant. Select 12-inch-long stems with a diameter less than 1 inch at the tip. Coat the base of the cuttings with a rooting hormone and place in a plastic bag in a cool, moist place for a week to callous over. Then plant it in a container until it’s big enough to plant.

Q: Why didn’t my corn ears develop any kernels, and how do I keep birds from eating the kernels?

A: It’s the result of poor pollination. In the future, plant at least three to four short rows rather than one long row. The tassel, or male part, on top of the plant produces pollen that must fall down to the ear. With one single row the pollen blows away, leaving the ear kernelless. There is also a great demand for water as cobs mature. And, if stressed, the end kernels wither.

Place a large grocery bag over each tassel and shake the stalk so pollen falls down to the ear.

To keep the birds away, place a small lunch bag over the cob before it finishes maturing.

Q: Can I dig my grapefruit rinds directly in the garden soil?

A: Working scraps into the soil will rob nitrogen for plant use. The microorganisms need nitrogen to break the scraps down and your plants suffer. Rinds might also attract flies and rodents, so compost them first. They compost rapidly, and any acid remaining in the compost benefits our alkaline soils.

Q: How do you tell when Anaheim peppers are ripe?

A: When they get big enough to eat. While green they are crisp and mild but still flavorful. They become hotter as they turn glossy red. If the skin becomes hard and leathery, dry them.

Q: I planted potatoes last March for the first time and they are now blooming. When do I harvest them?

A: When potatoes begin blooming, grabble in the soil to harvest some. Mound the soil back to let the other tubers size up. Harvest them when plants begin dying back. If left in the ground too long, they tend to become scabby because of our alkaline soils.

Q: We wanted a low-growing ground cover, and our gardener planted Little John dwarf bottle bushes. They’re 2 feet tall. How can we keep them lower?

A: It will require frequent pruning, and they’ll die with such heavy pruning. Your life will be much easier planting something like gazania or lantana montevidensis.

Q: How can I get my hybrid Bermuda lawn to fill in more?

A: Most likely the soil is tight and needs aerating. Aerate the area and give it a good feeding and soaking. Since Bermuda spreads, take plugs and plant in the now-improved area.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at
or call him at 822-7754

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