Planting above caliche often best to avoid problem soil

What to do with caliche soils, failing peppers, nematodes and spurge were gardener concerns this week.

Q: How do I plant a fruit tree in caliche with no drainage?

A: Caliche is calcium carbonate mixed with other chemicals. It’s brought on by the lack of rainfall to flush calcium away. It might be in layers or clumps, or like popcorn. You never know where you’ll find it. It won’t simply go away, but you can work with your soil by amending and improving its drainage.

Consider planting above the caliche so you don’t have to dig a hole. Simply remove the plant from its container and set it on top of the ground. Pull the soil up around it and feather it out so it looks like you planted on a mound. Be careful when irrigating to keep from washing the soil away.

Or you could move!

Q: Why didn’t my peppers produce this year when they did the past five years in my pepper garden?

A: The key is planting in the same place for years. You may have an infestation of nematodes. Sacrifice a plant and examine the roots. If you see knots along the roots you have nematodes. These eel-like worms build their home on roots and feast on foods your roots picked up, which caused your peppers to suffer. Stunted plants indicate trouble below. If you are not sure, e-mail close-up pictures of roots to me to identify.

If it’s nematodes, either replace the soil or remove all plant debris and sterilize the soil by covering with plastic. Leave the plastic on for a month and let the sun cook them to death. You’ll be able to plant next spring.

Q: What is the weed growing flat along the bare soil in our flower bed? It has tiny mouse-eared leaves with spots on them.

A: It’s spotted spurge, a common lawn weed also found in bare spots throughout your yard, forming a dense mat. To confirm if this is spurge, break a stem, if milky sap oozes out, it’s spurge. The sap can irritate people, but it doesn’t bother me. I find it grows just below my mower blade, making it hard to control.

Weeding is the best control, but hoe it before seeds mature. It’s a prolific producer. Remember, one year’s seeding means seven years weeding, so hoe it out now.

You can control spurge with a pre-emergent herbicide applied in March, or use a post-emergent, but you can’t use this product while temperatures are above 85 degrees. If it’s growing in bare soil, spray it with Roundup. Nurseries sell all these products.


If you have only a postage stamp yard and want to grow vegetables, plan on attending a seminar on small space gardening from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office, 8050 S. Paradise Road. Area extension specialist Angela O’Callaghan will show you how to make those small spaces into productive gardens. She’ll cover containers, potting soils, varieties and cultural practices to be successful. Call 257-5501 for more information.


Bob Morris and master gardeners from Nevada Cooperative Extension are doing a masterful job of testing fruit trees for our valley. You can purchase these recommended varieties by ordering them online at, but you must order before Tuesday . The trees are coming from Dave Wilson Wholesale Nursery, the largest fruit tree nursery in the world. You’ll get your trees in January at the Cooperative Extension orchard.


The College of Southern Nevada is offering a four-week workshop beginning from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday on working with trees from a safety point of view and necessary practices to care for trees for both novice and professional gardeners. Call 651-3053 for more information and to sign up for this course at the Henderson campus.


Fall is the ideal time to plant radishes, carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and other vegetables in east Las Vegas. Master gardener Helen Brown will show you how at 2 p.m. Saturday at Harris Library, 5400 Harris Ave.


Moon-Sun Cactus and Koi Gardens opens at 7:30 a.m. Saturday. Landscape architect Mark Brightwell purchased Dave Turner Greenhouse, and along with cactuses and succulents, he is offering koi, water lilies and designing ponds and landscapes. The gardens are at 6430 McGill Ave. near Tropicana Avenue and Boulder Highway. Go to his website or call 208-9929 for more information.

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

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