Skinning palms not necessary, but it won’t hurt trees

Here are gardening concerns I encountered at the Springs Preserve this week.

Skin or not to skin palms: It’s the rage across town. It’s unnecessary, but it won’t hurt the trees. If you skin them, use a linoleum knife and start at the base of the trunk. Make horizontal cuts about a quarter-inch deep into the trunk and around the tree. The broad paperlike base comes off with a slight tug. Move up a quarter of an inch and keep cutting around the trunk until you approach the growing point or when underlying color becomes light tan. Do not expose it, or you may kill the palm.

Mimosa limbs dying: Borers probably caused the dead limbs. Dig in under the bark of the dead limbs and peel it back. If you find sawdust packed in galleries, borers did it. They girdled the limbs and they died. Remove limbs back to the good wood and destroy the deadwood. The tree will mend itself.

Mushrooms in lawn: There is a pocket of organic matter in the ground and when environmental conditions are right, mushrooms grow. As it warms, the mushrooms will go away. But if you have pets, get rid of the mushrooms now.

Splitting almonds: When first-time almond growers see almond husks splitting open, they think something is wrong, but it’s normal. Husks peel back, exposing the shells so kernel maturing can take place, which happens late in the summer. At that time, shake a few and if they rattle, harvest them, or bend a kernel and if it snaps, begin feasting. Kernels will go rancid if harvested early.

Grapes dropping: Grapes drop when exposed to hot winds, which cause them to dehydrate and fall off. If possible, protect grapes to reduce wind damage and deeply irrigate the plants.

Birds out for grapes: Put each cluster in brown paper bags so the birds can’t get to them while the grapes ripen.

Odd-colored eggplants: There are two possible reasons: Some eggplants are genetically unstable and the offspring looks peculiar and eggplants are sensitive to chilling. Strip the fruit off the plants in question and if the new ones come back the same, it’s genetic. But if you find chilling caused it, you’ll harvest normal fruit.

Peaches not growing: After the fruit sets, the stones swell to full size and then the peach flesh swells. It’s during this time trees need lots of water. If stones and flesh grow at the same time, then expect split pits.

Splitting tomatoes: Splitting is related to water. When tomato plants stress for water, they take it from the fruit. When replacing water, it goes back into the shrunken fruit faster than it can swell and they split. The key is to keep a constant supply of moisture available to plants.

Bugs in squash: They are squash bugs. They are brownish-black with diamond markings on their back and are about a half-inch long. They lay clusters of golden eggs on the underside of leaves, which soon produces zillions of little bugs. These hungry critters insert a tube into leaves to suck out juices and release a toxin that stunts plants. Get them early by rubbing off the eggs and squash them. Organically, use neem or do as master gardener Helen Brown does. She plants her squash in early July, when squash bugs go elsewhere.

Harvest sweet corn: About 25 days after silt emerges, select a cob and peel back the husk to expose the kernels. Poke your finger into a kernel and if milk pops out, it’s time to harvest.

What is diatomaceous earth? Master gardener Bob Stauffer says it is an all-natural product made from mineral and pulverized fossilized silica shell remnants or unicellular marine algae. It comes in different sizes and shapes that are razor sharp. It works extremely well on crawling insects. Use it as a dust or in a liquid mix.

Pyracantha leaves browning: It is brought on by spider mites feeding on the upper leaf surfaces. Dusty foliage with fine webbing over leaves are early clues of the culprits. Wash the mites off with a strong jet of water to prevent more browning.


Dehydration and canning extend the life of an abundant garden harvest. Our experts demonstrate various preservation methods, showing you how easy and economical it is to enjoy your bounty year-round. The program is at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. Call 822-7786 to reserve your seat.

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

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