Upside-down tomatoes make a fun conversation piece

Here are some issues I dealt with recently at the Springs Preserve.

Upside-down tomatoes: Growing tomatoes this way has been heavily advertised this spring. I did it a few years ago, but my vines turned upward searching for light resulting in fruit above the container. But it was fun fussing with them, because they became a conversation topic with visitors.

Attracting bees to cucumbers: There are several reasons bees omit cucumbers as a source of nectar: It’s hot, which slows their activity and stymies viable pollen production; cucumber flowers are not their favorite source of nectar and pollen; and cucumbers produce roughly 15 males to one female, so maybe the bees are not catching the right flowers. Some gardeners plant marigolds near cucumbers to attract bees, but they focus more on the marigolds.

Lantanas don’t bloom: Lantanas need full sun and plenty of water to produce blooms. They struggle in full and even partial shade.

Fruit varieties for Southern Nevada: For those new to the valley, there is a booklet published by Nevada Cooperative Extension called "Becoming a Desert Gardener." In it you will find a list of fruits recommended for the valley. This booklet is a real treasure of excellent information. Go to the Cooperative Extension Web site at www.unce.unr.edu/Publications/Files/ho/2001/SP0115.pdf.

Ripening pears: They ripen best in temperatures around 75 degrees under humid conditions. We don’t have those conditions, so if you leave them on the tree until they soften, the flesh becomes gritty and softens and discolors. Pick them as the skin color changes to yellowish-light green and place in a cool room. Put apples in with them so the ethylene gas they give off ripens your pears.

White gunk in the lawn: This is a fungus that looks like someone puked and it hardened. It is a smut fungus. Dispose of it and stir the soil to air out the problem.

Compost smaller branches: The smaller you grind up branches for your compost pile, the faster they break down; otherwise, they may take as long as a year to compost. Stir the pile often and keep it moist to speed up the composting process.

Recycling grass clippings: Recycling clippings is a real benefit to lawns. It conserves water, acts as mulch, reduces fertilizer needs and, most importantly, cuts down mowing time. Most mowers come with the process built in. For those using professional gardeners, have them recycle your clippings to cut down on waste going to the landfill.

Eliminate Bermuda grass: Use Roundup to kill Bermuda as a weed. Water first to get lots of leaf growth to get better kill. This usually gets 85 percent of the Bermuda. A week after the initial application, irrigate again to stimulate regrowth and treat again if needed. But if Bermuda went to seed last year, be on the lookout for recurring growth.

Dichondra as a grass: It is not a grass, but makes a wonderful groundcover for low foot traffic areas. It gives that clover-look lawn.

Cactus apples ripening: When prickly pear apples turn purple and are soft to the touch, then it’s time to harvest.

Care of gladiolas: Now that they’ve stopped blooming, wait until the foliage dies before cutting leaves. Right now, plants are re-establishing corms for next season’s blooms.

Starting yellow yucca from seed: Try starting them from seed, but there’s a good chance it will produce red flowers. Growers start them in a tissue culture to make sure they’ll bloom yellow again.

Puncture vine hurts: It is a low-growing weedy vine with stiff spines on seeds. If you step on one, you’ll have other names for it. It germinates in the fall, so spread corn gluten over the area next fall to control it.

Small artichokes: It is too hot for artichokes to develop the big ones that are found at markets. But those large, fleshy leaves bring a tropical effect to your landscape. The flowers make wonderful additions to dried flower arrangements.

Scorched leaves on container plants: Anytime I see scorched leaves, I strongly suspect water stress. Be very careful with plants in containers, because the heat intensifies to dry out soil. The soil shrinks away from the container and it remains dry. Put a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent in a gallon of water and re-wet the soil, then thoroughly water it.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at linn.mills@springspreserve.org or call him at 822-7754.

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