Attributes of desert-grown fruit differ from those produced elsewhere

Q: I planted a Pink Lady apple and a Fuji apple together as pollination partners last March. My Fuji died over the summer. I like Fuji apples from the store but I’m wondering if I should try again with another Fuji tree or choose another variety?

A: Whoever told you Pink Lady apple tree needed a pollination partner in our climate is wrong. Pink Lady does not need one and neither does a Fuji apple. They are both self-fruitful here.

Stay with the Pink Lady apple. Pick a peach, apricot, plum or pluot to replace the dead Fuji apple. Don’t plant in the same hole but plant it a couple of feet away from the old hole. Amend the soil with compost at planting time.

Make sure apples are semi-dwarf. Don’t expect the same apple fruit attributes you have experienced before when fruit is grown in the desert. Different climates, soils and even rootstocks can change the flavor and texture attributes of fruit.

Q: We love lilacs. My wife saw a new breed of lilac called Boomerang, a dark purple Syringa. What can you tell us about it? Can we plant it and can it survive?

A: I do not know this lilac and I have never grown it in the Mojave Desert. All I can do is look at its description, the type of lilac it is and make some educated guesses. You can read about this lilac on the Monrovia Nursery website, www.monrovia.com.

It has been touted as a dwarf rebloomer, which means it continually produces flowers all through the growing season and stays small. It fits nicely into smaller residential landscapes.

Reblooming lilacs are not new. But most of us think of lilacs that bloom only once for a couple of weeks and then it’s just a green bush the rest of the year until winter. Calling it “reblooming” is good for marketing.

Internet discussion groups say that the word rebloomer applied to this lilac is not very accurate. It does stay small, but people who have grown it say it’s more of a season-long “trickle of blooms” rather than reblooming over and over.

Q: My hibiscus leaves are damaged as are my star jasmine and rose leaves. Also, my hibiscus buds are falling off. I don’t see any creatures. What do you think?

A: When thinking about damage to leaves, the possibilities can be mind-boggling and confusing. The fact you tell me this same type of problem exists on the leaves of other plants usually means it is not a plant disease. If that is true, we can narrow down solutions to the problem better.

When I first saw the damage to this leaf my first thought was sun damage. If this is an older leaf, then it could be damage caused weeks or months ago. If this damage is on newer leaves, then it is more recent damage and could still be going on.

I am guessing this is damage to older leaves, and the damage occurred one or two weeks to a month ago, or perhaps even longer.

The most important question is whether the newest leaves are showing this damage or not. If they are not, then the problem is gone and we are talking historically.

If the problem is persisting on new leaves, then the problem still exists. Sticking my neck out somewhat, I think this may be an old watering problem during the very high temperatures of summer. If the younger leaves are not showing the same problems, then the plants were not getting enough water during the heat but now are, since it’s cooler and the need for water is less.

If you have not done so, applying a 2- to 4-inch layer of wood chips to the surface of the soil helps during times of extreme heat and prevents this from happening.

The issue of flower bud drop on hibiscus is usually water or temperature related; the soil is too dry or the air temperatures are too high. Woodchip surface mulch helps but make sure the plant is getting enough gallons of water each time it is watered. Growing it in bright, indirect light rather than full sunlight also helps.

This plant may require adding another drip emitter. When temperatures begin cooling, you should start seeing flowers and less bud drop.

Q: I have never had fungus in my front or back lawn for decades. My front yard is good, but my backyard is absolutely horrid now. I had a clock problem but I never water during the night. I sprayed a fungicide and it did not help. Everyone tells me the fungus will always be there and continue to cause problems. I am concerned about the cost of continually buying and spraying fungicides in the future.

A: Three problems cause lawns to fail: irrigation, disease and insects. By far, the majority of problems in the desert are irrigation problems. Without irrigation, lawns cannot exist. The reason for a lawn browning, however, can easily be misidentified.

I follow a three-step process in lawn problem identification that relies on the elimination of problems in this order: insect, irrigation and finally disease.

Insect problems are the easiest to identify between the three. Insect damage to a lawn may not follow any type of visual pattern because it usually involves some sort of eating of the roots, stems or leaves. Lightly pulling on damaged grass that borders dead areas usually reveals if it is insect damage.

Browning of the lawn because of inadequate irrigation usually resembles the irrigation pattern. Identifying where the sprinkler heads are located, and then identifying the pattern of damage, oftentimes confirms if the damage is related to irrigation. Sometimes looking at individual blades of grass reveals tip burn or dieback from a lack of water.

Browning from diseases may or may not follow a pattern depending on the disease and are the most difficult to identify. In the case of diseases, the only sure way is to send a sample to a pathologist but by the time you get the results it’s too late.

Another way is to apply a fungicide. If the disease stops then it’s possible, but not always correct, that the problem was caused by a disease. Browning of the grass caused by diseases can reveal some very interesting patterns when it is first starting. These patterns might be circular brown damage with a green center (frogeye) or in the shape of horseshoes, or no pattern at all.

Looking for disease problems usually involves getting on your knees and looking at individual blades of grass growing closely to the brown area. Sometimes spotting or discoloration of individual blades of grass may indicate the presence of a disease.

Bob Morris is a horticulture expert and professor emeritus for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com. Send questions to Extremehort@aol.com.

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