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Grape varieties grown in hot dry climates do best here

Q: I am from San Miguel Community Garden, a nonprofit garden located near the North Las Vegas Airport. We are considering adding more grape plants to the garden. We have Flaming Red and Thompson grapes. You said you have grown many different varieties in the Las Vegas Valley, and I was wondering if you would share with me other varieties that were successful for you so we can explore them as well.

A: I grew about 20 different table grapes and 18 wine grapes in the Las Vegas Valley starting in 1996. Some perform better than others. Still lots out there to try.

Some table grapes to consider include Thompson seedless and Flame, which you mentioned, as well as Concord, Thomcord, Perlette, Italia, Black Monukka, Fantasy and Ruby. Right now, the jury is still out on Canadice, Summer Royal, Suffolk Red and Crimson Seedless as they are only into their third year. These table grapes should get you started.

Table grapes are usually seedless (except Italia) and used for fresh eating, make seedless raisins or eaten frozen. Table grapes aren’t as demanding as wine grapes as wine grapes are oftentimes used for high-quality juice or must.

Don’t forget wine grapes. You don’t have to make wine with them. Wine grapes come in an assortment of different flavors, more than table grapes, and can be pressed into juice and the juice used by itself or make a variety of different jellies and fruit leather. They can make excellent raisins if you don’t mind their small size and seeds.

Some wine grapes to try include zinfandel, golden muscat, malbec, syrah, tempranillo, barbera and sangiovese. These should get you started. Basically, the grape varieties grown in hot dry climates worldwide are best for growing in the Mojave Desert.

I would strongly suggest improving the soil at the time of planting with compost and then covering the soil around them with a thick layer of woodchips. Many people agree wine grapes should struggle to make good wine. I think just growing in this heat and lack of humidity is plenty of struggle.

We haven’t needed to grow grapes that are grafted, unlike growing grapes in California. Most of the grapes grown in the U.S. and sold here can be grown here on their own roots. But if you are faced with buying grapes that are grafted, most grow well in our desert soils on these rootstocks: 1103P, 110R, Schwarzman, Salt Creek, Harmony and many others.

Q: You mentioned western redbud as a better choice for landscapes in the Mojave Desert than eastern redbud. You warned me it might be hard to find, and you were right. What’s so special about western redbud compared with eastern redbud?

A: Eastern redbud can be found as a native tree growing from the southeastern United States from northern Florida up into Canada. Western redbud has a more limited range, growing as a native in dry, desert regions of Southern California, Southern Nevada, southern Utah and stretching into Arizona and Mexico. Sometimes the nursery trade doesn’t differentiate between these two trees and calls eastern redbud, just simply redbud. So, it gets confusing.

But there are major differences between the two, not so much in looks but how they perform in dry desert landscapes. The western redbud, sometimes called California redbud or Arizona redbud in the nursery trade, is more tolerant of our alkaline soils and high temperatures. And it can handle the heat better than the eastern redbud. It is a better choice for desert landscapes in the Southwest.

You probably will have to search online for western redbud but also include the names California redbud and Arizona redbud in your search. They are basically the same tree.

Some landscapers say they have better luck with eastern redbud, but I think it’s because the western redbud is watered too often. It is more drought- and heat-tolerant than eastern redbud. Western redbud is better adapted to our soils and climate. You might try looking at the Nevada State Forest Nursery located at Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs.

Q: We are doing a lawn conversion to desert landscaping in the front. Our lawn has a lot of Bermuda grass along with the fescue. Our contractor told us to wait until May before spraying the lawn and killing the grass; otherwise the Bermuda grass will grow back. Is that accurate?

A: Your contractor timing is right. Bermuda grass wakes up around the end of March or early April. Spraying a weed killer for Bermuda grass when it is dormant has limited success — if it kills it at all.

Bermuda grass should be growing happily to get the best control. The worst control comes by spraying it when it is first waking up or when it is under stress. So, don’t stress it with a lack of water or fertilizer for spraying.

The second part is wishful thinking. Don’t expect 100 percent control of Bermuda grass after it is sprayed. It will never happen. You might get 75 percent or more but not 100 percent. The only way of getting it under control is with repeat killing, pulling or hoeing of anything green as it pops out of the ground.

If you stay on top of controlling it the first year, you will probably get about 95 percent control by the end of the season. If you let its new growth get out of control, you probably will be fighting it for years and never get rid of it. It is important to get rid of new growth as soon as you see it.

The safest weed killer to spray around landscape plants is a product called Fusilade. Have some around after the landscape has been installed. Roundup is usually used for the first kill by a contractor.

But Fusilade, unlike Roundup, only kills grasses. So, it can be sprayed near any flowers, trees or shrubs that have Bermuda grass invading their spaces. If you accidentally spray landscape plants, it won’t harm them.

Q: You talked about the freezing temperatures in the valley. When we had the first freezing temperature, I covered what I thought were my most tender plants with freeze cloths. But they were damaged anyhow. If we have another freeze, do I cover them again even though they’re damaged? It’s a pain covering tender plants.

A: So, you thought having freeze-tender plants requires no work? Whenever landscaping with plants that do not belong in our climate zone, expect them to cost you in time, energy and money. That’s our “agreement” with these plants when we use them.

We had three hard freezes come through the valley in February. Those crop covers or anti-freeze blankets only protect tender plants to about 5 degrees below freezing. If it gets colder than this, they get damaged anyway. The amount of damage depends on the condition of the plants, how cold it gets and for how long.

Tropical plants like Moringa, which has become popular because of its reported health benefits, won’t handle any freezing temperatures at all. Compare it to bougainvillea and handle it the same way; cut it back to within a few inches of the soil and let it sucker from its base.

Semi-tropical plants like many citruses show different degrees of damage depending on their age if they were flowering, if they have tender fruit and how it was fertilized the previous season.

There are three things you can do to reduce plant losses before freezing temperatures: Don’t fertilize after Aug. 1 if using mineral fertilizers, construct windbreaks around your plants to minimize damage caused from combined low temperatures plus wind, and pile mulch or dirt around the trunk of these plants just before freezing temperatures.

Soil is a pretty good insulator from the cold and wind. If you’re using compost as a fertilizer, then apply it only once in the spring and no more.

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

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