Weather fluctuations can be confusing during March
During the month of March, we get promising periods of warm and sunny weather followed by sharp cold spells, followed by warm weather again. This is why March is often confusing for gardeners.
I remember the year my gardens had been toured and sponsored by the Pecan Grove Garden Club. The weather was near perfect except it was nearing 100 degrees that day. Two days later, a cold spell hit with winds and rain which lasted a couple of weeks.
I had listened to stories from other gardeners whose beautiful gardens had been toured in previous years. One man told me how he had raked up the leaves and completely cleaned up his gardens - just to have winds rip it apart again. It is often hot, cold or windy and there is no way to know what the day will hold when you commit yourself and your gardens the year before your gardens are to be toured the following March.
The first warm days of March bring ants out from their rest below the soil, gophers and squirrels become active again, the birds sing, bees gather nectar, people are pulling out their sleeveless shirts and shorts and getting their air conditioners ready for the heat.
However, these are not reliable signs. A more trustworthy (but not infallible) sign is the appearance of mesquite flowers, the long, yellow blooms that hang from the twigs like catkins. After mesquite flowers appear, summer is usually on its way.
Although we may get several false starts before the real summer, every warm spell causes plants to grow. The danger is there might still be a late frost, so do not be hasty in planting your summer vegetables.
--Fruit trees: Flowers on fruit trees have already faded and young fruit are apparent. Early varieties are almost sure to have done this and now it is the turn of later peaches and citrus.
A warm spell should remind us to irrigate fruit trees. If we forget, the tree will be under stress when it is trying to develop fruit. The fruit readily falls off when the tree is under stress.
There is a misunderstanding about the care of fruit trees at blossoming time. A simple guideline to follow no matter what you hear is keep the tree well watered and do not apply fertilizer at this time. It can act as a shock on the tree's system, especially if too much is given at one time. It is often enough of a shock to cause the tree to drop young fruit.
Do not spray your trees for citrus thrips or nectarine thrips because you will kill good insects that pollinate the flowers of your trees.
--Apples, apricots and peaches: You can see the fruit behind the faded flowers. If there are a lot of them, you will need to do some thinning. It is not always easy to do as you are eliminating part of the harvest.
Some of the fruit is naturally going to fall off on its own, and some will be naturally thinned by dry winds, a late frost, shortage of water or other stressful conditions. If you cannot bring yourself to thin the fruit out ask a neighbor or a friend, either way just do it.
--Olives and mulberries: No flowers, no fruit. It is a messy situation if you allow fruit to develop on olive trees, as the fruit ripens and falls onto sidewalks and concrete patios they can leave stains not only outside your home but inside as well when someone has to walk through them to get to your front door.
If you do not want olive fruit but enjoy the tree itself, destroy the flowers and young fruit by spraying them with a solution called Olive-Stop, available at most nurseries. Spray the tree all over, wetting the flowers. Because olive trees flower over a period, it is advisable to make three or four sprayings to catch the first blooming, the middle and the last. You can use the same product to destroy the male flowers of the male mulberry.
Now, on the other hand if you want your olive trees to produce larger olives, allow the first flowers to develop into fruit, then spray the second and third wave of flowers with Olive-Stop.
--Tomato Plants: Inspect tomato plants at the nursery before you purchase them. They may be hiding aphids, little black pests that suck juices from the plant. Sometimes they are green and you have to look closely as they blend in with the stems.
Get rid of them by spraying with a 50/50 solution of rubbing alcohol and water, or spray with a soap and water solution mixing two tablespoons of dishwashing soap with one gallon of water.
Summer will be upon us soon, and the end of June will be hot. We want our plants well-established before this happens so they will be able to take the heat. The dilemma is that the soil is not warm enough.
However, there is a solution to overcome the problem: Remove the lower, older yellowing leaves of your newly purchased tomato plant. There may even be some bumps on the stem. These are adventitious roots, a fancy name for additional roots that appear where we least expect them, in this case on the lower stem.
Now put those bumps to good use. Dig the planting hole in the normal way to accommodate the roots of the young plant. Make a sloping trench so you can lay the plant on its side so the leaves will rest at soil level.
In a day or two, the top will have straightened itself up and the plant will look like it had been buried, which it has. However, the true roots will be on the upper warm soil, along with the bumpy stem. Your plant will soon have additional adventitious roots growing from the bumps.
--Fertilizing by foliar feeding: New spring growth is tender and absorbent. If a tree is short of fertilizer, it can be fed through the young leaves.
Do not use your ordinary garden fertilizer, you need to buy a special "foliar feeding" fertilizer. You would make a mile solution usually a tablespoon of fertilizer to a gallon of water and spray the leaves thoroughly.
Grapes will be ready now, but pecans leaf out a little later. Apricots, citrus and peaches can be fed in this manner as long as their leaves are fresh.
--Zinc deficiency: If your trees have little leaves or if your pecans have soft, dark meats, zinc is probably the missing element. Spray with zinc sulphate, which is available at nurseries. There are special formulas of other chemicals.
If you are going to spray with zinc, you might as well spray for copper, manganese and anything else at the same time. This is especially useful if you know some element is missing but not sure which one. The deficiency symptoms are confusing even to experts.
--Natural products: If some of you feel the same as I do about chemicals, there are some natural products for sale. However, you are not likely to find them in our local nurseries. A friend of mine, Denny Mundell, whom some of you may have known when he owned The Company, now offers a 95 percent natural product for all gardening needs called POWR LEAF. For more information on the products. contact him at (928) 502-0047 or visit www.alocorp.com.
As I have mentioned before, I am an avid orchid grower. I talked to Denny about a natural food for my orchids and the balance they require and he immediately talked to the experts at the lab to make a special formula for me. How much more personalized can you get?
Debi Papp, a member of the Yuma Garden Club and various other gardening organizations, can be contacted at 783-3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.