Gardening questions answered

April 06, 2002|By Keith S. Mayberry, Imperial County-University of California Cooperative Extension

Question: All the leaves are falling off my hybrid thornless mesquite. Is the plant sick? I thought the plant should be leafing out like my mulberry tree?

ANSWER: Mesquites are semi-deciduous trees. They shed some of their leaves early in the winter but do not shed the majority until it is time to produce new foliage. The tree is fine and will develop a dense canopy of new foliage soon.

Question: I love asparagus. When can I plant some? How do I go about it?

ANSWER: This is a good time to plant either by seed, small fleshy crowns or by transplants. If you can't find asparagus plants locally, they are available by catalog sales. I also found some of the best varieties for this area was available from an Internet site for $4 to $5 per 50 seeds each packet. If you can't find a seed source then email to or call 352-9474 and leave your name and address.


Varieties that perform well locally include UC 157 F1, Brock, Apollo, Grande and Atlas. Plant the seed about 1/2-inch deep.

Place seed/transplants 12 inches apart down the row.

It is best to make a 6-inch deep groove in the bed and plant the seed or transplant in the bottom. You will need to slowly cover the developing plant with soil so that the "crown" tissue where the new spears form is about 6 inches below the soil. Plant into 4- to 5-foot wide beds, as asparagus grows to a height of about 5 to 6 feet and it needs lots of space.

You will get a little production next winter, but the main crop will not be ready until the winter/spring season of 2004. For asparagus aficionados, the culinary delight is worth the wait.

Question: I moved here from Washington state. I like to grow vegetables but I don't know when to plant them. Can you help?

ANSWER: Yes, if you contact the Desert Gardener by email at or phone 352-9474, we can provide you with a vegetable planting calendar for this area. Please be sure to leave your name and mailing address.

Question: Why don't they grow lantanas here anymore?

ANSWER: There are some, but nowhere in the numbers of specimens that used to be grown.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s there was an invasion of whiteflies that produced toxic saliva that destroyed the majority of the plants. We used to have a lantana hedge that was beautiful and the whiteflies took it out. It has been replaced with dwarf pink oleander.

We would like to see more lantanas being grown now that the whitefly is under better control. The purple trailing lantana seems to be more resistant to whitefly injury.

Another once common shrub was hibiscus, also susceptible to whitefly problems.

Question: I saw some strawberries that were grown locally. Can I grow them in my garden?

ANSWER: Yes you can, but you need to plant next fall. This is near the end of the harvest season for this year. Some varieties do much better than others in this area. It may be more difficult to find good selections for the desert.

Question: I have some left over dursban bug spray and there are a bunch of bugs on my squash. Is it all right to kill the bugs with dursban?

ANSWER: No. Dursban is not labeled for use on vegetables and you should not use it. It could cause health problems if you eat vegetables treated with products designed for use on shrubs, lawn and general insect control.

For your safety, select a product that shows your vegetable on the label.

Question: Last fall I planted some tomato transplants given to me by a neighbor. The plants grew great and survived the winter. The foliage is dark green, the plants bloomed well and set a good number of tomatoes. That was two months ago and they still are not ripe. They are a different color of red than normal and are solid inside with a white core and no taste. Why?

ANSWER: Our best guess is your tomatoes are a variety not suited for your use and taste. You told us you did not know the name of the variety. There are hundreds of choices in varieties available, from bush types, vine types, pole types, and fruit colors from yellow to dark red. Some of the long shelf life tomatoes are typically harder than normal. Perhaps you were given some transplants of those types.

Question: I have a tangerine tree and all the blossoms and small fruit fell off. What did I do wrong?

ANSWER: You may have not done anything wrong at all. Some tangerines (mandarins) are alternate bearing, a good crop one year and a poor crop the next. Others such as Clementine, Fortune and Fairchild require a pollinator (another variety of mandarin, a tangelo or an orange).

Without a pollinator there will be few if any fruit produced. Lastly, citrus should be moist but not wet or dry during pollination. Shocking them with water or fertilizer will cause fruit drop.

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