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Desert Gardener: Questions answered

June 22, 2002|By Keith S. Mayberry, University of California-Cooperative Extension adviser

Question: My neighbors have Bermuda grass just like I do, but theirs is green and lush and mine is pale-colored and has seed heads. Why?

Answer: Green Bermuda grass lawns result from the regular 4-6 week application of nitrogen fertilizer at 0.5 pounds actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet and irrigating at least twice a week. If the lawn is stressed due to lack of water or lack of fertilizer, the turf goes into a reproductive mode and produces abundant seed heads. You need to go back to the basics and care for your lawn in the same manner you would the household pet. Feed and water it at regular intervals as required by the kind of turf you have. St. Augustine needs less nitrogen than Bermuda grass.

Question: I recently purchased a new house. I had a wonderful green lawn this winter. Now it is brown and dead looking no matter how much I water. How can I make it green again?


Answer: Your lawn was probably planted to a winter lawn grass such as ryegrass, fescue, or bluegrass. Those grasses do not survive well in the hot summer, especially when exposed to full sunlight. If you want a summer lawn, you need to establish a heat-loving grass such as one of the many kinds of Bermuda grasses or St. Augustine grass.

Question: I need some trees around my house. What kind of tree can I plant now?

Answer: Citrus and eucalyptus do pretty well when planted in the heat. Thornless mesquites would probably make it as well. You probably should protect the new plants by whitewashing the trunks this first summer. Another alternative would be to use aluminum foil to wrap the trunks and reflect heat. Other trees such as mulberry, elm, ash, pepper, etc. will not tolerate transplant shock as well if you put them in now. I would wait until late October to plant those trees.

Question: I been trying to kill some Bermuda grass that is mixed in with my shrubs and flowers. I have been using Roundup herbicide. Will it kill the shrubs as well?

Answer: Roundup (Kleenup, glyphosate) has no soil activity, however it will kill or damage almost all green foliage that it touches. You can use a piece of cardboard or wood as a shield when spraying. If you don't hit the shrub's leaves, you won't hurt it by the spray on the soil. If you accidentally spray some Roundup on the leaves of a plant you want to keep, just pull or clip those leaves off so the herbicide will not travel into the main stem and other parts of the plant. We once accidentally sprayed a citrus tree with Roundup at a low concentration. The tree produced some weird abnormal growth of new leaves for a while but eventually the tree grew out of it.

Question: I have a palo verde tree I want to kill. I sawed it off and it keeps coming back. How can I kill it?

Answer: If you have a tree with a 6-inch trunk, then drill 4-6 holes one-half inch in diameter at a 45 degree downward angle into the stump and pour in a concentrated Roundup solution. It should do the job. For a larger tree, make the holes about 4 inches apart all the way around the trunk. We have killed several obnoxious trees using this system. It may take a couple of repeated treatments but if you are persistent it should work. There are other products but they may have some long-term effects in the soil.

Question: I spilled oil on the concrete driveway when I filled up my lawnmower. Is there anyway to get rid of it?

Answer: There are any number of products that are sold as degreasers that are sold to clean off oil and grease from machinery and floors. Check the automotive parts store for products.

Stop by the supermarket and pick up some cat litter, a clay-based product. Start by pouring cat litter on the stain. Then grind the cat litter to a powder with a brick or your shoe if you want. This absorbs all the liquid surface grease or oil.

Brush away the litter and pour on some concrete cleaning product you bought, and then work the spot with a stiff bristle brush. Wear eye and skin protection.

Follow the labels on the containers. Hose off the stain. If this doesn't finish the job, you may want to rent a pressure washer and repeat the steps above before using the washer. If the spot is clean, then water will penetrate. If there still is oil or grease present, the water will bead up. Some stains may never be completely removed.

For rust stains, try oxalic acid. It is somewhat toxic so be sure to use gloves and to thoroughly rinse off the driveway when done. Oxalic acid is found in some cleaning products.

As a last resort you can try muriatic acid (dilute hydrochloric acid). Try mixing 1 part acid into 4 parts water. Never pour water into concentrated acid! Use protection for your hands and eyes. The acid works by eating away at the concrete. Be sure to have a garden hose handy to rinse down the area with plenty of water after it is as clean as you can make it.

Question: It looks like I have salty spots in my yard. What can I do to solve the problem?

Answer: The only solution to getting rid of salt is to wash it out of the soil. This is called leaching. Slow mister or soaker hoses apply water slowly enough to achieve deep leaching. There are products sold for improving drainage and salt removal and many of these do not work locally. If you do apply something to a bare area, then gypsum seems to be as good as anything.

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