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Murcott Mandarin

Diposting oleh alexandria joseph | 01.00

The Murcott Mandarin.  After our severe freeze,  I lost 2 Jacaranda trees that were less than a year old.  I decided to change directions and continue on with my fruit garden plans.  I put in two Murcott Mandarins that are labeled as "semi-dwarf"  which means that they will grow to be around 12-15 feet.  This citrus looks like every other citrus tree/bush.  It's evergreen and leafy and needs to be watched close when temps dip below 32 degrees for an extended period of time. The plant needs to have a regular watering schedule and of course fertilized twice a year for that production of delicious fruit.  Both of our Murcott Mandarins are on a dripline. Here is a post I found about this particular variety of citrus....

"I'd quit raving about citrus if I could stop walking into stores and finding new temptations. The latest are Murcott mandarins, a cross between a tangerine and a sweet orange, and they're as easy to peel as a clementine but even juicier/sweeter. Murcott, which I can retain in my cranial sieve because it sounds like meercat, was apparently the middle name of the Florida horticulturalist who developed it, in those halcyon years before GMO soybeans and salmon and flounder genes in tomatoes. Messing with nature used to seem less sinister. Clementine season appears to be winding down, which makes these even more alluring. The best part: Cashiers apparently can't tell the difference. We bought a bunch this morning at the Whole Foods near us after descending the escalator to find a huge display on sale for $1.79 a pound. When I got home, my receipt showed $1.59 a pound for the other orange fruitettes. But these babies are sold with their stems and leaves, which makes them even more seductive. And you're paying for that extra weighty prettiness."
Written by Regina Schrambling on February 25th, 2011. Source: http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2011/02/murcott-mandarins.html

They are doing well in the landscape.  Again, they are frost tender so protect from freezes.  While I didn't lose my lemon or lime trees completely as they have come back, I am not sure what kind of fruit they will produce.  All the oranges came back strong and I'm going to continue with orange and grapefruit varieties on the property. This is just the latest citrus to experiment with in the garden. Fruit is late bearing around December and January.   Until tomorrow.....

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June Gardening for Tucson

Diposting oleh alexandria joseph | 02.00

We've reached the hot and dry month of June.  It's fire season here with 100 degree plus temps and little chance for rain.  Random lightening strikes fire up our skies before monsoon rains descend upon us.  Very little transplanting should be done during this time of year as plants have a hard time establishing themselves while brutal temperatures test their limits.  However, palms can be put into the ground now as well as several native cacti.  If it's one word, we should all think about...it's "mulch".  There are lots of types of mulch like rocks and bark to consider.  The word "mulch" may confuse you as it did me when I first started gardening.  To put it simply, mulch helps keep moisture in around the base of plants and eliminates evaporation....thus conserving water and the need to water the plant constantly. It also protects the roots of newly placed plants from the scorching sun.   Be careful not to have the mulch up against the trunk of a tree as it could encourage rot. Add a 3 inch layer of organic mulch(compost, dried leaves, grass clippings, wood chips) to the soil around plants to prevent weeds, maintain moisture and slightly lower soil temperature.  As the mulch decomposes, it adds nutrients to the soil.   If anything, think about mulching areas to conserve water and keeping weeds OUT!  Think about your warm-season vegetables.  Transplant sweet potatoes. Sow cantaloupe, Armenian cucumber and okra seeds.  Continue monitoring your herb garden.  Pinch out ends of basil for a bushier plant.  Sunflowers love this heat and do very well. But mostly, monitor the watering of plants and enjoy the green outside from inside your cool home. If you need to hand water anything, do it in the morning or early part of the evening when temps are more comfortable.  This may sound ridiculous, but sometimes I'm working out in the garden at around 11 PM with a flashlight because the daytime temps are too hot! Stay cool gardening friends.  Until tomorrow......

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Color and Design in the Desert

Diposting oleh alexandria joseph | 02.00

My next photo series will be on the Phoenix Botanical Garden coming up in a couple weeks. Note how the sunlight plays with the cactus glow.  Look at how the color plays an important role in bringing out the structured form of a cactus.  Look at how the background cactus were placed to look as if they were "framed" by the building.
The art of design in the desert is quite simple.  Use lots of bright color with flashy and structural plant displays.  It should include our sunlight and make a person pause and reflect on the magic of our Sonoran desert landscape.  Why have most people moved out here?  Because it's uniquely different from everywhere else in the US.  Let's face it....we live in one of the amazing places on this planet.  But where are the forests and lush green tropical landscapes?  We can't have that here, but what we do have is the ability to create a lush environment using our strong cacti and succulent plants to make a powerful statement.  When people come here, they see rocks and....well more rocks!  How do we make our superstars of the desert southwest stand out?  Simple.  Color and design. You'll forget the need for large massive trees in your yards if you follow these important rules.
A closer look highlights the fine detail of our cacti friends.
Nothing.  And I mean nothing is better than a clean landscape design full of cacti, xeric friendly plants, garden art, a water feature, and COLOR!  The secret to making a cactus stand out instead of blending in with the rocks that surround it is by using color.  In Arizona, the best cacti gardens utilize intense color to highlight our native plants.  Great colors to use are intense reds, purples, yellows, and oranges.  Stay away from green as the plants will blend in.    The pictures above were taken from the Phoenix Botanical Gardens which I will be featuring in a couple of weeks.  One of the things that I enjoyed about the visit was the use of color with their cacti gardens.  These particular gardens feature cacti and succulents from around world.  Here in Tucson, the Desert Museum also highlights their cacti garden with the use of intensely colored walls to feature their specimens.
What do you notice in this pic? Nothing sexier than a good landscape design!
Let's not forget garden art as it also makes a statement next to an agave or large cactus.  These little bursts of color highlight the beauty of a desert garden. Also think of how sunlight will play into the picture.  Simply put.....play with shadows.  How will the cactus look against a colored wall in waning afternoon sunlight?  Think shadow play.  Good garden design makes a statement and eases the mind. You don't need grass or a backyard forest to be transported to a happier place....plus it's less maintenance and friendly on the water bill.  Utilize color, art, and hardscape to create something special. Until next time....

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Top 10 Landscape Mistakes

Diposting oleh alexandria joseph | 02.00

From an article written by Nancy Erdmann in Phoenix Home and Garden back in April, there was a fun write on some of the things that we should not do in our gardens.  As I was reading through the 10 big mistakes, I started laughing because I think I broke every one of those rules.  We probably all have....and if you haven't, keep it to yourself:) If you're looking for a great magazine for our area, this is the one to purchase. They show million dollar homes, which I'll never be able to own.(nor would I want to:). However, the ideas in them are worth every penny.  Plus there is a gardening section that answers specific questions about plants in our area. 

Here are the top 10 Landscape Mistakes according to Phoenix Home and Garden with some commentaries at the end of each point by me:)

10.  Trying to re-create a "Back East" garden:  Choosing plants that flourish in the Midwest or on the East Coast is sure to lead to disappointment.  These plants do not stand a chance in the low desert.  You are better off going to the nursery and finding substitute plants that look similar but will thrive in our arid climate.   This is something I have written about over the past year especially concerning certain plants like maple trees or lilacs.  For example, instead of planting a lilac bush, think about planting a Mountain Laurel.  Both have purple flowers in spring and both have a heavy scented fragrance. 

9. Mistaking dormant plants for dead ones:  Ash trees, ornamental grasses, red bird of paradise and lantana are examples of plants that can appear to be dead when they actually are dormant.  If a branch snaps off easily and is dry, it's dead; if pliable and difficult to break, it's alive. Guess who did this with crepe myrtle?  One of the few mistakes I've made that I wish I could take back.  As for lantana or the Mexican bird of paradise, if you trim them, it's okay.  They will bush back into their full form.  Grasses...leave them alone.

8. Improper pruning of trees and shrubs:  Pruning shrubs into balls, stripping off a plant's lower leaves(pineappling), or creating big puffs of foliage at the ends of branches(liontailing)-all look hideous and will weaken plants.  You can maintain a clean look with healthy pruning practices.  Again, I wrote about this in a post called "Pruning Do's and Don'ts".  Two points here.  Stay home when your arborist visits and go over the plans with them.  An arborist who looks out for the health of the plant is the one you want.  Point two.  If you create "liontailing", you are creating a danger upon yourself and home.  During a microburst or strong wind storm, these trees can fall or lose large limbs.  Think about what it is you are trying to do.  We had a Tucsonan here who didn't care about the tree as long as they could see the Santa Catalina mountains.  It's just shocking what some people will ask or do.

7. Using one drip system for everything:  Trees, turf, cacti and pots all have different watering needs.   Ideally, an irrigation system should be set up by watering zones so that your plants get exactly what they need. My recommendation is that you create 3 zones.  The outer zone is where you'd put your native trees and shrubs.  The secondary zone is for trees or shrubs that need regular watering and nearest to your home and/or patio where you have coffee. You may decide fruit trees etc go there.  The third zone is the higher maintenance of the group and one that requires more watering.  This is usually the potted group.

6.  Over-watering plant material: Watering more than is necessary invites rot, fungus and disease, on top of wasting our most precious resource.  A simple solution is to turn the irrigation controller off when it rains(don't forget to reprogram it each season). Also, check for leaks and breaks in the system annually.
We are all guilty of this.  Overwatering kills more plants than not watering.  Phoenix is guiltier of this than Tucson especially with all their lawns and grass. But I'm not pointing fingers:)

5. Planting in poor-draining soil:  Well-blended soils provide great drainage and encourage amazing root growth.  Poor-draining soils lead to root rot.  Amend soil with oranic matter for non-natives and  sand/pumice for native plants.  Blend amendments into the soil to avoid creating a compacted layer that will limit root growth.

4. Planting too deeply:  People tend to plant too deeply, which often results in the demise of vegetation.  This holds especially true for trees and often seems to manifest after a plant has matured, making replacement expensive.....and going back to the drawing board.  Sometimes this happens 2-5 years down the road after the plant has grown large and healthy.  That is the kicker......

3.  Lack of plant continuity or repetition:  I call these "dog's lunch" landscapes, where there is a little of everything thrown in with no composition.  Plant nuts can be the worst offenders.  But is is easy to solve by selecting a few theme plants to repeat throughout the garden to pull it all together.   My personal themed plants are several fruit trees, oleander, xylosma, heavenly bamboo, bamboo, citrus groves.....the only thing out of whack at El Presidio is the random large palm tree growing on our property.  I have created a triangle of baby palms that will make this older California palm fit in.

2.  Buying plants without considering their size at maturity:  People forget how big plants will get when they see them at the nursery.  Be sure to determine the space that established plants will need so that they can grow to their full potential.  Also consider the roots of those trees....some are aggressive and will find pipes while others spread out on the top of the soil.  My experiment is creating a rainforest like canopy with a trees mature height in mind. 

1.  Not understanding your plants' needs:  There is a tendency to purchase a plant that looks good at the nursery without a basic understanding of its ultimate size, frost sensitivity, exposure and soil requirements.  Do your homework, and in the end it will save you time and money. "  End of report and personal stories:)

These are the 10 Commandments that we should live by.....I'd also like to add....when in the desert environment, don't create lawns that require high watering and grass.  Wait!!  That goes to Number 10:)  Lawns are for people back home.  We are the desert so let's create something unique for our area that doesn't require this wasteful idea.  Phoenix are you listening?  Tucson does a good job with this:)  Until next time......

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Help Needed! Live Oak Issues

Diposting oleh alexandria joseph | 19.01

Dear friends and experts,

We have 2 Heritage Live Oaks. They've been here in Tucson for years and years and today I noticed something new that I haven't seen EVER!! What is wrong with both of these trees? Is this normal? Symptoms....powdery substance on lower leaves.  Some have fuzzy galls underneath the leaf.  The upper leaves(new growth) of the canopy are deformed.  I just noticed it today.  Some leaves have fallen and some outer branches are bare.  Here are pics below.  If you have any advice, I would greatly appreciate it.  Is it serious?  They are at least 40 feet tall and have been here for years.  It's June and I've never noticed this before.  Any help would be be appreciated.  Thank you!

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Tree of Heaven...or Hell?

Diposting oleh alexandria joseph | 02.00

This is a really fun tree to have around....or maybe not.  When I saw the title, I began to laugh because in some parts of our country, this plant grows like a weed!!!  In my home state of Wisconsin, I've seen this plant take off.  Here in Tucson, it's no threat.  It can take the heat and if permitted, it will spread with an invasive root structure.  Personally I love this plant and put it in a side garden near the parking lot. The area is contained and the plant can't go anywhere.  I'm not really sure what to do with that space and I'm hoping that this plant will spread out over the area and take over through the vegetative sprout process.  The first year, I didn't really see any progress, but it is around 3 years old now and has put on height and put out several little sprouts. In summer, it has a beautiful tropical look and in winter, it will lose its leaves.  However, at the end of March or beginning of April, this tree will start leafing out and growing.  In spring, the Tree of Heaven and Ash Tree will put on some height.....and then stop until the next season. There is a place in Arizona overtaken by this plant and that's where I got the idea for using the Tree of Heaven.  The town is Jerome and one of these days I'll take my camera and do a shoot in this popular mining ghost town. Most importantly this plant is considered invasive in many disturbed areas around the US and other countries and I think you should keep that in mind when putting it into the ground.  Some would say, "Don't do it."  It's not native and was introduced by a Philadelphia Gardener in 1784.  This plant has a lot of history and a lot of information. In Tucson, I don't see this plant as a problem because our ground is clay and hard so the plant can't spread too far.  However, if you break up the soil around garden areas, it will spread out.  Several areas near the downtown area have fantastic examples of this plant growing in groves.  I'll be honest....it looks nice. Here is some information on this both loved and hated plant that originates from China......

"The tree occurs as male and female, it can reproduce sexually (seeds) and asexually (vegetative sprouts) seeds are produced by the female trees in late summer to early fall. Can produce up to 350,000 seeds per tree yearly. Seedlings establish a taproot three months from germination. Established trees produce suckers from roots and re-sprout from cut stumps and root fragments.  Crushed leaves smell like burnt peanut butter. The plant produces a toxin in its bark and leaves which accumulates in the soil which inhibits growth of other plants." Good to know.  Source: http://www.azdot.gov/Highways/Natural_Resources/TreeofHeaven.asp

Not everything about this tree is bad.  The silkworm needs this tree.  Interesting note from a previous post and perhaps just a question.  Why is the silkmoth attracted to two trees that are considered obnoxious by gardeners in the landscape? The other tree is the mulberry:) Hey, people use silk so these trees aren't all that bad. The wood is also used plus this tree has medicinal value.  Things like dysentery, intestinal hemorrage, and cardiac palpitation can be treated with this plant and today the Chinese still use the Tree of Heaven for these ailments and more! Overall, I think it's poisoness:)

One last note before I leave you to judge me for an irresponsible post on an invasive plant:) This tree has been used across America and in other countries to absorb the pollution of large cities and mining areas. "Ailanthus is among the most pollution-tolerant of tree species, including sulfur dioxide, which it absorbs in its leaves. It can withstand cement dust and fumes from coal tar operations, as well as resist ozone exposure relatively well. Furthermore, high concentrations of mercury have been found built up in tissues of the plant. Ailanthus has been used to re-vegetate areas where acid mine drainage has occurred and it has been shown to tolerate pH levels as low as 4.1 (approximately that of tomato juice). It can withstand very low phosphorus levels and high salinity levels. The drought-tolerance of the tree is strong due to its ability to effectively store water in its root system.  It is frequently found in areas where few trees can survive. The roots are also aggressive enough to cause damage to subterranean sewers and pipes. Along highways it often forms dense thickets in which few other tree species are present, largely due to the toxins it produces to prevent competition." End of article. Source and for a much more comprehensive read on this plant...... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ailanthus_altissima

Could this tree be the cockroach, pigeon, or Cher of the plant world? A tree that survives a nuclear holocaust? Is this a tree for Tucson?  I'm not going to answer that question.  I purchased my plant from Mesquite Valley and love it.  It grows in Tucson and that's all I'm going to say:)

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The Desert Fern

Diposting oleh alexandria joseph | 02.00

During my investigation into our fern garden, I discovered this native plant to the Sonoran desert.  I do say it often but this is another favorite shrub/tree of mine.  The leaves on this plant are similiar to those of the Jacaranda or Mesquite trees.  Being native to our area, the care instructions for this tree are quite simple.  Plant it and it will grow.  Water once a week during the hot summer months for quicker growth, but also be careful not to overwater.  The ferny look of this plant is what sold me, but you may also be fascinated to find out that it produces little fuzzy yellowish white balls in spring.  During our winter freeze, the tree lost a lot of its' leaves, but it has since rebounded back in spring when temps warmed up.  For an additional punch to a part of the garden, I put the Mexican Bird of Paradise and the Desert Fern together and it makes an incredible statement.  You can see a part of this plant in the headlining pic of this blog.  Where is it?
Where is it?  I'll give you a hint.....to the left side.

At first this tree, may grow slowly, but as it gets older it will gain height faster.  Therefore I am going to say that the Desert Fern grows moderately for me.  This is a definite must for your landscape. Low maintenance and native!  Some people will sometimes mistake it for a Mesquite because of the ferny foliage.  I think it looks rather different, but everyone has their own thoughts. In my opinion, there are two stunning trees for the Tucson area....the Texas Ebony and this Lysiloma.  Many people like to put this tree in a corner near a wall.  It has grown for me 8 feet but it will certainly get taller and wider over the years.  It likes sun with some regular water.  During a good monsoon, you won't have to water this tree, but in June it should get a weekly water. The following information below will tell us why the Mesquite and Lysiloma are similiar in appearance as well as many other plants in our Sonoran landscape.  Here's a little background......
Picture taken by Mark A. Dimmitt
The following information is from one of my favorite places to visit....the Arizona Desert Museum. Here is some information from their website about the wide varieties of plants that succeed in our desert....known as the Legume Family or Fabaceae.

The Legume Family
"Legumes are a very large family of 16,000 species in nearly all of the world's habitats. Champion drought tolerators, they are most abundant in the arid tropics. Their prevalence in the Sonoran Desert flora (for example, there are 53 legume species in the Tucson Mountains, 8% of its plants) reflects this desert's tropical origin. North of the Mexican border most of the common Sonoran Desert trees are legumes.


The family was named Leguminosae for its fruit, which in most species is a legume (the technical term for bean pod, a single-chambered capsule enclosing what appears to be a single row of seeds that is actually two rows — alternate seeds are attached to opposite halves of the pod). There are three subfamilies with flowers that look very different from one another at first glance, but arose from a common pattern: Caesalpinioideae, Faboideae, and Mimosoideae

Mimosoideae subfamily

The petals are fused in this group, but they're so tiny that they are not noticeable. What one sees is a powder puff of stamens. It's easy to visualize the derivation of flowers of this group from the above subfamily. Start with a caesalpinoid flower such as a Palo Verde blossom. Reduce the petals until they nearly disappear, greatly elongate the filaments of the stamens, and combine several to many flowers into a tight cluster. The visual result is a ball or cylinder of stamens (powder-puffs or catkins, respectively). All species are woody. Examples include acacias (Acacia), mesquite (Prosopis), fairy duster (Calliandra), and mimosa (Albizia).


Plants require large quantities of three minerals: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The latter two elements are present in soil, but nitrogen is an atmospheric gas that plants cannot use directly. Some soil bacteria and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) can fix nitrogen (convert it into nitrate or other compound) into a form which plants can use. Another major source of nitrogen is the decomposition of dead plants and animals. In arid soils especially, where decomposition of organic material is slow, plant growth is often limited by the available amount of soil nitrogen. Many legumes harbor colonies of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots. The plant provides favorable habitat and carbon for the bacteria, and the bacteria in turn provide surplus nitrate to the plants. Nitrogen-fixing legumes have higher concentrations of nitrogen compounds in their tissues than non-fixing plants. When legume leaves decompose they release the nitrogen and enrich the soil. Nitrogen is an essential element in proteins, so nitrogen-fixing plants can make large crops of seeds with high protein contents (more than 50 percent in some species).
The typically large, nutritious, and abundant seeds of legumes are an important food source for many wildlife species, including insects such as bruchid beetles. Adult bruchids are flower beetles, while the larvae of most species are seed predators. Bruchids are not restricted to legumes, but there is a myriad of species that specialize on legume seeds. Some species are very host-specific, while others feed on a wide range of seeds. Decades of intensive study of the bruchid-seed relationship would likely not reveal all aspects of this tiny part of the ecological web." End of article. Written by Mark Dimmit. Mark A. Dimmitt,
A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert (ASDM Press, 2000)
Source: http://www.desertmuseumdigitallibrary.org/public/detail.php?id=ASDM21774&sp=Lysiloma watsonii

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