Connecting Greater Phoenix gardeners with information that helps put xeriscape principles into action.

Phoenix Gardening Tip: Black Specks on Yellow Bells

Leaf Skeletonizing Damage on Tecoma stansThose of you who are growing Tecoma stans (Yellow Bells) or one of its many cultivars (such as Orange Jubilee) in your desert garden may notice some black specks or leaf skeletonizing on your plant.  I just received a bulletin from the Desert Botanical Garden who, in conjunction with the University of Arizona, have identified the speck-depositing culprit.  It turns out that this is the excrement of the caterpillars that are feeding on the leaves.

Sometimes those guys just roll up in a leaf and go to town.  As you can see, they can do quite a bit of damage.

According to a page on the ASU site, these caterpillars like to do their work following a wet monsoon season.  And we’ve had some pretty good rains in the Phoenix desert this summer, so they’re right in their element.

So what can you do about it?  According to the DBG, your best bet is to wait and see what happens.  The caterpillars could be killed off in a freeze or they could just disappear.  If you feel better about applying a chemical control, go with the least toxic alternative–the DBG suggests Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) at the maximum labeled rate.

The other option is to wait until the danger of frost has passed (late February-March) and then prune your shrub down to about a foot.  I usually do this every couple of years anyway, both to remove any frost damage and to encourage new growth.  Then just make sure to throw the infected parts into the trash (not your compost bin).


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Gardening Tip: Care for Phoenix Desert Gardens in Summer

Artichoke choked by the Phoenix desert heatWell, my artichoke…um…choked.  I think we’re on Day 8 of temps over 110 degrees, and I figure this is my punishment for not checking in on my garden every couple of days or so.  You see, it’s Phoenix and in the summer temps can get deadly hot, making our desert gardens excellent prey for the unrelenting heat.  And, apparently, me too.

I thought perhaps it was a watering problem, but it’s not that.  It apparently just couldn’t take it anymore.  I totally get that.

So, if nothing else, make sure you take a trip out to your garden every day or two just to make sure the Phoenix desert heat hasn’t taken another victim.  Sigh…I need ice…

Gardening Tip: Help Tomatoes Produce Even in the Phoenix Desert

Assisted Pollination of an Eggplant Flower

I recently read a stat somewhere that said that some 80% (give or take, I don’t remember the exact number) of us like growing tomatoes over anything else.  That’s pretty astounding, considering that we live in one of the most inhospitable climates for growing tomatoes:  the Phoenix desert!

Especially at this time of year, things in our desert gardens start looking a little…well, sad.  Tomatoes, especially.  If your tomatoes are flowering, but forgetting to set fruit, there’s an easy explanation:  It’s just too dang hot!  Like the rest of us, tomatoes don’t like to work too hard when temps get above 90 degrees.

Lucky for us, there’s an easy gardening tip:  pollinate them yourself for a robust summer crop.  Just go out in the early morning hours and give tomato plants a couple of gentle shakes.  If you want to be more thorough, grab a small paintbrush, toothbrush, bottle brush — some kind of brush — and use it to gently transfer pollen from one flower to the next.  In no time, you’ll have more tomatoes than you can use which, in my mind, is a good problem to have!

By the way, tomatoes aren’t the only fruiting plants that take time off in the summer.  Corn, cucumbers, squash, melons, eggplant, and others all need some form of human intervention to produce fruit.  So start shakin’!


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