Articles – Gardening in El Paso

What are the Elements of an Attractive Landscape? by Virginia Morris, El Paso Master Gardener

Have you ever driven around a neighborhood and wondered why one landscape looks gorgeous and another looks “not so good”? Why is one landscape more attractive? Think about the ways we have developed our landscapes. Most of us just go to the nursery, usually in the springtime, and buy plants that appeal to us and put them in whatever space is available. What can the homeowner do to achieve a landscape that looks like a professional designed it? The answer: Think like a landscape architect.

Develop a Concept. What do you want from your landscape? Is your goal water conservation, low maintenance, or a wildlife friendly habitat? How will the landscape be used? Read more »

 

 

 

What is Vermicomposting and How is it Done? by Bev Clark, El Paso Master Gardener

wormVermicomposting is the use of earthworms to create a nutrient rich soil amendment for gardening. We’ve created a series of posters that cover how it’s done, its benefits, and where to use the compost generated in the worm bin. Read more »

 

 

 

 

Why We Landscape with Native and Adaptive Plants by Lou Ellen Clement, El Paso Master Gardener

Mtn Laurel + Butterfly

Credit: Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora) by Linda Kaip, El Paso Master Gardener

Living in West Texas we are all acutely aware of our limited water resources. Many residents of El Paso are rethinking their landscapes to make them more water-wise by using plants that nature put here. “Going native” is one way to achieve a beautiful yet water-wise landscape, help maintain our natural habitats, and conserve our precious resources. Read more »

 

 

 

 

 

How to Improve Your Soil  bу Marge Gianelli, El Paso Master Gardener

Unless you live in a few choice areas in El Paso, you probably have light-colored, coarse, grainy soil. Water has a tendency to drain right through, leaving plants dry without access to water in the hot afternoon summer hours. In addition, your soil probably contains few nutrients to promote root growth and development. Another complicating factor is the alkalinity of the soil. Typically in El Paso, the soil pH is around 8. With some exceptions, a pH of 6.0 to 7.0 is ideal for plant growth. What is a gardener to do?

Many homeowners have adapted by planting native plants accustomed to growing conditions in this area. If you wish to do this and not worry about improving your soil, you can find out about these plants at your local nurseries and demonstration gardens, on this website, or call our local Extension Office (915-771-2354) and ask to speak to a Master Gardener. But if you want a vegetable garden or a wider variety of plants, you would do well to get your soil tested. The results will not only tell you the composition of your soil, but also recommend treatment. More information on soil testing and soil sample testing kits are available at the Extension Office.

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Winter is Not Gray by Maria C. Del Rio, El Paso Master Gardener

Although many of our trees drop their leaves in autumn, winter in El Paso does not have to be gray. Many trees, bushes and plants can provide color and structure to our winter gardens.

Evergreens, both trees and bushes can delight us with their varied shapes and shades of green. Some of the native evergreen trees you may consider for your garden are Texas Mountain Laurel, Texas Madrone, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Afghan/Mondel Pine and Italian Stone Pine.

Hollies are another versatile plant with their dark green foliage and colored berries. All hollies bloom, but only the female plant produces berries, some red, some yellow; others are white or orange, a creamy color, or black. Be sure you have a male holly within about a half mile or there won’t be any berries for the winter season.

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Seasonal Color with Bulbs in El Paso by Sarah Wood, El Paso Master Gardener

purple-flower

Credit: Lilies of the Nile by romaryka (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“Bulb” is a general term often used to describe all types of plants that are capable of gathering and storing nutrients in a specialized underground storage structure. Classified as true bulbs, tubers, rhizomes and tuberous roots, these special plants offer seasonal blooms with low maintenance in gardens thoroughout El Paso. They evade drought by growing and flowering when the right combination of temperature and moisture occurs.

Iris (available in many colors) and the white Texas tuberose bloom in the spring. Rain lilies (white, yellow or pink) bloom in response to summer and early fall rains while gayfeather and society and edible garlic chives announce fall is coming. All these plants have low water requirements and will survive on annual rainfall alone when established.

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Cactus in the Garden and on Your Table by Jim Hastings, El Paso Master Gardener

nopalito-salad

Credit: Jicama and Prickly Pear Cactus Salad courtesy of Jim Hastings

Prickly pear cacti (Opuntia) are popular plants in local gardens. Their sculptural shape, brilliant blossoms and colorful fruit make them attractive all year round. Native to the Americas, they now are found all over the world.

Nopal is the Spanish word for the prickly pear pad. Cleaned and diced, they are called nopalitos (little nopales). The green pads and the fruit of all prickly pear varieties are edible. The pads have a vegetable flavor. The fruit is very sweet. Prickly pear pads are about 90% water. The fruit is about 85% water with approximately 10 to 15 percent glucose and fructose. They are rich in vitamins C and A, and beta-carotene. They have very little carbohydrate or fat. There are about 25 to 30 calories in a quarter pound.

The pads have thorns and aureoles surrounded by tiny sharp glochids. The glochids can become airborne and are very irritating on your skin or in your clothing. Dampen the pads to reduce glochid drift. Use a knife to scrape off the thorns and glochids. Trim the pad’s tough edges about ¼ inch.

Many smaller supermarkets with good Mexican food departments carry nopales year-round. They can be bought as whole paddles or already cleaned and sliced which makes using them easy. Dice the pads and sauté in a little olive oil until their sticky sap cooks off and they are an olive green in color. Use the cooked cactus in salads, soups, omelets and other dishes. Tunas, the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, can be found in some of the supermarkets when they are in season from August through October.

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Is the “Mystery Tree” a Siberian Elm and What’s Eating Its Leaves?  by Doc Stalker, El Paso Master Gardener

elmtree

Credit: Diseased Siberian Elm by Jeffrey Beall (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Homeowners and gardeners around El Paso often find ‘mystery trees’ popping up in flower beds, inside shrubs, and under the eaves of houses or garden sheds.  Allowed to grow, the trees quickly become small to medium sized trees. While happy to have a free shade tree, property owners may soon notice that something decimates the leaves on their volunteer tree every year. Chances are that ‘mystery tree’ could be a Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila L.): a hardy, quick-growing tree found throughout the Southwest that can reach heights of 50 to 70 feet under the right conditions.   

This elm flowers early each spring and produces lots of flat, wafer-like seeds that are scattered on the wind. If blown into an area that provides adequate moisture, like arroyos, garden beds, or beside a building, the seeds germinate and produce more Siberian elms.

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The Fall Lawn Fertilizing Deadline is Fast Approaching!
by Doc Stalker, El Paso Master Gardener  

leaf on lawn

Credit: First Leaf of Autumn by Eric Sonstroem (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Summer’s temperatures are finally starting to drop, and the school zone caution lights are flashing again throughout El Paso County. That means the deadline for the most important fertilizer application of the year is right around the corner.

A final application of fertilizer each fall helps warm season grasses store up extra energy before going dormant over the winter months. That stored energy is critical for lawns to ‘green up’ next spring as soon as the weather is warm again. It’s important to give enough time for the fertilizer to work before the grass dormancy period starts which in El Paso is usually around mid-November and depends on when the fall temperatures fall into the frost range. So, don’t risk applying any fertilizer to your lawns after early October.

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Easy Steps for Drip Irrigation by Rex Morris, El Paso Master Gardener

Drip irrigation puts water where your plants are and allows you to control water volume at a rate slow enough for the water to soak into the soil and not over- or under-water. It also allows timed watering during the coolest part of the day.

Step One. Tap into your main waterline or into an existing outside faucet. In either case, install an anti-siphon/backflow prevention valve to prevent the possibility of contaminated water backing up into your drinking water line. You can put a pipe tee on the anti-siphon valve. Attach a new hose bib to one end of the tee. Attach a PVC connector to the other side for the irrigation water.

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Why Native Plants? by Virginia L. Morris, El Paso Master Gardener

What is a native plant? Native plant is a term used to describe plants endemic (indigenous) or naturalized to a given area in geologic time; that is, native plants evolved in a local area. Native plants grew naturally in an area before humans began to bring in plants from non-local areas.

What is an area? An area is defined as a region with similar characteristics, such as weather, soil, rainfall, and altitude. Plants may be native to North America, but not necessarily native to every state in the U.S. Some native plants have adapted to very limited, unusual environments or exceptional soil conditions like in the Chihuahuan Desert.

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Environmental Stewardship through Earth-Kind® Landscaping  by Sarah G. Wood, El Paso Master Gardener

 Earth-Kind photo

What is in a name? Xeriscape™, water-wise, water-smart, green garden are familiar names for garden design and maintenance techniques that share the goal of environmental resource conservation while establishing an attractive, pleasant landscape in which to live. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has chosen and registered the name “Earth-Kind®” to identify its environmental stewardship program.

Earth-Kind® landscaping uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum garden and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting the environment.

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The Secret to Growing Tomatoes in El Paso by Dave Turner, El Paso Master Gardener

TomatoesThe tomato is the most popular vegetable grown in the home garden in Texas and across the country. It’s not the easiest to grow successfully, so why is it the favorite? The answer is simple: TASTE.

Like all vegetables, tomatoes like well-drained soil that has been amended with lots of compost.

If it is not the soil, then what’s the secret? Tomatoes have both the male and female parts (the stamen and the pistil) in each blossom, and therefore can be pollinated by the wind. This is not a problem in El Paso. However, with tomatoes, this pollination is inhibited at higher temperatures. When the nighttime temperatures are above 75 degrees and the daytime highs are 92 and above, very little, if any, pollination takes place. The plants will still blossom, but the blossoms will not become tomatoes.

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Rainwater Harvesting by Doc Stalker, El Paso Master Gardener  

rain barrelRainwater harvesting is the process of collecting rainfall and storing it later use. It can take active or passive forms. Rain barrels connected to gutters on a roof are an example of the active form of rainwater harvesting while rain gardens in the landscape are a passive form.

Since El Paso County receives the majority of its rainfall during the months July through September, we’re entering the perfect time of the year to capture the rainfall …

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Caring for Potted Succulents in Winter by Jennifer Medina Salter, El Paso Master Gardener

jennifer suculentsOver the past few months I have been collecting small potted succulents/cacti on my patio. Many of them are cold sensitive, and with colder temperatures here it is definitely time to change the plant environment. I brought my plants inside, but many people move theirs into greenhouses. Whatever the environment, remember that although most succulents/cacti are winter dormant they still have 3 basic requirements: light, water and temperature.

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Getting Your Vegetable Beds Ready for Spring by Jennifer Medina Salter, El Paso Master Gardener

tomato protectionMarch is upon us and if you’re like me, you are itching to get your warm season vegetable garden ready. This is the perfect time to make sure that everything is ready for planting those tomatoes in mid-March, so get those gloves on, head to the garden and let’s start with several jobs essential for a great harvest.

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The Best Date to Start Pruning Roses in El Paso?
by Doc Stalker, El Paso Master Gardener

Heart w_Happy Rose Pruning DayWhen El Paso’s winter days start to get a bit warmer, Master Gardeners begin hearing a lot of, “When should I prune my rose bush” questions. The answer is, “It all depends.”

Some authors declare Valentine’s Day as the traditional date for starting to prune roses in most of Texas. Others contend that all rose pruning must be over by February 14th. And yet another group of writers recommend rose pruning should always start three or four weeks before the average date of the last killing frost – which in El Paso means waiting to begin pruning your rose until the last week of February.

The truth is, Mother Nature has her own schedule for the start of rose pruning, and she frequently changes that official start date from one year to the next. Dormant roses require only a few weeks of cold weather before they may show signs of being ready to start new growth. A cold December followed by a warm period in January can result in new bud eyes and perhaps even a few young shoots popping out on local rose bushes weeks before Valentine’s Day.

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Care for Storm-Damaged Trees and Shrubs

Branch broken by snowOur area had a snow storm to remember over the weekend following Christmas. El Paso’s Sun Bowl became the “Snow Bowl”. Children created snowmen, snow dinosaurs and snow horses. Some of us discovered that the beautiful snow was too heavy for our tree branches and have already found tree damage or suspect damage might be found when the snow melts. Read the following articles to learn how to assess storm damage to your trees. Learn what you can do and when to call a licensed arborist.

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Helping Your Holiday Gift Plants Keep On Giving 
by John C. Murray, El Paso Master Gardener

Amaryllis fm calendar

Photo credit: EPCMGA Master Gardener Calendar, 2013-2014

Holiday gift plants brighten the winter months. Following some simple rules for care can help us enjoy these gifts for years to come.

Rule #1: Do NOT expose to cold or hot drafts.
Rule #2: Remove sleeves or re-pot as soon as possible. Most Christmas plants are sold in the protective sleeve they are shipped in. These sleeves can hold water and promote root rot.

Tips for favorite plants include:
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum ssp.) – This is considered the easiest to keep alive after the holiday season. After the blossoms wither, cut the flower stem 1-2 inches above the base. Sunlight is essential during the growth stage.

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