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Master Gardener

Zinnia can be planted in July in Maricopa.

By Al Brandenburg

Another year and again I am watching my plants wither in the 100-degree-plus heat. Gardening in Arizona in July can be difficult indeed, but it can be done. Planting the right plants in the right location at the right time and watering them correctly is critical for success. Now going forward:

July To-Do List:

  • Fertilize sweet potatoes with a balanced fertilizer.
  • Clear out squash and other plants that have stopped producing or are showing signs of heat stress and disease.
  • Don’t prune or fertilize most plants. Most are in summer dormancy to survive. Pruning can expose new parts of a plant to sunlight damage, and fertilizing can cause stress in plants as well.
  • Water evenly. Hopefully the monsoon humidity and added moisture comes to us this month. A rain gauge is helpful to see how much rain you’ve received. If you measure 0.5 inches of rain, turn off your water timers. You can also insert a screwdriver into grass or rocks to determine whether to water. If it passes easily into the soil, you can wait a day or two to water.

What to plant in July:

  • Pepper, tomatillo and tomato transplants at the end of the month or beginning of August
  • Snap beans in the middle of the month
  • Carrots at the end of the month or beginning of August
  • You can also plant Armenian cucumbers, shallots, pumpkin, corn, winter squash, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, tepary beans and a final planting of yard-long beans or cantaloupe for the year.
  • Flowers that can be planted this month: orange cosmos, globe amaranth, kochia, vinca, purslane, zinnias and sunflowers.

Several varieties of peppers are producing in the garden this month. Serrano peppers take the heat well. Bell peppers can get sunburned if fruits get direct sun; provide some shade if scalding is a problem.

Also the last of the tomatoes on the vine have ripened. It is too hot for pollen to be viable for new tomatoes to develop. As temps cool, you will start getting fruit again.

Cucumbers do best on a trellis, with even watering and mulching with compost. Pick cucumbers young and pick them often to encourage production. Production slows or even stops this month as temperatures heat up.

As far as herbs are concerned, rosemary is doing great and doesn’t mind the heat. It’s best not to prune it this month, but you can harvest it as needed for recipes.

Then there’s my favorite; basil is the champion herb of summer. Be sure to keep it pruned and try different varieties to mix things up.

Good luck and stay cool.

Al Brandenburg is a Pinal County Master Gardener.

This column appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

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Wende Gehrt

By Wende Gehrt

Wende Gehrt

Gardeners have long valued herbs for their culinary uses, and they’re easy to grow, even in the desert.

An entire plant can be grown for less than purchasing a precut sprig at the grocery store, and it will be available as you need it.

Most herbs don’t require special soils and can thrive in any spot in the yard but can also be grown in pots or even on a windowsill. As with vegetables, grow what you like to eat.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) can be grown in the ground or in pots, and it can handle cold winter temperatures and scorching heat. Rosemary can be propagated simply by taking cuttings from existing plants and placing them in moist soil. Rosemary pairs well with pork, lamb and potatoes.

Mint (Mentha spicata) is a fast growing, spreading plant so you must give it a place to spread without getting in the way or plant it in a pot. Mint sends out runners that spread quickly, forming large patches. Mint varieties include spearmint, peppermint, sweet mint and chocolate mint. Fresh mint complements lamb, poultry, fish and vegetables such as peas, new potatoes and carrots. Mint is refreshing in tea or lemonade.

Italian parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is more heat tolerant than curly parsley and has a richer flavor. Frequent cuttings benefit the plant and will produce new shoots. Parsley adds flavor to meat and egg dishes, potato and pasta dishes, rice, vegetables, salads, soups and herb butters. Add chopped parsley at the very end of cooking or just before serving to preserve its fresh flavor.

Mexican oregano (Poliomintha maderensis) is more flavorful than its European cousin. It thrives in the alkaline soils we typically have in the Southwest. Mexican oregano enhances the flavor of fresh or cooked salsas, meat mixtures for burritos and tacos, enchilada sauce and classic braised pork.

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) thrives in full sun but will tolerate some shade. It’s best used fresh since it loses its flavor if dried.  Fresh cilantro is delicious in sour cream, salsa, pico de gallo, salad dressings, soups, stews, rice, and many Mexican dishes. Some people have a variation of olfactory-receptor genes that allow them to perceive the aldehydes in cilantro as a “soapy taste.”

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) loves the sun and benefits from frequent cuttings, especially to remove any flower buds. It darkens after chopping so it should be added just at the end of cooking.  Basil pairs well with Italian cuisine or anything tomato-based.

Maricopa Master Gardeners cultivate desert-friendly herbs along with vegetables and flowers, offering them at their annual plant sale March 7.


This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa

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Rita Bricker

By Rita Bricker

As I write this, today’s high temperature is projected to be 71 degrees. However, you aficionados of “Game of Thrones” know to heed the warning. Winter is coming.

And with winter comes the potential for frost or even a freeze in our low desert. Light frost is defined as temperatures between 29 and 32 degrees. Significant damage will occur only to succulents or very tender plants at those temperatures.

A moderate freeze or killing frost occurs when temperatures dip as low as 25 degrees. The moisture in plant cells freezes and bursts, damaging most vegetation and foliage. Even root-hardy perennials can be significantly affected.

A drop in temperature to below 25 degrees constitutes a severe freeze that can lead to desiccation and death to almost all plants.

So how can we prepare for the eventuality of an overnight frost or freeze?

First, know what kinds of plants you have and what their cold tolerance is. Many cool-season vegetables like broccoli, spinach, peas, carrots, lettuce and radishes can thrive in the cold, as can most plants native to our area. On the other hand, bougainvillea, geraniums, succulents, citrus trees and perennial bulbs are quite sensitive to frost and must be protected.

Next, determine what kind of protection is best suited to your plants. Citrus and young fruit trees will benefit from having their trunks wrapped all the way to the ground with burlap, towels, or even cardboard. Citrus leaves may turn dark from a freeze but by wrapping the trunk the all-important root structure will be protected. Trunk-wrapping can safely remain on the trees for the entire winter.

Vulnerable potted plants should be brought indoors when frost or freeze is predicted. If just a light frost is on the way, it will probably be sufficient to bring these tender plants up under the porch and near the walls of the house which may retain some warmth from the daytime sun.

Shrubs may need to be covered overnight. It is important to cover these plants all the way down to the ground and to do so before dusk so daytime warmth from the soil is not lost. Sheets, blankets and towels will all suffice. White frost cloth, which can be purchased by the foot at most garden centers, is especially nice to use because it can be left on the plant even during the daytime, as it allows sunlight to penetrate.

Other methods include warming water-filled milk jugs in the daytime sun and placing them around sensitive plants, along with some covering. The jugs retain warmth longer than the surrounding air and ground. You may also water your plants just before a freeze. As the moisture is released from the wet soil it actually warms the air around the plants.

A final thought: Leave freeze-damaged plants alone until spring. When you see new growth sprouting, then you can prune away any frost damage.

This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

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By Harriet Phelps

Harriet Phelps

The of the gentle giants of the Sonoran Desert stand in our backyards, along the highways and areas all around us. They are a wonder in our region. Carnegiea gigantea grows in Arizona on the Sonoran Desert or Great Basin Desert and nowhere else in the world.

The name saguaro is from the Spanish meaning large cactus with arms. The white nocturnal blossoms of the saguaro are the Arizona State Wildflower.

Characteristics of the saguaro are its height and width, growing to 30-by-10 feet or more. Foliage and texture are coarse with green pleats, spines and evergreen. The plant grows in full sun. Birds help the placement of the saguaro by depositing seeds under “nurse” palo verde, ironwood or mesquite trees where they grow until competition for water and nutrients kills off the nurse tree.

The plant is slow growing and is considered adult by 125 years. In 50 to 70 years the first branches or arms appear, and, with lower precipitation, it could be 100 years. By 70 years it has reached six and a half feet and produced its first flowering. In 95 to 100 years it reaches 15 to 16 feet.

Saguaros are protected in Arizona under special laws found at Agriculture.AZ.gov. Harming one is illegal; moving one requires a special permit. The plant is a virtual ecological hotel housing cactus wrens (the state bird), Gila woodpecker and other wildlife. It has furnished food and structure to the local tribes for centuries.

The Tohono O’odham hold the plant as an honored relative that sustains them both spiritually and physically. Mythology says one saguaro created one woman, who sank deep into the earth and rose with giant cactus arms. Once a year she dresses up with striking white flowers in her hair and bears crimson fruit called bahidaj in their language.

Before moving to Maricopa, Harriet Phelps was a master gardener in Illinois.

This column appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

By Harriet Phelps

Harriet Phelps

This topic is probably not one that your mother discussed with you. In Arizona, the sunrises and sunsets are the best time to watch the birds and the bees. It is very relaxing. They are pollinators.

Pollinators are important to our environment and are essential for fruit and vegetable production. Pollinators in general are in decline, which impacts food production. Gardeners can conserve bees and habitat for birds by planting flowers and trees that attract and provide nesting habitat and protection from harmful pesticides.

What you need to know

Every fifth bite, or one-third, of our food in the United States depends on pollination.

The honeybee is one of more than 20,000 distinct bee species and can visit 50 to 1,000 flowers. The number of hives in the United States has decreased about 50 percent from 6 million in the 1940s to about 2.5 million today. – USDA.gov

There are 300 species of hummingbird and they are found only in the Western Hemisphere. The Anna hummingbird stays year-round in the northern Sonoran Desert. – National Park Service

What you can do

There is a bee/bird-plant relationship that provide the habitat and feeding of pollinators. Whether you are a pot-container gardener on your patio or a full-fledged vegetable gardener, it all matters. Use NPS.gov or Pollinator.org/guides using your ZIP code for a list.

Hummingbirds require nectar from plants and protein from insects caught in flight. They drink up to two times their body weight per day. Boiling a mixture of one cup sugar to four cups water until the sugar dissolves is all that is necessary. It does not require the red coloring. Keep your red feeder clean and replace the water not used weekly. This mixture also attracts the bees that want a drink of water.

Create a pollinator habitat with bee-friendly plants and a water source.

Support local beekeepers by buying honey from them or at farmers markets. They are resources for bee problems, too. If bees become a problem, swarm or build a large hive that you would like removed, call a beekeeper. Do not remove the bees yourself. Always be prepared for bee sting or pollen allergy and seek medical advice.

Harriet Phelps is a retired psychologist, a member of the Pinal County Master Gardeners Maricopa for six years and was a Master Gardener in Rock Island County, Illinois for seven years.

MG Office 520-374-6263

NPS.gov, Pollinator.org/guides, NCRS.USDA.gov/WPS

This column appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

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Joe Whittle with his kids in his backyard garden. Photos by Ivanka Kim

By Trudy Fuller

Trudy Fuller

Joe Whittle and his young family have lived in Maricopa four years, bringing with him 12 years of gardening and professional landscaping experience.

He also has completed a permaculture course taught by Geoff Lawton, based on the original permaculture book written by Australian ecologist Bill Mollison. By following these principles, Whittle has created a profusion of edible and medicinal plants along with those plants that are beneficial for wildlife such as hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

Working with rather than against nature is a permaculture philosophy. Here in the low desert, the U.S. Climate Data lists the average rainfall for Maricopa as 7.87 inches, which poses a challenge of making the most of a very modest rainfall.

Whittle has devised a passive rain water harvesting system to supplement his garden’s irrigation system, utilizing rain gutters that channel precipitation onto sunken gravel covered walkways below the soil level of the garden beds. In this way, the moisture seeps into the various root zones.

Companion plantings allow for taller plants to shade the understory plants, allowing the soil to stay moist longer. For example, a mulberry tree shades an artichoke, a sweet acacia provides shade for several types of citrus, and a guava plant receives shade from 10-foot sugar cane stalks.

Permaculture strives to keep the soil covered with moisture-providing plants, including weeds. There is a basic strategy for weeds in this garden. Eventual growth of vegetable crops will shade out weeds. Before they go to seed, weeds are added to the compost pile, along with seasonal tree leaf drop, providing minerals to the compost.

Moisture-preserving vegetable ground covers, including radishes, turnips and spicy mustard, improve the soil and eventually replace weed growth. Other ground cover found in this garden include sweet alyssum, deep-rooted dichondra clover, marshmallow herb and sweet lavender. Moisture is further saved through different mulches and finely ground wood chips. The moist soil created from these plantings encourages the earth worm population.

A shade-providing mulberry tree is thriving in this garden due to the extra moisture created from the permaculture strategy. Some shade is needed here in the desert, and this tree’s roots, among others in the garden, open up the soil to create air channels needed to promote plant growth.

To learn more about Joe Whittle’s garden, visit Whittle Bitty Farms on Facebook.

The next landscape and garden course will be offered at the Maricopa Agricultural Center beginning in late August. To get on the mailing list, write to macmastergardener.com.

Trudy Fuller is a Tortosa resident and a Pinal County master gardener.

This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

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Master Gardener Julie Olson

By Julie Olson

Tomatoes are the most popular plant for the home gardener. Looking through a seed catalogue is a daunting experience and selecting which varieties to grow is a challenge.   Everyone has a favorite variety they grow every season. Whether growing plants from seed or purchasing them from your favorite nursery, there are several things to consider in your selection.

How will the fruit be used? The tiny cherry tomatoes, which are available in many colors, are great for salads.  Oblong paste tomatoes like Roma and San Marzano are meaty, and contain less juice. They`re great for salsa and recipes which require diced fruit.  The larger beefsteak style are sliced for sandwiches. Costoluto varieties are wonderful when used for roasting or stewing.  Each type of fruit contributes different characteristics which determine their best use.

How much garden space do you have? Plant breeders have developed compact sized plants which grow well in a large pot on the patio. These varieties usually produce smaller fruit with fewer per plant. The smaller fruit varieties can also be grown in patio pots. Bush style plants can support  themselves and don`t require being staked. These will take less room in your garden. Many hybrid plants are bush style. Vine tomatoes must be staked or surrounded by cages. The sprawling habit can cover a large area if not controlled. Most of the favorite heirloom plants are considered a vine style.

Do you want lots of fruit at one time? If you are canning and preserving tomatoes, a determinate variety will produce fruit which ripens within a concentrated time period.  Celebrity is an example of a determinate variety. Most heirloom tomatoes are considered indeterminate.  These varieties will fruit over an extended time. Some examples are Brandywine, Cherokee Carbon and Costoluto Genovese. Determinate or indeterminate type will be indicated on the plant tag or seed package of each variety.

Heirloom verses hybrid tomato? Heirloom varieties have withstood the test of time. Seed has been saved and passed down through generations of growers. Heirlooms are almost as famous for being fickle in the garden as they are for their wonderful taste.

Hybrid varieties are cross pollinated from two different plants. They have been developed by growers for extra disease resistance, size or flavor. Fruit usually has thicker shin which allows for less cracking.

Tomatoes are available in a multitude of colors and sizes.  Newly developed are the Artisan varieties. These are elongated cherry shape, small in size, multicolored and many times striped. Colors range from pale gold, green with yellow, orange mixed with red or gold.

No matter your preference, a tomato has been grown or developed to please you. Now- back to the original question, How many tomatoes are there?  Listed heirlooms are about 3000 varieties.  Approximately 15,000 hybrids have been developed, with more to come.

Julie Olson is a member of the Maricopa Master Gardeners. They can be reached at macmastergardener@gmail.com.

This column appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

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With low temperatures threatening to again fall around freezing this week, it's a good time to learn how to revive "frozen" plants. Photo by Rita Bricker

By Rita Bricker

Rita Bricker

Warmer weather is coming, so what can we do about those ugly, shriveled and dried plants that suffered from the cold over the winter? We can repair them, that’s what.

What happens when it freezes? Light frost (32 degrees or slightly above) occurs when water vapor freezes on the surface of plants. It generally causes only cosmetic damage to leaves on all but tropical plants. A hard frost, on the other hand, freezes water in the plant cells, dehydrating the plant. When the warming sun comes up, those tissues defrost quickly and burst, killing leaves and stems, and even creating cracks in the bark of some trees. Plants appear limp, dried out, or even blackened.

So how can we revive those damaged plants?

Rule 1: WAIT! The average last-frost date for our zip codes in climate zone 9 occurs during the month of February. In fact, there is a 50-percent probability that our temperature could drop below 32 degrees as late as March 6. Be patient and watch the weather projections for frost events before attempting to revive damaged plants.

Rule 2: Continue gently watering your plants as normal because frost has sucked the moisture from the tissues. But do not over-water, as that could stimulate growth in a plant that is in a weakened state.

Rule 3: Resist the temptation to fertilize your plants at this time. As with over-watering, this could stimulate early growth in an already-stressed plant.

How can you tell what’s dead and what is still viable? Scrape a stem or an area on the trunk. If the underlying tissue is green, it’s alive; if it is brown it’s dead. You can also try bending a branch. It will break if it is dead, but flex if it is still alive.

If just outer growth shows damage, lightly prune affected areas, trimming off dead flowers, leaves, and branches. Cut back damaged stems a few inches into healthy wood, but don’t remove more than is necessary. Renewal pruning is called for if most of the upper growth is damaged; this means severely cutting back affected areas to within a few inches of the ground. If any part of the plant is black, slimy, mushy, or smells bad it needs to come off.

Cactus can freeze completely in a short period of time, so throw out any that has blackened or turned mushy as it will not recover. It may be hard to gauge damage to succulents like agaves until summer because they may continue to grow from the central bud deep within the plant even if there is extensive damage to the outer leaves, so give them some extra time.

And if you need to replace freeze-damaged plants, keep in mind that our Master Gardener plant sale is coming up on March 2. We will have a great variety of hardy locally-grown vegetables, flowers, and cactus/succulents for purchase at reasonable prices.

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

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Maricopa Master Gardener Trudy Fuller with her desert willow. Photo by Ivanka Kim

By Trudy Fuller

There is nothing more humbling than gardening on the low desert of Arizona. It has been five years since we moved to Maricopa from the Southeast. Greeting us in the Maricopa backyard were waist-high weeds on steroids and struggling trees and bushes.

Things have gradually progressed since then. Two important things were responsible for a very modest turnaround. One was by chance finding a copy of the magazine called Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert: A Guide to Growing More Than 200 Low-Water-Use Plants compiled by the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (also available online at AMWUA.org/Plants). The other was finding and enrolling in the Garden and Landscape Short Course at the Maricopa Agricultural Center here in Maricopa.

One low-water-use native tree included in the previously mentioned Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert is the heat-loving desert willow known in the botanical world as Chilopsis linearis. You may think planting this fast-growing, multi-stemmed tree means you don’t have to water at all. These trees originated on the banks of washes, creeks and streams, so there was at least occasional water available in their natural habitat.

Due to the long-standing drought here on the low desert in the city of Maricopa and Pinal County, one definitely needs to water deeply during the intense heat of summer at least once a week. In addition to having the characteristic of a sprawling, large bush, the desert willow can also be started from a cutting as a single-stemmed tree. When the single-stemmed tree is young, allow some of the lower branches to remain on the trunk for a couple of years, as this will encourage the trunk to grow thicker.

Pruning needs to be done in the winter after the leaves have dropped. Here in Maricopa, this leaf drop occurs after our first period of cold weather, usually from mid- November until after the new year. Those who maintain swimming pools need to be aware of this phenomenon. The desert willow delivers filtered shade as opposed to dense shade, so wind usually progresses easily though its branches with few, if any, dropped limbs during the monsoon season.

When given adequate water, the desert willow will bloom from April through October. On the eastern edge of our city, the most profuse blooming occurred this year in April and May. The delicate fragrance of these trumpet-shaped blooms, ranging from pink and lavender to purple and even white, attract hummingbirds, butterflies and pollinating bees. Another plus for our environment is this tree is not susceptible to pests or diseases. All it asks is full sun and a soil that drains well. However, sometimes these trees can tolerate some shade too, as can be seen on the west side of my two-story home.

In parting, note that the desert willow is not a willow at all but belongs to the family of the pink and red trumpet vine. Who knew?



This column appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.



Wende Gehrt

By Wende Gehrt

Gardening in containers, or hot pots, can be a great deal of fun and affords the gardener accessibility, opportunities for creativity, and relative ease in terms of daily chores. The challenges include lack of moisture and susceptibility to hot and cold temperatures and should be considered when determining placement of the container.

Containers are available in a variety of materials including terra-cotta, plastic, ceramic, metal, fiberglass, wood, stone and concrete. Of course, you may choose any whimsical container you desire.

Plants may grab the attention, but good-looking plants begin with healthy planting medium. A good potting mix will contain organic material and air but rarely contain any real soil. They’re available in a variety of brands and sold in pre-packaged mixes. Avoid garden soil as it’s too dense and lacks organic material. If the container is quite large or deep, crumpled plastic water bottles or bubble wrap may be used to fill space before adding the potting mix. The plant’s roots will only grow to a depth of about 12 inches, so filling a deep container with potting mix only adds to the cost and weight.

When selecting plants for hot pots, be sure to choose plants that have similar light and water requirements. Think in terms of “thriller,” “filler” and “spiller” when choosing plants.

A thriller is a tall plant placed in the back of the pot such as dracaena, yucca or lavender.

The filler is the main focal flowering plant, and chrysanthemums, salvias, nasturtiums, petunias and zinnias are all good choices.

The spiller could be a vine or creeper such as marguerite, ivy or elephant food.

With the kaleidoscope of colors available, you can choose whatever color arrangement you like. Think of the color wheel and use either contrasting colors, complementary colors or whatever appeals to you. The addition of white flowers makes the other colors “pop.” Even herbs including rosemary, basil, dill, chives and thyme can be incorporated in a container.

To attract butterflies, choose blue mist flower, lantana or desert milkweed. Hummingbirds are attracted to autumn sage, scarlet creeper and velvet honeysuckle. To attract birds, select ocotillo, hesperaloe or southwest coral bean. If you prefer cacti and succulent plants, keep them together to avoid overwatering or feeding. Succulents and cacti do need water, but only when the soil is very dry.

Watering and feeding will be determined by the type of container, variety of plants and location. You may choose to add a line to a drip irrigation system or water by hand. Fertilizer choices include granular, soluble crystals or pelleted and include the three nutrients – nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Follow the directions on the package for application and frequency.

Container gardening in Arizona is not only fun, but also can be enjoyed year-round. Express your creativity with your container and plants.



Wende Gehrt is the newest member of Maricopa Master Gardeners.

This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Jerry Walp speaking to visitors in the garden at the Maricopa Agricultural Center. Submitted

By Julie Olson

Master Gardener Julie Olson

Midsummer is a great time to start planning the fall vegetable garden.

Draw the garden to scale in air-conditioned comfort. A crowed garden won’t yield or grow to potential.

Plant spacing recommendations
Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts:
Rows 30 inches wide, plants spaced 20 inches apart
Leafy greens like lettuce, chard and kale: 20-inch rows with 5-6-inch plant spacing
Radishes and spinach: 20-inch rows
Peas: 2-3 inches apart if grown on a fence or trellis to provide more garden space

Selecting seed varieties is a fun part of gardening. Check the days to maturity on the packet. The desert season is shorter than normal, so quicker-maturing vegetables are better. Make copies of the seed packet information for later reference.

After drawing the garden plot and deciding what to plant, the next step is removing dead plants and debris. The soil may need amendments of fertilizer and compost if a summer garden was grown. September is a good time to start planting seeds as they like warm soil for germination. If using transplants, wait three to four weeks. Irrigation lines should also be checked and repaired. Watering problems are much easier to fix before planting.

Plants and seeds need to be protected from birds and ground squirrels. It`s very discouraging to find a row of holes where peas were planted. Birds will also eat tender new leaves and stems. A light-weight row cover or netting may be needed. Netting should be high enough to prevent birds from poking through to the plants.

Check daily for insect problems. A strong spray of water on the leaf undersides will knock off aphids. Insecticidal soaps will control many pests. Companion planting is another pest control. Onions and garlic help protect broccoli and cabbage from cabbage loopers which eat three times their weight every day.

Weeds are another garden pest that steal water and nutrients, crowd out and shade vegetables. Don`t forget to mark the rows. Plastic knives with plant names written on them make good row markers.

By mid-October radishes and other short-season crops can be harvested. Vegetables harvested at their peak are most nutritious.

Cut the first leaves of swiss chard when 4 to 6 inches, let the next ones grow 6 to 8 inches. Harvest greens when young and dark green for best flavor. Old leaves will become bitter. Pick broccoli when heads are dark blue green and compact. Cabbage should be firm, crisp and rich green in color.

Enjoy fall vegetables through January and February, then it`s time to plant for summer.


Julie Olson is a Master Gardener and Maricopa resident.

This column appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.



Hairy desert scorpion

By Scott Oliver

Scott Oliver

“Grandpa, there’s a baby lobster in your garden!”

I have lived in Maricopa for nearly six years now, and I had never encountered a scorpion in my home until last Sunday. I was up that morning before daylight. My son and his family were coming that afternoon for barbecue, and I needed to get a pork shoulder in the smoker.

Still not quite awake, my eyes still adjusting to my surroundings, I went into the laundry room and, there she was, a 2-inch bark scorpion on the wall, eye level, above the dryer. I am happy to report there was no “scorpion dance.” I don’t have major phobias when it comes to bugs and spiders, but a scorpion?

The three most commonly observed scorpions in Arizona are:

  • Desert or giant hairy scorpion (hadrurus arizonensis)
  • Striped or devil scorpion (vaejovis spinigerus)
  • Bark scorpion (centruroides sculpturatus)

Scorpions are one of the oldest animals on Earth. Their evolutionary history goes back to the Silurian era 430 million years ago. They evolved from giant scorpion-like creatures that emerged from the sea. Although they resemble crustaceans like lobsters and crayfish, scorpions actually are more closely related to ticks, mites and spiders.

Keeping scorpions out of your house begins in your yard. If you spot more than one, definitely call an exterminator. I would personally recommend calling only companies that specialize in scorpion control. Scorpions are extremely resilient and don’t respond to pesticides the way other bugs do.

After an initial treatment you can go the DIY route. There are plenty of successful, easily researched strategies available. Do remove dead branches, wood and mulch piles, debris under plants and bushes.

I calmly considered my options, kill or capture. There was a flyswatter within arm’s reach but that’s like taking a spoon to a knife fight. I slowly backed away, went into the garage and picked my 5-pound sledge hammer and returned armed and ready. Positioning myself to the side of the dryer I took a wide stance and dug in. Imagine a baseball player at home plate going through his routine. I just wanted to make solid contact. Slowly, I drew my hammer back, eyes on the target; I’m going to do this.

Scorpions are usually not aggressive unless threatened, and then look out. This trait makes killing or capturing them challenging. They move quickly when they feel threatened, or may do just the opposite and play dead. Apparently, size does matter. Surprisingly, the small, young bark scorpions are the most dangerous.

If you are stung by one, it will hurt like hell, but as with bees, it’s not life-threatening unless you suspect you are allergic or if you are infirm, in which case you should capture or kill the one that stung you and take it with you to a medical facility so the correct anti-venom can be used.

I did not smash my laundry room scorpion, saving myself a drywall repair project. Instead, I captured it in a mason jar for a show-and-tell with the grandkids that afternoon. It turned into a great teaching opportunity. Later that evening I took it to a vacant field a few blocks away and set her free. The next one might not be so lucky.

This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

By Al Brandenburg

Did you know that peppers have genders?

As an example, three-lobed bells are considered males and are best used for frying. Four-lobed bells are considered female and are best for stuffing and salads. Non-bells are all males.

That said, peppers are a breeze to grow. Basically, you plant them and watch them take off. But, for maximum production, a little pampering helps.

Plant peppers in a bed that receives full sun (at least six hours a day) and contains plenty of organic matter. Unless you want all hot peppers, keep hots and sweets well separated. Depending on the size of the pepper varieties planted, spacing should be 12-18 inches apart.  Most sweet peppers mature in 60-90 days; hot peppers can take up to 150 days.

Keep in mind, however, the number of days to maturity stated on the seed packet refers to the days after transplanting until the plant produces a full-sized fruit.

Prepare the soil and plant

The right site and soil will make a world of difference in how peppers do. Choose a sunny, well-drained spot where peppers haven’t grown recently. Peppers like warmth, so wait to plant until all frost danger has passed. If possible, set out your peppers on a cloudy day to help reduce stress on the plants. Set them a bit deeper than they were in their containers.

Consider staking or caging some varieties so that the stems do not break in strong winds or because of a large fruit load. After you plant the pepper seedlings, water them well. In addition, to maintain a proper balance, before transplanting, work some organic matter into the soil to enhance moisture retention.

Feed your soil

Peppers and tomatoes are heavy feeders, so they need plenty of organic food. I suggest a balanced vegetable fertilizer such as Miracle Grow or Arizona’s Best Vegetable fertilizer. Water well after feeding.

Warning: Don’t over-fertilize. This tends to make the pepper plants develop lush foliage at the expense of fruit production. If you work 5-10-10 fertilizer into the soil prior to transplanting, that’s probably sufficient.

Water & Mulch

Throughout the growing season, make sure your pepper plants receive adequate watering. Deep watering every three to four days is better than a short water every day. Check the peppers often during periods of extreme heat and drought. The trick is to maintain adequate water without drowning a plant or drying it out.

You can use mulch to prevent excessive evaporation from the soil during the dry summer months.

Do not overwater. Peppers are thirsty plants. They need a moderate supply of water from the moment they sprout until the end of the season. However, peppers won’t tolerate a saturated soil that waterlogs their roots. The soil must drain well yet hold enough moisture to keep the plants in production.

Pinch off first flowers and use companion plants

As difficult as it might be for you (and me), pinch off any early blossoms that appear on pepper plants. This won’t harm the plants. It helps them direct their energy into growing and results in lots of large fruits later in the season instead of just a few small fruits early on. Spray Neem Oil on the underside of the leaves to help control our favorite pests, white flies. It’s claimed that growing basil next to peppers boosts their flavor and may help to repel some common garden pests. Plus, you get pesto!


You can harvest the peppers at their immature green or purple stage, but the flavor will be sweeter if you wait for them to turn their mature color — usually red, but sometimes golden yellow or orange. Italian fryers and jalapeños are possible exceptions as many people prefer the flavor of these peppers when they are full size but still green. To harvest the peppers, cut them off with hand pruners. Pulling them off by hand can damage the plant. Now get ready to enjoy your stuffed peppers as well as sausage, onion and pepper sandwiches…. yummy!

Al Brandenburg is a Master Gardener and Maricopa resident.

This column appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Joaquim Alves Gaspar

By Rita Bricker

March 3, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Maricopa Agricultural Center, 37860 W. Smith-Enke Road


Before you smash, spray, or otherwise annihilate that insect in your garden, make sure it is not one of the good guys. There are many insects that can eliminate other destructive pests for us. They are called “beneficial” insects and are of two types, either predators or parasites.

Beneficial predators feed on the insect pest itself. Lady beetles (ladybugs), lacewing larvae, and assassin bugs are examples of predator insects. The praying mantis is another well-known predator in our gardens.

The lady beetle is one of the most famous of the predator insects. These beetles have colorful red, orange, or sometimes yellow front wings speckled with black markings. The adults lay clusters of orange eggs on plants near groups of aphids. After hatching, tiny black and orange larvae feed on aphids in great numbers.

The delicate lacewing is another champion predator insect. The adult lacewings are pale green or light brown insects about a half-inch in size. Their delicate appearance comes from the many veins in their wings, giving them the netted or lacy appearance. The adults feed on nectar and are not predatory themselves, but their larval offspring are. Lacewings lay their pale green eggs on the underside of leaves. The lacewing larvae are tiny and their shape resembles an alligator with large jaws for sucking the juices from small prey and other insect eggs. They consume large numbers of aphids and other insect pests and insect eggs of all kinds.

The praying mantis is perhaps the best-known predator insect. It can be seen sitting on plants or on a wall under a light waiting patiently for another insect to cross its path; then it captures its victim with its spiny front legs and chomps down. Perhaps you have seen a praying mantis egg case about an inch long made of a brownish-gray papery material with numerous compartments glued to a twig or branch. The praying mantis young emerge in the spring looking like miniature versions of their parents.

The eponymous assassin bugs and ambush bugs have their own brand of predatory treachery. Other predatory insects include damsel bugs, big-eyed bugs, minute pirate bugs, syrphid flies, wasps, and dragonflies.

Beneficial parasitic insects differ in their tactics. Typically, they lay their eggs on or within the bodies of their prey. After hatching, the young larvae use the host insect for food. There are parasitic wasps and flies in this category.

One unusual example of a parasitic insect is the eucharitid wasp which lays its eggs in trees. As worker ants search for aphids and other food in the leaves, the parasite larva attaches itself to an ant, hitching a ride back to the ant nest. Once there, the parasite drops off the transport ant and attaches itself to an ant larva to feed.

Isn’t nature fascinating! We owe a lot to these beneficial insects. Let’s protect and encourage them.

Contact a Pinal County Master Gardener at (520) 374-6263 or macmastergardener@gmail.com

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Winter garden herbs. Submitted photo

By Tina Frank

Tina Frank

Growing up in a cold state, our family always thought citrus was the only produce that comes from Arizona gardening. Being a resident to Arizona now for 30-plus years has changed my perspective dramatically. Arizona, I believe, is one of the best places to have a winter garden.

For our family, a winter garden is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and spend time together. We plan through the warm months, so as soon as the weather changes we can get things rolling. Because we still get down to freezing in the winter, we like to plant early. The earlier you plant, the longer your harvest season is. Our ideal planting window for our winter garden is mid- to late-September. But it’s not too late if you want to plant right now. You can still enjoy your veggies until the heat hits again in the springtime.

  1. Preparing the soil

If you had a summer garden, then turning the soil and pulling out anything undesirable is the first step. We pull out things like perennial weeds and grasses. We will then follow up with compost. You can purchase compost or make it yourself with your leftover veggie pieces.

If you are just preparing your space for the first time I recommend you put some manure and fertilizer in your garden space a couple of weeks before planting. Work it into the soil with a shovel and/or rake, water it down, and let it sit. The day you plant you will want the soil to be moist. You can add a little more fertilizer or compost, if needed, at this time.

  1. Choosing vegetables

Now the fun part begins. Focus on root plants and greens. The fastest way to get things producing is to purchase seedlings and plant them. If you start early, seeds can also be a great option. A seed catalogue gives you a bigger variety of options. Our family does a little of both.

I find if you start planting with your root vegetables first (carrots, beets, turnips) and then your greens of choice, you will have the best results. The greens propagate better in cooler weather, so I usually plant my root vegetables a few weeks ahead of my greens. Some of our favorite greens are swiss chard, mustard greens, spinach and lots of varieties of kale, cabbage and lettuce.

Something else we like to grow in winter are fresh herbs. Herbs are relatively easy to grow, and you don’t have to spend a lot of time maintaining them. They also smell great. Most herbs prefer full access to the sun, good air circulation and well-drained soil. You can plant them in a small plot outside or put them in a flower pot. They’re versatile plants that will add some flavor to your meals. Some even have medicinal uses. Some of the herbs we enjoy are mint, dill, cilantro, basil and oregano.

  1. After planting

Once your seeds and plants are in, I recommend a layer of mulch. You can use any kind you like. We put about ½ to 1 inch of mulch in our bays or pots to help keep things moist. This allow us to water less often. We do have a drip system in our planting plots, but we water our pots by hand.

Enjoy your winter garden.


Tina Frank is a resident of Rancho El Dorado and a master gardener.

This column appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

Submitted photo

By Al Brandenburg

Al Brandenburg

I’m originally from upstate New York and have been vegetable gardening most of my life. One of the best crops in my garden were pole beans, which were prolific and provided some great meals. Moving to Arizona 10 years ago and becoming a Master Gardener required me to rethink what, when and how to plant my veggies based on the hot and dry climate conditions we experience here.

  1. Determine the right time to plant. Like most beans, pole beans get planted directly outside in spring when there is no longer a risk of frost. Pole beans can be planted here when the soil temperature reaches at least 60 F. In Arizona, unless we get a late frost, this is usually the first week of March. Surprisingly, you can also plant in early fall and get a second crop right up to first frost.
  2. Select the ideal location. Pole beans need full sun to grow properly and produce the highest yields, so choose a garden bed that gets lots of exposure throughout the day. Good companion plants for pole beans are carrots, eggplant and peas. Six hours of sun each day is more than sufficient.
  3. Build a good support. Because pole beans grow tall, they need a support to grow on. It’s easiest to build the support before planting, and this will prevent damage to the beans and roots. I use half-inch diameter PVC pipe and construct my poles in a teepee shape with about a foot and a half of distance separating each pole at the bottom. I use rope or elastic ties to connect the poles near the top.
  4. Inoculate the beans. Pole beans are a type of legume, and like most legumes, they require plenty of nitrogen in the soil to thrive. The easiest way to make sure they have this is by inoculating the beans with nitrogen-fixing bacteria before planting. You can order a can of this powder online or purchase it at your local garden/home supply store. The trick is to soak your bean seeds in warm water for about 20 minutes, then drain the water and place the beans on a damp towel. Sprinkle them with the inoculant powder just before planting.
  5. Submitted photo

    Plant the beans. Poke six 1-inch deep holes around each pole, and place one bean in each hole. Cover the beans loosely with soil. Pat down softly and water gently. I have found the two best bean varieties that do well here are stringless blue lake S-7 and rattlesnake. Both are available through Vermont Bean Seed Company out of Wisconsin. Warning: Do not plant in wet soil.

  6. Water regularly. During active growing periods like sprouting and producing pods, the beans will need plenty of water to grow. Keep the soil evenly moist when you first plant the beans and when they start developing pods. Make sure they get about an inch of water every other day, initially. As it starts heating up you will want to increase the watering frequency. At that point I usually water daily using an irrigation system on a timer but you can just use a hose if you choose. A caution here is to water gently and try to not get the tops of the leaves wet. Harvest the beans when they are about 5 to 6 inches long.

Now…sit back, say a little prayer to the garden gods, and prepare to enjoy your first crop of delicious pole beans in about 5 to 6 weeks.

Albert Brandenburg is a Master Gardener and a resident of Maricopa.

This column appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

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By Barb Christensen

Master Gardener Barb Christensen

Are snakes friend or foe in the garden? You decide for yourself.

These legless creatures live almost everywhere in Arizona. Snakes primarily live in the open desert or mountainous areas away from people, but what happens when we push our city boundaries closer toward outlying desert areas?

Western diamondback and Mojave rattlesnakes are the most common of the venomous variety in our area, but they are almost never deadly to humans if we can get treatment right away. In fact, less than 1 percent of rattlesnake bites results in death in our state, according to the Arizona Poison Center. For the most part, all snakes just want to be left alone to bask in the sun or to hibernate. However, it is best not to make assumptions about the benevolence of any snake.

Many non-poisonous snakes such as the California kingsnake, Sonoran gopher snake, desert night snake, whip snake, coachwhip snake, the tiny ground snake and various kinds of garter snakes also inhabit our environs. Some of these non-venomous snakes even prey on rattlesnakes. As an example, by turning a rattlesnake into its own tasty meal, the common kingsnake helps to control the venomous snake population.

All snakes can help in our gardens by eliminating unwanted rodents that cause havoc and eat our produce. Mice, rats and gophers are known to carry deadly diseases and viruses. Hantavirus, salmonella, rat bite fever, typhus, plague and Lyme disease are easily transmitted by these rodent pests. If left undiagnosed, any one of these diseases or viruses can be fatal, especially for children.

Snakes aren’t for everyone, obviously, and there are measures you can take to protect yourself and your property. A good line of defense is a snake fence around any open areas. Also, make sure to trim around the bottom of your bushes 1-2 feet. Pick up any dead branches, leaves, trash or other debris from the yard or porch, eliminating places for snakes to hide. Fill in gopher holes, as snakes like to move into vacant holes to get out of the heat or to hibernate.

Even if you decide snakes are beneficial and your friend, you may choose to lessen the chances of encountering one by building raised garden beds rather than in-ground beds. And, if you find an unwanted creepy-crawly in your garden, please do not attempt to remove it yourself. Instead, phone a professional. They will remove the snake, placing it back into its natural habitat.

No matter what you decide about the benefits or dangers of snakes, enjoy your garden and be happy!

Contact a Master Gardener at Maricopa Agricultural Center at 520-374-6263 or macmastergardener@gmail.com. Our diagnostic office at the MAC is open Monday–Friday from 9 a.m. to noon to assist you with your gardening issues.

Barb Christensen is a Master Gardener and a resident of Maricopa.

This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Submitted photo

By Melanie Warthman

Melanie Warthman. Photo by Mason Callejas

Last fall, students from Janis Bellavance’s class at Maricopa Wells Middle School decided to explore the world of vegetable gardening. Little did they know how much growth would really take place.

With guidance from a Maricopa Master Gardener and a 40-by-40-by-26-inch wooden crate, stabilized and delivered by Bellavance’s husband Brian, the class set out to plant their first-ever, raised-bed garden.

The crate was placed outside the classroom in an area allowing the most exposure to sunlight. Math immediately came into play as students determined how much soil was needed. They took measurements, calculated volume and decided to fill part of the box with empty plastic bottles and the remaining space with five bags of garden soil, roughly 18 inches deep. No irrigation lines were added as students did the watering.

The class worked together to plan and plant the bed. The square-foot method was followed using string and wooden skewers to mark off nine 12-by-12-inch squares. It allowed them to utilize space wisely and experience as many vegetables as possible.

Students learned there are two growing seasons – spring and fall – and researched what would do best in the fall. Leafy and root vegetables like the cooler temperatures and shorter growing season.

After much discussion and voting, into the garden went half-long and rainbow carrots, spinach, lettuce, radishes and multi-colored beets. Planting them was tricky because they only go in as deep as the diameter of the seed. Excited middle schoolers had a hard time with that concept but quickly understood what it meant when many seeds failed to germinate because they were planted too deep.

Broccoli was planted from a six-pack purchased from the garden center. One student insisted on green beans, though chances for success, when planted in fall, were slim. Pairs of students checked the garden daily, using a moisture meter to determine when to water, noting observations in a journal.

Submitted photo

Their perseverance and hard work produced a wonderful variety of fall veggies. Even the beans wintered over, due to the protection of the broccoli plants and covering the box when cold nighttime temps were expected. Succession planting allowed them to enjoy lettuce and carrots well into the spring when tomatoes and peppers were added to the garden.

Many students had never tasted these vegetables, let alone seen them grow.

Growth in the garden and the students was amazing. Those quiet in the classroom slowly blossomed, like their plants, as they worked outdoors in small groups. According to Mrs. Bellavance, “This gardening project was fun, purposeful and a real life-learning experience for my students. It was exciting to see their confidence and gardening skills grow.”

The class agreed it was a lot of work but well worth it for the yummy food harvested. As for the current school year… here we grow again!

Melanie Warthman is a member of Maricopa Master Gardeners.


This column appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

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Ideally, grafting can extend the growing season for tomatoes in Arizona. Photo by Carol Howerton

By Carol Howerton

Carol Howerton. Submitted photo

Grafted tomato plants are all the rage these days. They promise increased disease resistance and hardier, more vigorous plants with bigger and better yields. Sounds great, right? But these plants are pricey, ranging from $8-$20 per plant. Are they worth the extra cost for the home gardener in our desert environment?

For the past three years, the Master Gardeners at the Maricopa Agricultural Center have been grafting and growing tomatoes to find the answer to this question. We chose heirloom varieties that everyone loves, like Brandywine and Cherokee Purple because they are not known to do well in our hot climate. Could we find a way through grafting to extend the growing season and harvest more of these wonderful tomatoes? And could we develop a system that would be effective and low-cost so anyone can graft tomatoes at home?

The rootstock varieties chosen were drought-tolerant and vigorous, but any hardy tomato variety can be used such as the Super Sweet 100 Cherry or Sweet Million. Once the desired tomato variety (called the scion) was grafted on to the rootstock, they were put into a healing chamber for 7-10 days.

The chamber can be any enclosure that blocks or limits light and allows for humid conditions. We used Styrofoam ice chests, but plastic storage bins covered with towels also work well. The ideal temperature inside the healing chamber is 80-85 degrees and, to keep the humidity in the 90-95 percent range, we misted the plants daily using spray bottles.

The goal of the healing chamber is to create a low-stress environment where the scion and rootstock can fuse and grow together as one plant. No light is let in for the first two days. Gradually light is increased to bring the plants back to normal growing conditions.

Many of the grafted plants do not survive for a variety of reasons. Genetic incompatibilities, mismatched stem size of the rootstock and scion or the healing environment itself are a few of the reasons for graft failures. No one will have a 100 percent success rate.

When transplanting a grafted plant into your garden, be sure to have the graft union above the soil line or the rootstock can regrow and take over your garden. You will see the graft line as a scar at the graft point.

Grafting is exciting and fun, not difficult and, with the right supplies, pretty inexpensive to do at home. The problems here in Maricopa and Pinal County are more about disease spread by insects than soil-borne diseases and our hot dry climate. We planted grafted and non-grafted varieties in our Demonstration Garden and in home test gardens. To answer our question of whether it is worth doing yourself or paying higher prices for grafted plants, I will leave that up to you to decide. We did not see any noticeable increase in production or increase in the growing season.

Carol Howerton is a member of Maricopa Master Gardeners.

This column appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

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Photo by Ron Bernier

By Ron Bernier

Ron Bernier

The good news in the low desert of Arizona is that there are two growing seasons. That means you can grow a wide variety of vegetables during the course of the year. The bad news is the growing seasons are short, and we have to plan to get the most production from our home gardens in this short amount of time.

We are currently in the warm growing season. The season ends when the temperatures get too high for plants to produce viable pollen and the pollinators (mostly bees) are less active.

Warm season plants are typically those that have edible fruits – corn, cucumber, eggplant, tomatoes, melons, squash, peppers, pumpkins, jicama and okra. For a detailed vegetable planting schedule for Maricopa, visit the Master Gardeners’ page on the University of Arizona web site.

You can make the warm growing season longer by following these tips:


It is not early to start thinking about what you want to plant for the cool season. Cool season plants typically have edible leaves, stems and roots. Examples include beets, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, carrots, lettuce, mustard, parsley, radish, turnips and peas. The cool season runs from August, when temperatures start to fall, and runs until the first frost. You can start planting seeds in August while the ground is still warm enough to encourage germination. Transplants usually go in starting in September. You will be able to harvest until the first frost. Use the Vegetable Planting Schedule mentioned above to help select plants and timing for your own garden.

  1. When possible, plant varieties that can be started from transplants. Plants that are started indoors from seed or in a greenhouse can give you a great head start on days to harvest.
  2. Monitor your plants daily for heat stress. Plants show stress by leaves withering and stunted growth. Use a moisture meter daily to ensure your plants have the right amount of water as the days grow longer and hotter. Adjust watering durations as required.
  3. Make sure your plants have sufficient nutrients available. Many vegetable plants are heavy feeders and will require additional applications of fertilizer during the growing season. Follow the recommendations on the package when applying fertilizer. Remember that as you increase the amount of water required in the hot months, you will also have to shorten the time between feedings as water will leach nutrients from the planting bed.
  4. Use shade cloth to protect plants from overheating and sunburn. Install shade cloth to protect plants from both mid- and late-day sun (west side of garden). Shade cloth comes in varying degrees of sunlight filtering. Use cloth that offers 60-70 percent protection. Don’t completely block the sun as this will really slow down growth and production.


Ron Bernier is a Master Gardener and a resident of Maricopa.


This column appears in the July issue of InMaricopa

By Rita Bricker

Rita Bricker

Now is the time of the year when many of the fruits and vegetables growing in our yards are starting to ripen. There is nothing tastier than a fresh tomato picked right off the vine or a juicy peach just plucked from your backyard tree. But how do you know when your homegrown food is ready to harvest?  Let’s find out!

Apples – The fruit is ready when it can be easily separated from the tree.
Beans (Snap) – For best flavor pick when pods are thinner than a pencil and seeds are tender but not fully formed.
Cantaloupe – The rind should be tan, not green, between the netting. The melon will readily release from the plant when you see a crack around the base of the fruit stem.
Corn (Sweet) – Harvest when silk tips are brown and ears feel firm. Pierce a kernel with your fingernail; if the juice is milky, the ear is ready to pick.
Cucumber – For pickling, sweets can be harvested when 1½ to 2 inches long and dills when 3 to 4 inches long. For fresh slicing cukes, pick when 7 to 9 inches long and bright, dark green in color.
Eggplant – These are ready when the fruit is firm and bright in color. Cut with 1 inch of the stem attached.
Grapes – The best indicators of ripeness are color and taste. Grapes must completely ripen on the vine to achieve maximum sweetness before picking them.
Peaches, Nectarines – These should be allowed to ripen fully on the tree. When the skin of the fruit is the expected color and the fruit easily separates from the stem, it’s ready.
Pears – Pears are ready to pick when the green color lightens and the stem parts easily from the spur, but they should still be hard. Pears ripen best off the tree. They are ready to eat when the stem end of the fruit yields slightly to pressure.
Peppers – Green bells will be firm to the touch when ready. Sweet peppers will turn from green to red, yellow, orange, chocolate brown or purple when they are ripe. For best flavor, hot peppers should be allowed to ripen fully on the plant before harvesting.
Summer Squash – The best flavor and texture for zucchini are obtained when they are harvested at about 4-8 inches long and about 1½ inches in diameter. Scallops are best enjoyed when they are about 3-4 inches in size when picked.
Tomatoes – Harvest these when they have fully changed color to red with the slightest touch of softness. However, they will continue to ripen after picking if they are harvested when still firm.
Watermelon – These lovelies are ready to pick when the curly tendrils are dry and brown and the skin of the fruit is no longer shiny, but dull. The bottom of the fruit (resting on the soil) will change from light green to cream or yellow when ripe.
Did you know most vegetables should be harvested early in the morning when their water content is highest? Corn, however, should be picked later in the afternoon when the sugar content is at its peak.
Watch for the ripening treasures in your garden. Harvest them, clean them, store them properly (a topic for another time), and enjoy them at their best.

Rita Bricker is co-coordinator of the Master Gardeners in Maricopa. She supervises the staff and activities of the Pinal County Master Gardener diagnostic office in the Maricopa Agricultural Center.

This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

By Betty Beeman

Plant basil, black-eyed peas, sweet corn, popcorn, cucumbers, eggplant, jicama, melons, okra, peppers, pumpkins, squash, sunflowers and tomato transplants.

Due to the number of calls regarding citrus, I have decided to try and answer some of your questions relating to selection, planting, fertilizing, pruning and watering.

Betty Beeman
Betty Beeman

Citrus can be planted year-around but the best months are March, April and October. The smaller the tree, the easier it is to plant and the less risk you will have of transplant shock problems. Small trees mean 15 gallon containers or smaller.

Dig a hole twice the diameter of your container and the same depth. Digging down lower to soften the soil is not recommended. The ideal depth of the hole is where the soil level on the trunk is the same or slightly lower as it is in the container. Having the soil level higher on the tree trunk is a disease risk.

Citrus do best if they are heavily watered and then given time to dry out between watering. Frequency varies, depending on your local soil. Rocky or sandy soil will need to be watered more often than those in soil that has a lot of clay. Typically, trees will need to be watered every one to two weeks in the summer and every three to four weeks in the winter.

The most common problems such as leaf curl, leaf discoloration, root rot and split fruit are usually related to overwatering. Before determining your personal watering schedule, try digging down a few inches, inserting a soil moisture meter or inserting a screwdriver in the soil to test for moisture.

Watering your trees for a few minutes every few days is not acceptable. It causes salt buildup in the soil and is an ideal environment for root diseases. It is best to water at the canopy edge and one foot beyond. This is where the roots’ growing tips are absorbing water and nutrients. Use slow deep applications of water to help leach or push salt build-up below the root zone to the bottom of the wet soil. Ideally water needs to soak down at least two feet into the soil.

Citrus should be fertilized in February, May and early October. Newly planted trees usually do not need fertilizer for the first year. The best fertilizer is one that says it is for citrus trees right on the bag. Read and follow the instructions. It is best not to fertilize after October because it encourages the tree to start new growth during the winter when there is danger of frost.

Pruning citrus is completely unnecessary. Trees will grow best if they aren’t pruned and are allowed to grow as big bushes with branches almost to the ground. If you want to trim trees for appearance or remove broken branches, make sure your pruning doesn’t leave the trunk or major branches exposed to direct sunlight.

Citrus will sunburn. That’s why you see trunks of citrus trees painted white. The white paint acts as sun protection for trunks that are directly exposed to the sun. You may have to set up a shade cloth to protect new trees from the heat the first year.

Keep in mind that a new tree isn’t producing fruit during the first few years. If it does, you should remove most fruit from young, newly planted trees to encourage root development. If your older tree drops some fruit, don’t worry, it’s adjusting to heat and dry wind this time of year.

Reach out to a local Master Gardner
520-374-6263 M–F 9 a.m.-noon

This column appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Submitted photo

By Betty Beeman

Betty Beeman
Betty Beeman

Eucalyptus was brought to America in the mid 1800s from Australia. Approximately 900 species of eucalyptus trees exist.

These quick-growing trees have been cultivated around the world for their attractive peeling bark and fragrant foliage. Sizes range from short bushy varieties (maliee types) to soaring giants. They are heat- and frost-tolerant, use little water and generally live from 50 to over 100 years.

They all share the pungent aroma for which their leaves are famous, as well as exfoliating bark. The oil that comes from the eucalyptus is used as an antiseptic, as an ingredient in cosmetics, as a flavoring in dental preparations and in industrial solvents.

Eucalyptus trees are evergreen and common throughout Southern Arizona. There are many varieties available but not all make good trees for home yards because of their growth habits or size.

From the Archives: Smiths’ eucalyptus tree, farmhouse harken back to city’s not-so-distant past

Some eucalyptus trees worth consideration are:

Eucalptus microtheca or Coolibah tree, grows at a moderate rate, up to 35 feet tall and spreads to about the same width. It has 8-inch, silvery gray leaves with a smooth gray bark. This tree can develop iron deficiency but is described as a “nice, quiet, graceful, open-canopied tree.”

Time to get a jump on growing tomatoes and peppers by starting them inside in peat pots or small pots for growing seedling. Use a mix of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 coarse vermiculate and 1/3 compost. Place in warm spot until germination occurs then move to full sun or under grow lights. Mist daily for 7-10 days, then when you see sprouts, water less often. When plants have grown 6 inches or so, and there is no danger of frost, it’s time to plant outdoors.

E. sideroxylon or Red Ironbark is a medium tree ranging from 20 to 80 feet, has red to pinkish colored flowers, ribbon like blue green leaves and dark colored thick-furrowed bark.

The Coral Gum or E. torquata grows to about 20 feet tall and about as wide. It has a slender trunk and grows at a moderate rate. This tree is pretty much free of problems.

E. papuana also called the Ghost Gum is another good choice for our warm temperatures. Some forms have more than one trunk. It is a tall tree growing up to 60 feet, but in our area it is usually much shorter. Its spread is about 15 to 30 feet wide. The leaves are 3-5 inches long, colored a leathery gray to green.

Eucalyptus trees are biologically remarkable. Oil extracted from leaves and gum produced by the trees contains compounds that are powerful natural insect repellants, protecting the trees from insect damage.

Contact a Master Gardener volunteer 520-374-6263

Betty Beeman is a Maricopa resident and Pinal County Master Gardener.

Yearly plant sale at the Maricopa Agricultural Center, March 4, 8 a.m.-noon. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, herbs, shrubs, trees and more will be available for purchase. Rick Gibson, Pinal County University of Arizona Extension Agent, has several gardening videos on YouTube. Check these out.

Plant bare root roses from January to mid-February.

By Betty Beeman

Betty Beeman
Betty Beeman

Roses have been symbols of love, beauty, war and politics. And according to fossil evidence, they are 35 million years old. There are at least 150 species spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

According to the Guinness World Records, the largest and oldest living rosebush, covering 9,000 square feet is located in Tombstone, Arizona. The White Lady Banks Rose reportedly was gifted and planted in 1885 by a husband for his new bride.

Growing roses in Arizona can be challenging because of the triple-digit heat and little rain for long periods of time, but it can be done. There are a number of successful rose gardens around the area, including Mesa Community College Rose Garden. Google “rose gardens” for the endless varieties that can be grown here.

1. Purchase only grade 1 roses because these have the best chance to become established and survive our summer heat. Roses can take the heat; it’s the intense sunlight that stresses them most. Also do not buy roses that have been dipped in wax or those that have started to leaf out.

2. Plant bare root roses from January to mid-February.

3. Make sure each bush has three strong healthy canes. Reject those with fewer canes or roots that are spindly.

4. Prune to 8-12 inches, preferable to outside bud. Seal cuts with wood glue to prevent rose borers from getting into canes.

5. Using a 32-gallon trashcan filled with water and a tablespoon of B1 or a few drops of Super Thrive, soak entire bush for 24 to 48 hours. You can get several bushes in the trashcan at the same time.

6. Dig a hole 18-24 inches wide. Width is crucial for good feeder root development. Scratch in ½ to 1 cup of Disper-sul or Tiger Brand Soil Sulfur in the bottom of the hole. Then add ½-cup of Triple Super Phosphate (0-45-0) as a clump.

7. Mix a large wheelbarrow of about 30 percent forest mulch or compost, 50 percent original soil and 20 percent perlite; this will help keep soil from compacting. Place two shovels of this mix in hole over amendments and form a mound.

8. Trim off ¼-inch of all root tips to stimulate growth and remove any damaged roots. Place rose on mound, draping roots comfortably over cone. Bud union should be just above surface when hole is filled. Firm soil around roots and then fill up hole with soil mix.

9. Saturate with water to eliminate any air pockets. Water every other day for 10-14 days, then once a week, for spring watering.

Plant beets, bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, green onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, turnips
Water cactus every 4-5 weeks if no rain.
Don’t let winter weeds get ahead of you. Seek and destroy.

It is almost impossible to overwater roses if they have proper drainage. Roses need to grow down deeply, because roots near the surface are exposed to high desert heat and will dry out. Deep watering will also keep salts from accumulating in the root zone causing brown leaf tips. When temps are over 90 degrees, water two or three times a week if you flood irrigate; 4-5 times a week if you drip irrigate. Each drip irrigation should provide a minimum of four gallons per bush.

Roses are heavy feeders and need fertilization to perform their best. Apply every four weeks through May. Then cut back to half strength or stop fertilizing until September to give plants a rest in the hottest months.

Be on the lookout for aphids, thrips and spider mites. Use appropriate repellant. Read label and following directions.

Questions: Contact a Master Gardener volunteer

This column appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

Submitted photo

By Betty Beeman

Betty Beeman
Betty Beeman

The oldest surviving grapevine in America is almost 500 years old.

The Scuppermong vine found on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, was discovered by Florentine explorer Giovanni de Verrazzano in 1524.

Around the world today there are over 8,000 grape varieties appearing in white, red, black, blue, green, purple and golden colors. A popular grape variety for southern Arizona is Thompson seedless. The grapes are medium size and the clusters large with greenish white to golden berries. (Grapes are botanically classed as berries.)

Grapes should be planted in full sun and well-drained soils. Test for drainage by digging a hole 12 inches wide and 18 inches deep. Fill with water and let it drain. Fill it a second time and observe how long it takes for the water to drain from the hole. If the water drains out in 48 hours or less the soil has adequate drainage for growing grapes.

Grape vines can be purchased from local garden centers or big box stores in containers or bare-root. Container-grown grapes can be planted in the spring through fall. Bare-root grapes are planted during the winter months.

Regardless of the type, grapes should be planted directly in unamended soil. No organic amendments should be added at the time of planting. Just dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots, remove any stones or caliche from the hole, loosen the soil and fill in around the roots. Bare-root plants need to be soaked in water for 4 to 6 hours after opening the package and before planting because roots tend to dry out during shipping.

Grapes can be trained to grow on trellises, arbors, single posts or fences. Google “grape trellises” or “grape arbors” for how-to information on setting up a structure.

November Growing Tips
Seeds of beets, black-eyed peas, collard greens, green onions, kohlrabi, mustard and spinach can still be planted. Look on the back of the package and choose the shortest growing season for best success.
Watch weather reports for frost warnings so you can cover tender plants and trees.

When you plant your vine, pruning begins. It is essential you prune for the health and development of the vine. Bare-root may come with one, two or more canes and leaves. Opt for the largest and most vigorous cane, pruning off all other canes and leaves. Be sure to prune close to the point of attachment on the main stem; do not leave stubs.

Prune the remaining canes back to two buds. The buds are in the nodes on the stem, the bumps on the cane where new leaves emerge.

DO NOT FEAR! Cut back to two buds only. Be careful not to slice into the bud itself. The cut should be a quarter-inch to a half-inch above the bud on a 45-degree angle across the cane.

When the vine starts to grow in the spring these two buds will produce several canes. Let them grow all year without tying them up to the trellis or doing any pruning. During the first winter, pick the strongest of the bunch and run it up the stake and tie it off with soft horticultural tape. This will become your main trunk. Cut the other ones off completely. On a container plant with multiple canes, follow the same procedure.

Vines not pruned properly soon become a tangled, underproductive jumble.

Drip irrigation works best for grapes, with two 1-gallon drip emitters placed on either side of each grape plant. Take care not to overwater the first year. Once established, water two to four times a week during growing season and fertilize with nitrogen in early spring and in the fall.

Questions for Master Gardener volunteers

Betty Beeman is a resident of Maricopa and a Pinal County Master Gardener.

This column appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

Citrus is one of Arizona’s five C’s with a history in the state dating back to the 1700s. Submitted

By Betty Beeman

Betty Beeman
Betty Beeman

Oranges have been a key element in the developing history of Arizona.

Father Eusebio Kino, a missionary from Mexico, reportedly introduced oranges to Arizona in 1707. As Arizona grew with settlers, so did the demand for citrus, primarily oranges and grapefruit.

By 1970 farmers were growing approximately 80,000 acres of citrus in the state. Over time, citrus orchards have mostly been replaced with urban development. However, Yuma County maintains many citrus orchards at present.

Mandarin, navel and Valencia oranges are three of the most popular of the many kinds of citrus available. They have excellent flavor and are mild to the taste and can be eaten or juiced. Some have many seeds, some are hard to peel and some are more tart. The choice is almost overwhelming when you add grapefruits, lemons, limes, tangerines, kumquats and tangelos.

It would help if you could attend a tasting session before purchasing. Greenfield Nursery, in Mesa, has one scheduled Jan. 21. Call for information at 480-830-8000.

In selecting a tree, the trunk should be straight and the tree should support itself without a stake. If at all possible select one with no fruit because you want the energy to go into making new roots rather than making fruit the first year as it adapts to your environment. You can also remove any fruit at time of planting.

Late summer and early fall is a great time to plant citrus because it gives them time to establish a good root system before cold freezing weather comes. You will need to protect your citrus. There are several ways to do this.

Usually straw mulch, cloth covers and even plastic sheeting will protect the tree, because you can lose them to freezing temperatures. My orange and grapefruit trees are about 10 years old, and I do not have to cover them since they are well established.

When choosing your planting site be sure and dig the hole first (twice the size of the rootball or 2 feet wide 2 feet deep), fill with water twice and check for drainage. If the water has not soaked into the ground overnight, pick another site.

* October is a great month to do your planting. The nurseries are loaded with container-grown plants. Plant artichokes, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, garlic, peas, radishes.
* Right time to divide perennials
* Time to sow wild flowers

Planting the proper depth is very important. Plant too low and the trunk stays wet, encouraging diseases. Plant too high and the rootball will dry out to quickly. If you are unsure, ask the nursery person for advice.

Watering is extremely important. More people kill their trees with too much water rather than too little. Newly planted trees should be watered every seven to 10 days April through September. In the winter, November through February, water every 3-4 weeks, and more often in the summer, of course. You will find watering charts at www.azcitrus.com or www.greenfieldcitrus.com.

Slow, deep watering is the best. Ideally you want to go two to three feet deep. If in doubt, dig down six inches in the soil and feel the soil or get yourself a moisture meter (less than $10). Keep in mind all trees need one to two years to recover from transplanting shock.

Homeowners find citrus is fairly easy to grow and with over 30 varieties to choose from the choice can become very complicated. Citrus trees live long and grow to about 16 feet with a 6-7 foot diameter. They rarely need pruning; they stay green all year and will produce fruit for many years with careful watering and fertilizing.

Questions for Master Gardener volunteers
520 374-6263

Betty Beeman is a resident of Maricopa and a Pinal County Master Gardener.

This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Betty Beeman

By Betty Beeman

Many new residents are moving into Maricopa and are used to growing in home states where you just plant something and it grows. They often find Arizona, with its hard-packed and deficient soil, a challenge to grow healthy plants. But once you figure out the rules for Arizona soil, weather and water, you can begin to enjoy growing trees and plants.

Many people begin their garden experience with a raised bed or containers. There is a lot of information on the Internet on how to construct a raised bed. Google “How to build a raised bed,” and many ideas will come up.

One of our Master Gardeners grows herbs in old wheel barrows her husband salvages from his work site. She drills holes in the bottom, puts in planting soil, sets up a drip system and is successful with mint, basil, rosemary, oregano and chives.

She also grows in discarded stock tanks and even has an old bathtub she grows tomatoes in.

Next month, I will cover what it takes to have good soil for healthy plants. If you have questions, call the Master Gardener office at 520-374-6263 or email MACMasterGardener@gmail.com. The Master Gardener Office is at the Maricopa Agricultural Center (MAC), 37860 W. Smith-Enke Road.

Betty Beeman is a resident of Maricopa and a Pinal County Master Gardener.

This column appeared in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Master Gardener 101
The state of Washington was the first to start a Master Gardener volunteer program in the early 1970s. It was so successful other states began to establish programs of their own through state colleges and universities. The University of Arizona cooperative Extension established a Master Gardener program in Pinal County in 1982.
Rick Gibson, U of A agricultural extension agent and the director of the cooperative extension program, is responsible for all of Pinal County. As part of his many duties he oversees six Master Gardener programs while teaching many of the classes in the MG program. He also advises and works closely with local farmers on various issues.
To be a Master Gardener, you must complete a 15-week training program (three hours once a week) and pass the certifying exam (multiple-choice questions). You are required 50 hours of volunteer service during the first year and then 25 hours every year after, plus six hours of educational credits to maintain your MG status.
We welcome you to join our beginning class in September. We never stop learning, whether it is sharing knowledge with someone or educating ourselves.