Showing posts from August, 2018

Short Answers to Pressing Questions: Rotting Fruit, Summer Pruning, and Squash Bugs

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson This week, when trying to select a question for the column, I looked through the 22-year archive for this gardening column online ( to find issues that pop up again and again at this time of year. I selected these three columns written in 1996, 1997, and 2000 by my predecessor, Dr. Curtis Smith, retired NMSU Extension Horticulture Specialist.
Question: My watermelon crop had at least a dozen blooms and good-sized melons, but then died due to "brown rot" on the bottom of each melon (not the part that touches the ground, but the end of the fruit). What is causing this and what can we do to prevent the remaining melons from dying before they are fully mature? Answer: You have described the symptoms of blossom end rot. This malady can affect watermelons as well as cucumbers, tomatoes, chiles, squash, and many other fruits produced in the garden. Blossom end rot is due to a calcium deficiency…

Pomegranates Are Bursting Open Too Early

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson Question: I have a pomegranate bush, which produced about 30 pomegranates last year. Initially, the pomegranates seemed to be very healthy. However, as the season progressed, prior to ripening, they all began to split open. This year's crop has already started doing the same thing. Is there anything that I can do to prevent all of them from following suit? If not, perhaps you can suggest something that I can do for next season.  -V. Gonzales, Socorro, NM Answer: My first thought was that splitting is a good sign. My dad knew his pomegranates were ripe when they split. He took great pains to grab the newly split fruit before the ants found them. One year, he even rigged a hammock over the driveway to catch ripe fruit that fell while he was at work because the split ones would explode when they hit the ground. Splitting before the fruit ripen is a real problem, though. Over the past year, I’ve gotten this same question from gardeners i…

Grafting Vegetables Isn’t Effortless, but Could be Advantageous

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson Question: Other than the novelty, why would a gardener be interested in grafting vegetable plants? -Yours Truly, Los Lunas, NM Answer: I’ve been hearing more and more about vegetable grafting for commercial production and wanted to know more, so I posed this week’s question myself. Grafting, in general, is a common method for propagating plants by carefully joining cut plant parts so they grow together as one plant. Many plants can be propagated from seed or from cuttings that put out new roots. Others—like apples—don’t “grow true’” from seed or root easily from cuttings and must be grafted. Every apple you’ve ever eaten is from a grafted apple tree (unless you’ve eaten crabapples) where a small branch cut from a desirable apple tree was then grafted onto the trunk of an apple variety with desirable roots. “Desirable” means different things depending on if you’re talking about the top portion (scion) of the grafted plant or the bottom (root…

Pick Figs Now, Propagate Cuttings Later

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson
Question: What is the best time of year to grow fig trees from cuttings?
-Rod B., Rio Rancho, NM Answer: The short answer: not now. Fig trees (Ficus carica) are one of the relatively few species that propagate easier from hardwood cuttings than softwood. Hardwood just means dormant, older growth. Softwood, by comparison, is the soft, usually green, new season growth. So, the best time to harvest the wood for fig propagation is in the wintertime (January–February). A greater number of woody species are propagated using softwood cuttings, including ginkgo, lilac, redbud, sumac, and wisteria. Others still can be propagated by either method, but there are different tricks for each. I asked Dr. Margaret Pooler, a researcher and woody plant breeder with the USDA U.S. National Arboretum (, to explain differences between propagation methods for woody plant cuttings. She said that they usually use softwood or semi-hardwood cutti…