Nevada Public Radio Listen Live

"All Things Considered"
Facebook Twitter Follow Nevada Public Radio

Support Nevada Public Radio
June 25, 2013
Podcasts

DESERT BLOOM: Summer Vegetables

Listen

Angela

If you bring home a tomato plant this time of year, there are a few things to consider before you plant it.

On television the other day, someone was talking about summer being almost here. I chuckled, as I looked at the thermometer on the patio and saw the temperature was over 100°.  I knew then I wasn’t watching a locally produced show.  

Going into a nursery or a home store around town, there’s the same kind of craziness. When we should be looking for ways to increase shade and conserve water, people are trying to sell us little tomato plants, which probably aren’t going to do well at all!  The plant will grow, as long as it receives ample water, but it’s not likely to produce fruits. Tomatoes tend to get unhappy when temperatures go much above 85 or 90 degrees.

Sunburnt tomatoesFor one thing, the pollen, which fertilizes the flowers, dries out in the heat. With less fertilization, there will be many fewer fruits. Even when fruits do develop, if they stay on the vine during blistering hot, bright sunny days, they’ll cook, and not well.

The red color compounds can’t form in high temperatures, and even the chlorophyll in the green fruits gets destroyed. What you wind up with are scorched, greenish, and poached – not attractive, and not tasty. To save the yield, don’t wait until they’ve reddened on the vine. Once they’ve started to turn orange, harvest them and put them on the window sill. They might not be as fabulous as any that ripened on the plant, but they’ll be a lot better than if they’ve baked outside. 

This is one reason I tell people to think of tomatoes for late spring, not summer.

When it gets really hot in July, consider cutting the plant down to just a few inches, watering and mulching it. Come September, it’ll start producing more tomatoes.

Still, we want to grow something, even if temperatures are severe. The situation isn’t desperate; there are plants that’ll grow merrily throughout the summer, and produce delicious fruits.

Think about melons.

Melons and pumpkins, both members of the same family, tolerate high sunlight and heat terrifically well.  Cantaloupes just bask in the sun. As long as they never dry out, they’re delighted. This is one time when you absolutely want to maintain a layer of mulch – straw, chipped wood, anything organic – to keep the soil moist, but not wet.

They also need pretty rich soil with higher levels of phosphorus and potassium.

If you look at a fertilizer container, you’ll see three numbers.  The first one represents the percentage of nitrogen, which is essential for green leaves. The second number’s the percentage of phosphorus – this is necessary for roots, as well as anything the plant needs for reproduction; flowers and fruits are how the plant reproduces.

The third percentage is potassium, the necessary element for moving water and sugar from leaves to the fruits. Look for higher second and third numbers.

Melons and squash aren’t foolproof, and intrepid desert gardeners will probably face a couple of problems. 

Powdery MildewOne is powdery mildew. This is a fungus, and it looks as if someone spilled talcum powder on the leaves. If you see something like this, and you can’t just blow the powder off, you’re likely dealing with powdery mildew. On the one hand, it doesn’t kill the plant, but it does interfere with photosynthesis, and lowers the amount of sugar the plant can make. You can treat the problem, but not cure it, by washing the leaves with soapy water and rinsing them off.

If you get them, squash bugs are a nightmare. These are hard to control after they’ve appeared. Remove and kill any you see. Try some of the insecticidal soaps and wash the plants thoroughly. Not perfect, but better than no treatment at all.

If you can keep the plants relatively healthy, you’ll have delicious melons, even in the middle of our astonishingly hot summer! Pumpkins are slower, but you’ll harvest them just in time for Halloween!

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

See discussion rules.

Archives

AngelaJul 14, 2014 | Protect Fruit Trees from Birds
If you put a good deal of care into growing fruit trees, there are likely some birds who will take advantage of your effort. Here's Angela O'Callaghan.

NormJul 10, 2014 | Palm Care, Part 2
To keep, or not to keep. Norm Schilling ponders his palm trees, on this edition of Desert Bloom.

NormJun 10, 2014 | Palm Care
Norm Schilling has mixed feelings about how we use Palms in our yards. Full grown palm trees transplanted into the entry way of a mall is a common sight that tells Southern Nevadan's "something" is nearly open for business. He reminds us that those palms come with challenges.

AngelaJun 3, 2014 | Hot Weather Plants
As temperatures across the Valley begin to climb, you might be wondering what will survive in your garden in the months ahead and what probably won't. There are some 'sweet' options. Here's Angela O'Callaghan

NormMay 20, 2014 | Desert Color
Norm Schilling just got back from Belize and has some ideas for lush leaves in your desert yard. He reflects on some well suited plants to provide color and variety in this edition of Desert Bloom.

AngelaMay 6, 2014 | Emerald Ash Borer
Raising a healthy shade tree in the Mojave is not always easy. And if one particular insect makes its way here, it could get even harder. Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormApr 22, 2014 | The Right Plants
Our current warm spell gives the impression that some plants can thrive when they aren't really suited to our desert. Norm Schilling has some examples.

NormMar 24, 2014 | Spring Garden Party
Spring is here and the garden is blooming . . . so invite some friends to enjoy the rewards of gardening!

AngelaMar 10, 2014 | Lady Banks
If you love roses, but don't care for thorns, you may want to call on 'Lady Banks.' Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormFeb 26, 2014 | Signs of Spring
It may be February, but if you are paying attention, signs of Spring are visible. Dwarf peach and Mexican plum trees are in bloom. Vibrant Red Spraxis can be seen among the falling Almond blossom. Watch gardening expert Norm Schilling transplant an offshoot. Check out the slide show of photos taken from his backyard.

AngelaFeb 18, 2014 | Mulch is for Winter
Rewards for using mulch in your landscape can be had year-round. Mulch is about mulch more than just "good looks" according to Angela O' Callaghan. In any climate, and certainly in a desert, mulch is an ecologically sound way to conserve our limited soil moisture and to control weeds.

NormFeb 4, 2014 | Investing for Spring
Temperatures are scheduled to stay cool this week, but Norm Schilling finds his yard is ready for Spring. He reflects on techniques to keep older trees healthy even as the surrounding yard may change. Bigger, older trees may need more water.

AngelaJan 13, 2014 | Freezing Temps
If your garden looks like it's been zapped by Jack Frost, there's still a chance that all is not lost. Delicate desert plants can suffer chill damage even when the temperature stays above freezing. Well-established plants should survive.

NormDec 31, 2013 | Leave the Leaves
Just because most of the leaves have fallen from the trees, it doesn't mean you have to rake them all up. Norm Schilling says it's better to use the leaves as mulch to protect the plants and make rich soil. Some woody plants can be pruned now, while others should wait another month or two.

AngelaDec 13, 2013 | Winter Greens
It is the season to enjoy some winter gardening. In Southern Nevada, a cold-snap does not have to mean that your garden is done for. Angela O'Callaghan gives a few cold facts.

NormDec 3, 2013 | Winter Watering
After a recent rain followed by a cold snap this week, Norm Schilling digs in to figure out how much water is needed this time of year. Touch the leaves to get a feel and don't water much at all for the next few months.

AngelaNov 18, 2013 | Herb Gardens
Our desert environment may be hard to handle for many plants, but it is possible to grow your own herbal remedy. The healing properties of some herbs are still widely recognized. Even though we rarely have to rely on them to deal with our infirmities, Angela O'Callaghan says many herbs are pretty and simple to grow.

NormNov 5, 2013 | Fall Color
Our second Spring is in full bloom. Norm Schilling shares his favorite plants that are bringing color to the yard right now, including Chocolate Flower, Mexican Bush Sage, Autumn Sage and ornamental grasses.

AngelaOct 29, 2013 | Pumpkins
Halloween just wouldn't be the same without the jack-o-lantern. But there's more to the tradition of decorating squash than meets the eye. Angela O'Callaghan says pumpkins are more than decorations for a single day. They're food, and a very good food at that.

NormSep 30, 2013 | Fall Pruning and Mulching
Pruning for aesthetics and mulching for rich soil quality are on his to-do list before he gets started in earnest on fall planting. Find out where to find mulch and mulch more on this week's edition of Desert Bloom.

© 2014 NEVADA PUBLIC RADIO   
Web hosting facilities provided by Switch.