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Light-colored figs milder in flavor than darker ones

Q: I’m going to buy some figs from a private supplier and plant them in Pahrump. Which of the following will grow best in Pahrump and have good taste: Chicago Hardy, Olympian, Celeste, GE Neri, Kadota, White Marseilles, Yellow Long Neck and LSU Purple?

A: There is a difference in taste among figs. That’s for certain. Much of it is what you prefer.

The biggest differences are between the so-called yellow, white or green figs and the brown, black or purple figs. In my opinion, the light-colored figs are milder in flavor than the darker-colored figs. Each has its own unique fig flavor.

I have grown LSU Purple, Celeste, and Kadota as well as several others. They all did fine for many years in North Las Vegas. You might add to your list Brown Turkey as it is reported to be a few degrees more cold-hardy than other varieties.

As many fruit trees get larger, they seem to be about 5 degrees more resistant to the winter cold. Generally, most are cold-hardy from 15 to 20 degrees in the winter, like pomegranates, which is considered the minimum low temperature for most varieties of figs.

There are some claims that some figs will tolerate winter low temperatures of 10 degrees. I don’t know if it is true or not.

Pahrump is colder than Las Vegas. Another factor in figuring recovery from freeze damage is how many minutes these low temperatures lasted.

Wind can also play a role in cold hardiness. There is more damage to fruit trees in general when the freezing weather is windy as well. It’s best to protect all your garden area from wind in any regard.

Plant in warmer locations in your landscape, keep the roots moist, cover the soil in wood chips and protect them from wind to get the best and most abundant fruit from these trees.

Q: I read your recommendation that the woolly butterfly bush can grow in this area. Can you tell me where I can find and purchase this? Any information would be appreciated.

A: This is a potentially low-water-use small shrub for our location but it’s not very popular yet. You won’t find it in most local nurseries.

As its popularity grows it will find a presence. Remember this plant is grayish green, rangy to about 4 to 5 feet tall, withstands the high heat and cold of the desert to about 15 degrees but should never be pruned into a gumball shape.

If you like gumballs, this plant is not for you. It hails from the Chihuahuan Desert of the Southwest (xeric) so it can be low in its water use but grow rapidly in mesic landscapes.

Look for it from online nurseries in Arizona such as Desert Horizon Nursery, Civano Nursery and Elgin Nursery. If planted where it gets lots of water, it will use lots of water or possibly die during the summer.

Q: I’ve had a hard time keeping worms alive with their compost drying out due to summer heat in stand-alone bins. It seems like nestling in the ground, such as a subpod, especially in an irrigated system like garden beds or maybe near trees, is an interesting idea. Is there anything to be concerned health/safety-wise with a system like this with fresh vegetable waste in garden beds, or, potentially, planted near fruit trees?

A: Worm composting and composting, in general, is best done in the shade or where it’s cooler and moist in the warm desert. Composting might work in the sun in northern climates but as you found out, it doesn’t work very well in hot windy climates like ours. Make sure that any worm composting you’re doing is done in the shade and kept moist.

Putting compost where it’s cooler in the ground makes a lot of sense regardless of whether the composting is done with worms or not. I don’t know if you should spend much to house your worms. I wouldn’t.

Worms are attracted by moist food. Any time you put fresh scraps of vegetables or fruit, the composted area will attract worms if it’s moist. Fruit and vegetable scraps are fine and won’t be a problem for the fruit trees particularly if they are well composted traditionally or by worms.

Putting it among trees of any sort is asking for trouble because of root intrusion. They would love to explore a moist, nutrient-rich environment.

I would put it in the shade, possibly in the ground, but away from plants. Dung from cows, horses, sheep or rabbits can be used for worm composting. I believe in the adage: “garbage in/garbage out.”

Q: How do I keep the birds from eating my Arctic Star white nectarines? Many years ago, I volunteered to help trim some of the nectarine trees at the university orchard and I don’t recall any bird damage or scarecrows. What’s the secret?

A: The volume of fruit that the university orchard produces dwarfs the fruit damage created by birds. The birds would die of a tummy ache if they tried to eat all that fruit.

Fruit is picked just before the damage starts or just as it’s beginning. Putting the harvest timing on a calendar helps. Never pick fruit from the tree when it is fully ripened unless you have no choice.

Fruit is divided into climacteric fruit (fruit that can ripen off the tree) and non-climacteric fruit. Examples of climacteric fruit are many of the so-called soft fruit including peaches, apricots, plums and even some hard fruit such as pears.

Many climacteric fruit can be ripened by putting another fruit, such as a banana, with it inside a paper bag. The release of high amounts of ethylene gas by a ripening banana speeds up the ripening of other fruit.

Examples of non-climacteric include grapes, figs, apples, pomegranates and cherries. Non-climacteric fruit like figs and grapes have more potential for being damaged by birds and so the fruit is protected by netting or scaring the birds off.

Climacteric fruit is picked when still hard but sold commercially as they areit is starting to ripen. This is the reason you find peaches, apricots, plums and even pears in the store still hard.

Some of them are picked so early they fail to ripen. Too bad. We are expected to take them home and ripen them.

Fruit damaged by birds can’t be sold so the farmer loses money if they allow bird damage. Farmers pick climacteric fruit and sell them before they become soft and ripe thus minimizing the damage.

Q: I have a 16-inch potted seedling of white sapote I was planning to grow in a container. I referred to websites for data on growing in Las Vegas but am not sure if planting early in springtime is suitable.

A: I use the weather app on my phone to project the next few days of weather. My weather app says no freezing temperatures for the next few days so I would go ahead and plant. Plant tomatoes as well. Use plastic to cover the soil and warm it a week prior to planting or immediately after planting.

White sapote is a subtropical fruit tree so treat it like freeze tender citrus such as true lemons (Bonanza and Lisbon), true oranges and the limes. During very cold near-freezing weather, it drops its leaves.

Older trees can handle temperatures to about the mid-20s, much like Meyer lemon. Amend the soil with compost, cover the soil with wood chips or move the plant back and forth, inside and then outside, when temperatures start to freeze. Plant it on the east or north side of a home or building, not the south or west sides.

Q: I have a question about my loquat tree that’s about 4 years old. It hasn’t produced fruit yet. It has grown branches from the bottom. I was thinking that I should be cutting these off so it will start really growing at the top of the tree and produce some fruit.

A: Don’t prune it. Loquat is a magnet for borers. Any damage to it by the sun will cause it to have borers wreaking havoc. Plant it on the east or north side of the home, not the hot west or south sides.

This tree heralds from Japan and the wetter parts of China. This means the soil must be improved at planting time. Watch the irrigations, don’t let the soil dry out and cover the soil around it with wood chips.

You have got to keep the sun off the trunk and limbs when pruning. It can handle hot and cold temperatures but not intense sunlight.

Bob Morris is a horticulture expert and professor emeritus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com. Send questions to Extremehort@aol.com.

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