Is you home decorated for fall yet? I am still working on getting my house ready for the fall holidays.  


Normally, I am content to buy a single pumpkin and set it in the middle of my dining room table.  But, after seeing my mother’s beautiful fall centerpiece (above), I decided to try to do something a little more creative…


So, I decided to challenge myself to see what I could come up with for my own unique fall centerpiece by taking a visit to the produce section of my local supermarket.  I was determined to look beyond the normal fall offerings of pumpkins and Indian corn to see if I could be inspired. 


Surprisingly, I found quite a few vegetables and fruits that would look nice in a fall centerpiece.  So, armed with my cell phone camera, I started taking photos of some of my favorites…

Acorn Squash

Now, I don’t like to eat squash at all.  I still remember hiding the cooked squash in my napkin that my grandmother would try to get us to eat.

Spaghetti Squash

BUT, squash looks great when used as a fall decoration.

Butternut Squash

In fact, I have even seen Butternut squash decorated as a ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ with a ghost face colored in using black markers.

Artichoke

Okay, artichokes are another vegetable that I don’t like.  But, they look great in arrangements, so I bought one.

Pomegranates

Finally, I found something that I do like to eat AND decorate with – pomegranates.  I love their deep color, don’t you?

Oranges

Limes

Let’s not forget citrus, which is always beautiful no matter how you use it – whether in a bowl in the center of the table or as part of a larger arrangement.

Heirloom Tomatoes

I admit that heirloom tomatoes aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when creating a fall centerpiece.  But, their deep and rich colors would accent any centerpiece.  Tomatoes won’t last as long as the other produce I have profiled, so use for a few days and then eat them.

Mangoes

How about mangoes? 

Apples

Apples are great for decorating the tabletop.  I like to use them at Christmas time as well.

Red Pears

I don’t think I have ever noticed all of the different types of produce that my grocery store had before now.

I did come away with a few things that I will attempt to create a centerpiece out of.  I promise to share it with you later.

In the meantime, I did find myself captivated by the unusual pumpkin offerings at the store…


Aren’t they beautiful?

I selected one for my centerpiece.  When I got home, I excitedly showed it to my kids, who to my surprise, were not happy about it.  They asked, “Is this the pumpkin we are going to carve?”

I assured them that this pumpkin is for decoration only and will hopefully last until Thanksgiving.

I did promise them a ‘regular’ pumpkin for carving later on.

So, when you head to the supermarket this weekend, take a closer look at the produce aisle and see what you can use to create your own ‘natural’ fall centerpiece.

Oftentimes when I am called to help a homeowner with their landscape, they pose a problem and/or a question about a certain area in their landscape.


I will share a few with, you now and then, in the hopes that I can help those of you who may have a similar situation.


Okay, let’s first look at this resident’s sunny area…



As you can see, there is a young citrus tree growing in this corner bed.  

The resident, who was from Europe, wanted to create a Southern European garden theme in her backyard.  However, in this area, she disliked the appearance of the bare wall around her citrus tree.  She wanted to have a retaining wall installed and raise the level of the bed and plant an assortment of herbs, which would cover part of the bare expanse of the wall.

The problem, is that you cannot raise the level of soil or you will suffocate the roots of the citrus tree.  Plants need the oxygen that is present in the soil.  Most of the oxygen is found in the upper levels of soil.  Adding more soil would decrease the amount of oxygen where the plant roots currently are located.

Taking out the citrus tree and replanting it into a raised bed was not an option in this case.

 So, what would you do in this area? 

Recommendation: Add three tall (3 feet or higher), colorful, glazed pots and place them up against the wall – one in the corner and the other two on either side.  Select pots in bright colors such as blue or orange, which will add a punch of color to the landscape AND plant an assortment of herbs in the pots.

Herbs are quite tough and can handle being in containers better then other flowering plants during the summer months and on through winter.

As the citrus tree grows and shades this spot more, the resident can switch out the sun-loving herbs for container plants that enjoy shady conditions.

 So, what do you think of this solution? Do you have an area like this where you want to add color up against a bare wall?

I hope you enjoyed my first “AZ Plant Lady House Call”.  I will be posting more in the future in the hopes that I can help you with an issue you may be facing in your own garden.
Every winter, we are the lucky recipients of a bounty of citrus from both family and neighbors…


My fruit bowls and pantry are full of blood oranges, grapefruit and lemons.

Citrus generally ripens during the winter and the cold snap that we had last week had many people picking the citrus fruit from their trees so that the fruit wouldn’t be damaged by the frost.

The problem arises that either I have too many lemons in winter and none in the summer unless I want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on lemons.

So, what do you do?

Well, I juiced them a week ago and made “lemon ice-cubes”.

Then, I promptly forgot about them until I was searching in the freezer for chicken to thaw out for dinner.
So, I took them out and put my lemon ice cubes into freezer bags.


I have three freezer bags full of lemon ice cubes, which will last me through the coming year.

What do I use them for?  Well, many of my favorite dinner recipes call for a tablespoon or two of lemon juice and they are great for making ice tea with.

You can also save the lemon zest, (just before you juice them), and freeze the zest too.


My kids love grapefruit (I don’t) and have been eating some for both breakfast and for a snack.  They have also been taking the blood oranges to school in their lunch boxes.




My friend, Becky, from Tucson, made ‘Orange Peel Vinegar’ which she uses as a cleaner with her extra oranges.

What do you do with an overabundance of citrus?

Most of my job as a horticulturist and garden writer is fun.  

But sometimes, I have to be the bearer of bad news.

Last week, I was called to a home where the homeowners were worried about one of their citrus trees.  Although I am a horticulturist, I am also a Certified Arborist, which can also be very helpful – especially when I am dealing with trees.

There was a large lemon tree in their front garden.  They were concerned because they had some branches dying back and wanted to know what the cause was.

So, I stopped by and took a look at the lemon tree.  At first glance, it looked fine – the homeowner had had the dead branches removed.

But, I had to look more closely, which meant getting close to the interior branches and the trunk.

What I saw in one of the remaining branches wasn’t good…

      
Can you see that the branch on the left is missing bark and is colored black?
What is this you may wonder?
Sooty Canker.
Sooty Canker is a fungal disease that infects many different species of trees including citrus.  It spreads through fungal spores.  The spores enter the tree through damaged areas on the branches or trunk, forming lesions and eventually causing the bark to peel off.
It is called ‘sooty canker’ because of the black color of the fungal spores.  The branches almost looked as if they have been scorched by fire.
In this case, the lemon tree had experienced severe frost damage 1 1/2 years ago.  Frost can cause splitting and other damage in the bark.  Sunburn damage can cause similar problems as wellThe fungal spores enter through these damaged areas and begin to grow.
If only branches are affected, they can be pruned 6 inches to 1 ft. below where you see evidence of the sooty canker.  Pruning tools must be disinfected with a 20% bleach solution to keep the disease from spreading between each pruning cut.
I was hopeful that I could tell the homeowners that all they had to do was to prune the affected branches.
But that was before I looked down at the trunk…
   
The entire trunk was infected with sooty canker.  Unfortunately, this almost certainly means that the tree will die.  
In this case, the tree should be removed to avoid spreading it to other trees.
I hated to tell the homeowners that they would have to have their tree taken out.  Especially after they told me how much fruit they had enjoyed over the years from this tree.
After I told them the fatal diagnosis of their lemon tree – I offered to look at their other four citrus trees.  I wanted to make sure that they weren’t infected as well.
Well, the good news was that their Meyer lemon tree was healthy.
The bad news was that their two orange trees and pommelo tree were all badly infected with sooty canker.  
Did I mention that I hate being the bearer of bad news?
I must say that the clients accepted the bad news very well.
In fact, they said that they had gotten tired of picking up dropped fruit AND that one of them couldn’t even eat citrus any more due to dietary constraints.
They will be removing their five infected citrus trees while keeping a close eye on their disease-free Meyer lemon tree.  At the first sign of a lesion, they will prune it away to help keep it safe from infection.
Guess what?   
They asked me to return in spring to design a new landscape area in place of their citrus trees.  I like being with people who see things as “a glass half-full”.  
*************************
If you suspect that your tree has sooty canker – have a professional confirm the diagnosis and discuss with you the treatment options.  If the trunk is not affected, you may be able to save your tree. 
For more information, check out this link. 

This past weekend, I had a special helper accompany me on one of my landscape consults….

My son, Kai.

He has never expressed any interest in going with me before – but I think he was bored and his best friend (who lives across the street) wasn’t going to be home.

So, Kai offered to come with me and be my ‘photographer’. 

As I was talking to my clients, Kai would take photos of certain plants, landscape areas or problems, which I would later include in my report.
He caught me gesturing to this evergreen pear tree, above.
Kai also took some good close-ups as well…
 Salt damage from lack of deep watering.
Manganese deficiency in citrus tree.
Kai did also take a few photos with me in them, but he neglected to press the ‘skinny button’ on my camera so I elected not to include them in this post.  (Okay, I know that a ‘skinny button’ does not exist on a camera, but I wish someone would invent one, don’t you?)
As our consult progressed to the backyard, Kai was no longer taking pictures.
Instead, he was finding himself in some of the photos I took….
 Meeting my client’s new chickens.
Swinging from rings in an old citrus tree.
Kai and I both had an enjoyable time.  The clients were very nice people who had a beautiful landscape.  
I hope that Kai was able to see more clearly what I do for my work, (besides writing blogs and articles). 
But all he said on the way home was, “Can we get some ice-cream?”
“Absolutely.”

The past couple of days have been filled with the normal things that make up my life….taking care of my family, landscape consults, blogging, etc.  But, one of the things that I love and sometimes don’t love about life are the unexpected things that sometimes cross my daily path.

First the unexpected things that I enjoy…
The beautiful flowers on this Blue Hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii), stopped me in my tracks as we were entering the house at Double S Farms.  
This Australian native is a big favorite of mine because of the large purple flowers that are produced in the spring.  To be honest, I am not sure why someone decided to give it the common name of ‘Blue Hibiscus’, because the flowers are always purple.  I am not a huge fan of common names in general – especially the ones that don’t make sense.
Blue Hibiscus does well in our desert climate and grows 4 – 6 ft. high and wide. Some gardeners report that it is hardy to 15 degrees F,  so this shrub hold up well under the frosts we experience.  Prune lightly after the first flush of flowers to help produce a second flush.  Supplemental fertilizer is not needed, but regular irrigation is.  It does not do well in an area with reflected sun, so place in a north, south or east facing exposure.
Okay, here is one last look at one of the gorgeous flowers just beginning to open….  
 
Other instances when I enjoy the unexpected is when I see a plant that does something different then the norm – grow larger, produce different colored flowers, foliage, etc.
Yesterday, I was called to a client’s home to look at his sick Magnolia tree (yes, Magnolias grow in the desert).  The prognosis on the Magnolia tree was good and the client was happy.  I offered to look at the rest of his landscape to see how things looked when we walked up to the largest lemon tree that I have ever seen…
This picture really does not accurately show how large this lemon tree was.  The fragrance coming off of the tree was amazing….the scent of the lemons along with the smell of the lemon blossoms was intoxicating.
**My clients are soon quickly convinced that I am somewhat of a crazy plant lady because I get so excited when I see something out of the ordinary.  They in turn are tickled pink by the knowledge that they have a special plant in their very own garden.
Well, the client with the lemon tree was a retired doctor who was pleased to show off his tree that was planted over 20 years ago.  He said that he had more fruit then he knew what to do with and offered to pick me some lemons and ended up picking me 2 bags full.  I was very touched because he was an older gentleman and it was not easy for him, but he insisted on picking them for me himself.
Now for the unexpected things that I do not enjoy at all….

I was on my way home from this consult when my husband called me to say that my 7 year old son may have broken his arm.  So I rushed home and took him to the doctor.  X-rays were not clear as to whether there was a break or not, so his arm was put into a black brace for a couple of weeks until they could check it again.

You know at first, how it can be kind of fun for a kid to have a cast and/or brace?  That is until they realize how restrictive it is.  I was asked, “Do I have to wear this all the time?  Even when I sleep?”  This morning, he asked me if he had to wear it when he played his video game 😉

Yesterday, I received very unwelcome AND unexpected news…
It was the beginning of a beautiful day and I was getting ready to leave to go on a landscape consultation when I got a call from my oldest daughter, who was just sobbing into the phone.
You know that dropping feeling in your stomach that you get sometimes when you know you are going to hear something awful?  Well, that is exactly what I felt as soon as I heard her voice.
Well, she had fallen down the stairs as she left her apartment and she was pretty sure that she had broken both of her feet.  Somehow, she was able to crawl back up to her apartment where she called her husband, who was at work, to come and get her.  Then she called me.

As a mother, it is so hard when your child is in pain.  I spoke to her trying to help her stay calm while her husband rushed as fast as he could to get home.  But her voice would break with cries of pain.  I woke up my husband, who works at night, and we rushed to be at her side.

Firefighters were called to carry her down the stairs of her apartment and then we met her and her husband at the hospital.  As she was checking in, the clerk asked her if she had ever been there before and my daughter said “No”.  I then stepped in to remind her that she had been there before….23 years ago when she was born.  Surprisingly, they still had her medical records from back then.

Well, it turns out that she broke her right foot AND her left ankle.  She is definitely laid up for a while and will not be able to teach (she is a high school history teacher).  Her husband is wonderful and very supportive.  I will be going to ‘babysit’ her today so that he can attend an important meeting for a little while.  So, I am gathering my magazines, DVD’s and bringing them dinner.
And so in closing, I am hopeful that the coming days bring only unexpected good things for both my family and yours 🙂
 
 There are some signs that summer is beginning to fade and that fall is around the corner.  The stress that the high temperatures of summer bring has caused many plants to slow down their growth.  
 
However, the slightly lower temperatures in September bring on a flush of new growth for many trees, shrubs, and succulents in the garden.  I enjoy being out in my garden this time of year and seeing many of my plants rejuvenated.
 

With the somewhat cooler temperatures, I am now seeing many gardeners venturing outside and taking stock of the condition of their landscape.  Fall is a busy time in the desert garden because it is the ideal time to install many types of plants, which will be discussed in a separate post in early October.

  
SHRUBS: I just finished lightly pruning my ‘Rio Bravo’ sage (Leucophyllum langmaniae).  Summer flowering shrubs that are cold-hardy look their best when lightly pruned at this time to help reign in rangy, sprawling growth. This should be only done with hand pruners only.  Do not use a hedge trimmer and shear your shrubs.  They should have a pleasing natural shape when you are finished.  Do not prune back frost-sensitive plants at this time.
 
 ANNUALS:  Although the local nurseries are abundant with winter annuals, I don’t recommend planting them now.  The temperatures are still quite hot, and there is a good chance that they will not make it.  
 

In the past when mid-September came, I would load up the truck with 100+ flats of annuals to plant around the community where I worked as the horticulturist.   I would then spent the next four weeks making repeated trips to the nursery to replace dead plants that just could not handle the heat of early fall.  From then on I would wait until October to change out summer annuals and replace with winter annuals.  As a result, we suffered very little plant loss.

TREES:  Mesquite and Palo Verde trees that are overgrown can be lightly easily pruned back.  Resist the temptation to heavily prune at this time.  January and February is the time for heavy pruning to occur for these trees.
 
SUCCULENTS:  Cacti, agaves and other succulent plants do best when planted when soil temperatures are warm, which makes September a great time to install them before cooler temperatures arrive.   Prickly Pear cactus can be pruned back this month if needed.  Problems with agave may show up this time of year. 
 
If your agave suddenly collapses, there is a good chance that they have gotten an infection with agave snout weevil.  There is no cure and the agave should be removed, it will be smelly due to the decay the weevil causes – and not just a little stinky.
 
One of my (least) favorite memories happened years ago when I worked as a horticulturist on a golf course.  One year, we had to remove countless agaves throughout the landscapes due to a large infestation – the smell was awful.  If this happens to your agave, do not plant another agave in the area – use another type of plant instead.
 
ROSES:  Roses should be lightly pruned and fertilized this month (see earlier post for details).
 

CITRUS:  Make sure to fertilize your citrus trees if you have not already done so (see earlier post for details).

 
NEXT MONTH – get ready for planting and wildflower garden preparation!

In the Desert Southwest, we are fortunate to be able to grow citrus.  In early fall, your citrus tree probably looks like the one pictured, with green fruit that is getting ready to ripen in this winter.

 
It is time for the third fertilizer application to your citrus trees if you have not already done so.  Mature citrus trees require three applications of fertilizer – around Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day.
 
Citrus trees require nitrogen more than any other nutrient.  I recommend using a granular fertilizer specially formulated for citrus because, in addition to nitrogen, they also contain micronutrients, (iron, zinc, manganese), that are vital to the health of your citrus tree.  Citrus fertilizer spikes are also an option.
 
If you choose to use only organic fertilizer for your citrus, there are some natural products available, or you can use composted cow manure, working it into the top few inches of soil and watering it in afterward.
 
GENERAL GUIDELINES:
 
– Fertilizer should not be applied to newly planted trees – wait until they have been in the ground for one year.
 
– Water the soil around the tree before and after you apply fertilizer.
 
– Follow the directions on the fertilizer bag.  Be sure that you divide by three the annual amount of fertilizer needed by your tree – do not apply all at once!
 
– When in doubt, apply slightly less fertilizer then you think you need.  You don’t want to over-fertilize and end up with fertilizer burn.  Smaller trees require less fertilizer than larger trees.
 
– Apply granular fertilizer around the perimeter of the tree, extending just past the drip line.  Work into the top few inches of soil.
 
– Do not apply a foliar fertilizer when air temperatures are 85 degrees F or above because there is a danger of burning the foliage.
 
– For mature Grapefruit trees, (over six years old), apply only 1/2 the amount of fertilizer recommended on the fertilizer label because high amounts of nitrogen promote a thick rind (peel).
 
Get ready to enjoy the fruits of your labors this winter and get ready for March when we will discuss the correct way to prune and plant citrus.