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April/May 2021 Garden Solutions

Illustration by Gary Hovland

What can I plant to attract wildlife to a suburban landscape? My mother-in-law is unable to leave her home, so we’d like to bring nature to her window. What do you suggest?

Successful wildlife gardens provide shelter, food and water. For shelter, think native shrubs and trees in which birds can roost and nest, such as wolfberry (Lycium spp.) and velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina). Food plants produce pollen, nectar, seeds or fruits or may attract insects that birds prey upon. Hummingbirds love desert honeysuckle (Justicia californica) for its nectar-rich, red flowers. Goldfinches and other small birds visit sunflowers for the seeds and to hunt the many insects found feeding on the flower heads. Offer birdbaths, both elevated and on the ground, and keep the water circulating to discourage mosquitoes from breeding there. Put stones in low baths to allow small creatures to climb out in case they fall in. Finally, avoid the temptation to tidy up the wildlife garden. Nature is messy!

How can I tell when artichokes are ripe? 

Timing is everything when it comes to harvesting artichokes, which are actually thistle flower buds. You want to cut the buds for cooking when they have reached maximum size, but before they start to open. It is better to harvest too soon, even if they are a bit small, than too late. Overly mature artichokes are prickly and not very tasty. The center bud is the largest, but harvest the smaller side buds over the course of spring and early summer.

We planted four ‘Anna’ apple trees in our flood-irrigated yard in 2019. They haven’t grown much and some of the stems have developed a black, powdery substance. Is it a disease? Can the trees be saved?

That black substance is a fungus called sooty canker, for which there is no cure. The malady is caused by overexposure to the sun. When the stems burn, they split, exposing the tissues beneath the surface to invasion by the sooty canker. Fertilize and water your trees to promote lush leaf growth, which is the trees’ best defense against sunburn. Give each tree about a half pound of ammonium sulfate, followed by a deep drink of water. Avoid pruning the trees, which exposes the stems to further sun damage. You may remove any shoots that emerge below the graft union, which are suckers originated from the rootstock and will not produce the ‘Anna’-type fruits, if any at all.


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