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Ask the Experts – March 2018

By Kelly Young

What is the difference between potash and potassium? Which form should I use to fertilize my plants?

The potassium applied in gardens and farm fields is often called “potash,” a term derived from the historical method of extracting potassium from boiling wood ashes in large iron pots. These days, potassium is mined from underground deposits or extracted from salty bodies of water such as the Great Salt Lake, although it is still commonly referred to as potash in agriculture. Along with nitrogen and phosphorus, potassium is a primary plant nutrient and is required in relatively large quantities. Arizona soils are rarely deficient in potassium, so most home gardeners do not need to apply it unless indicated by a soil test performed by a qualified laboratory. To find a soil testing lab near you, read this publication offered by the University of Arizona:

Bees have been coming and going through a small hole in the eaves of our San Tan Valley house. My wife says that bees are in decline and we should welcome them. I don’t like the idea of sharing my home with hordes of stinging insects. What do you think?

Your wife is correct that honeybee populations have been declining and I commend her commitment to protecting them. But, there are a number of reasons why you should not allow bees to live in your home. In the low desert, feral honeybees are usually hybridized with Africanized, or killer bees, and can become very aggressive once they’ve established a territory. Additionally, honeybees (both European and African) produce honey. As their colony grows, the bees will build honeycombs and store honey in your eaves. To find a beekeeper that will remove the colony, the honey and comb, contact the University of Arizona Master Gardeners in your county (

We would like to plant a bare-root ocotillo in our yard but we have heard that it takes a long time for them to grow. What is the best way to get one started?

Dormant, bare-root ocotillos may take weeks or months to break out of dormancy and grow. Adapted to sandy soils in dry deserts that experience rare rain events, ocotillos are sensitive to water and will produce leaves in response to irrigation. Look for bare-root ocotillos with several long roots and visible green coloration along the lower stems. Plant in well-drained soil, and water them immediately after planting and every 7 to 10 days thereafter through the first summer. Use the mist setting on your hose nozzle to wet the stems and simulate rainfall when you irrigate to “trick” the plants out of dormancy. To determine if your soil is well-drained, dig a hole 1 foot wide by 1 foot deep, fill it with water, let it drain and fill it up again. If the hole hasn’t drained within 8 hours of the second filling, it drains too slowly for many desert plants, including ocotillos.


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