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December/January 2022 Garden Solutions

By Kelly Murray Young | Illustration by Gary Hovland

We purchased a Norfolk Island pine as a Christmas decoration. Can it be planted outdoors in my San Tan Valley landscape? I hate to just throw it away when the holidays are over.

Norfolk Island pines are native to the South Pacific and are adapted to sandy, acidic soils and a tropical climate. They prefer a soil pH between 4.5 and 5.5 and cannot tolerate temperatures below 35 degrees. Although you may be able to protect your plant by covering it when temperatures dip below their tolerance, adjusting the soil pH isn’t feasible for a tree that could potentially reach 100 feet in height. Your best bet is stripping the tree of holiday ornaments and keeping it as a houseplant. Put it near a bright window and repot every 2-3 years to maintain a healthy root system.

I can feel water rationing is just around the corner. Where can we find ideas to keep the flood irrigation for our shade trees—yet allow for a reduced footprint of grass and water-guzzling plants? I am not a fan of artificial turf, since it seems to retain so much heat and is not flood-irrigation friendly. Many of our neighbors are in the same conundrum.

Flood irrigation in residential areas of Phoenix is a residual of our agricultural roots. Many present-day urban farmers would love to have access to the inexpensive water that Salt River Project still provides to some of its customers. If you want to maintain access to flood irrigation but reduce the size of the area you are flooding, I recommend working with a licensed contractor who is experienced with building berms that will keep the water contained. You may also consider having a storage tank installed on your property that can hold the water for use in a drip or sprinkler system. A well-designed drip system will support existing shade trees while saving huge amounts of water. This allows you to limit the size of your living turf to an area that you will use for recreation while making it much easier to manage weeds. For the best of all worlds, you can have a low-water-use irrigation system installed to keep your turf and trees alive and order flood irrigation quarterly to flush accumulated salts from the soil profile.

There are slugs all over my lettuce plants. Are the leaves still safe to eat, and how do I stop the pests from covering everything in slime?

Snails and slugs are known to carry parasites dangerous to human health, so I would not recommend consuming lettuce that has been slimed by them. Slugs love cool, humid weather and spend their time hiding in moist, shady places. Make the garden less habitable to them by removing hiding places, such as debris piles. Reduce overspray from sprinklers, and adjust irrigation timing so you are watering less frequently to give the soil surface a chance to dry out. Conduct periodic slug patrols with a flashlight at night and drop them into a bucket of soapy water to quickly dispatch them.

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