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Garden Solutions for November

By Kelly Young

I’d love to grow pecan trees in my yard in Casa Grande, but I’ve never found any in local nurseries. I know that pecans grow well here, so why are they so hard to come by?

Although pecan trees are grown commercially throughout Southern Arizona, they are difficult to find in nurseries. Because these plants have a long taproot that is easily damaged and sensitive to drying out, they require soil at least 5 feet deep. Due to the vulnerable nature of the trees, some nurseries avoid selling container-grown pecans. Peruse online nurseries that offer bareroot varieties that can be shipped and planted in January, the optimal month for establishing dormant fruits and nuts in the low desert. Look for proven cultivars, such as ‘Wichita,’ which produces a crop every other year; ‘Apache,’ a thin-shelled variety that consistently bears nuts annually; or ‘Western Schley,’ a popular type that will produce lots of fruit early in the season.

Illustration by Gary Hovland
What can I plant in a narrow strip of soil in the shady courtyard of my town home? The space, which is about 1 foot wide by 8 feet long, never receives direct sunlight.

Consider slow-growing compact cacti and succulents that don’t require frequent pruning and won’t rapidly outgrow the space. Flora from the genus Mammillaria (commonly referred to as fishhook or pincushion cacti) come in a range of diminutive sizes and do well in shady locations. Decades ago, landscape guru and longtime Master Gardener Jim Orovetz (who passed away in August) gave me cuttings from a cylindrical snake plant (Sansevieria cylindrica), which sports tubular grayish-green leaves that can reach up to 6 feet in length but only about 1 inch in diameter. Because I planted the specimen in a shady part of my landscape, it has, over the course of 20 years, barely doubled in size, so this would be another good option for your garden.

We are planting our first fall vegetable garden in 10 years at our home in Surprise. Should we have our soil tested before we begin?

If you haven’t planted anything in your desert landscape in a long time, getting the soil tested can provide valuable insights that can help you cultivate a healthy and thriving garden. A comprehensive laboratory analysis can tell you how much fertilizer you will need to add to the ground and if you need to take any corrective measures to manage excess salts. Although desert soils are commonly alkaline, meaning they have a pH level greater than 7, knowing just how high your soil’s pH is will help you select the right crop varieties that will thrive in your conditions. For example, blueberries require a pH value lower than 6, whereas asparagus can tolerate one as high as 8.5. A list of local laboratories that offer soil tests can be found at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension at extension.arizona.edu.

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