Digging In: Sunday, April 21, 2013

Q. My desert pine trees are starting to brown a little. Is this due to lack of water and when should I start watering them?

A. The desert pine tree called Mondell (after Mondell Bennett, a commercial tree grower in New Mexico who popularized the species starting in 1969) or Afghan pine (Pinus eldarica) or Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) is an aromatic evergreen with soft needles and large pine cones.

It's often used as a windbreak around parking lots or as a single tree. It's very hardy and is fast-growing, and can top out at 60 feet high and 25 feet wide. It can grow as much as 3 to 6 feet a year.

Old pine needles turn brown over time and show up mainly in the fall season. The needles will fall off during cooler weather.

This is a natural cycle and not a sign that the pine tree is dying. If you see brown needles in the spring after a period of very warm temperatures, it's probably a good idea to start watering, especially after a dry winter.

Water the tree every week if it's in the first year and then monthly after that with long, slow deep soakings, making sure that the water goes down as much as 12 inches or more.

Also, make sure that you are watering to the drip line of the tree. That is where the branches come out to its furthest point.

It's always a good idea to spread mulch around pine trees to prevent loss of moisture and to prevent weeds from growing. The mulch can be a commercial grade or a layer of pine needles and straw on the drip line.

Pruning is not necessary but can be done to trim broken branches or for aesthetic reasons.

If desired, pruning can be done in April and then again in mid-July.

For a Christmas tree shape, a general rule is that it should be two-thirds wide around as it is tall.

Q. What flowering perennials do well in the Kingman area?

A. This was a suggestion for a future workshop recently and April/May is best for planting perennials.

A perennial is a plant that survives at least two seasons. I'm going to talk about low-water-use perennials for the most part.

Some advantages are:

• They keep coming back year after year

• They're hardier than annuals

• Deadheading is not required

• Flowering happens as early as February

• They come in a variety of colors

• Fertilization is not required.

Disadvantages are:

• A short flowering season

• Many are spring only

• If you harvest seeds from another plant, the new plant may not be true to the original.

At higher elevations, maybe above 5,000 feet, the recommendations below may not work.

Also, only the common names are listed and some may not be true perennials but easily reseed or do not die in the winter if temperatures are not below about 15 degrees fahrenheit.

For low-water-use spring blooming, consider the following:

Penstemon (over a hundred varieties), Desert Marigold, Gaura, Mexican Hat, Blanket Flower, Paperflower, Globe Mallow, Angelita Daisy, Blackfoot Daisy, Chocolate Flower, Prairie and Desert Zinnia, Coreopsis, Hummingbird Trumpet, Desert Honeysuckle, Lavendar, Gazania, Lady Bank's Rose and Fleabane.

For low-water-use spring to fall blooming consider the following:

Chaparral Sage, Hummingbird Trumpet, Lantana, Salvia, Sacred Datura, Red or Yellow Valerian, Agastache, Lavandula, Gaillardia, Hesperaloe, Russian Sage, Echinacea and Verbena.

For low-water-use shrubs, vines or small trees that bloom from spring to fall try the following:

Butterfly Bush, Desert Willow, Chitalpa, Texas Sage, Oleander, Cape Honeysuckle, Trumpet Vine, Mexican and Red Bird of Paradise, Yellow and Orange Bells, Texas Mountain Laurel (spring only), Fairy Duster, Fourwing Saltbush, Chaste Tree, White Thorn Acacia and Desert Hackberry.

Read the labels on all plants for your zone (Kingman area is USDA zone 8a or 8b) or low temperature requirements.

Low temperature ratings for perennials should be no higher than 20 degrees fahrenheit in the Kingman area.

Low-water-use perennials can be planted in good draining, native soil and, as with other new plants, need more water the first year until established.