Southwest Yard and Garden

This column comes through the Grant County Extension Service out of New Mexico State University.

fig rsBig figs on a tree somewhere* on the NMSU main campus in Las Cruces in September 2015
(photo credit M. Thompson).
*Email me at desertblooms@nmsu.edu for hints on where to find this particular tree.


What is the best time of year to grow fig trees from cuttings?

- Rod B., Rio Rancho, NM


The short answer: not now. Fig trees (Ficus carica) are one of the relatively few species that propagate easier from hardwood cuttings than softwood. Hardwood just means dormant, older growth. Softwood, by comparison, is the soft, usually green, new season growth. So, the best time to harvest the wood for fig propagation is in the wintertime (January–February).

A greater number of woody species are propagated using softwood cuttings, including ginkgo, lilac, redbud, sumac, and wisteria. Others still can be propagated by either method, but there are different tricks for each.

I asked Dr. Margaret Pooler, a researcher and woody plant breeder with the USDA U.S. National Arboretum (http://usna.usda.gov), to explain differences between propagation methods for woody plant cuttings. She said that they usually use softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings because roots develop more readily than with hardwood cuttings, and semi-hardwood cuttings aren't quite as floppy and difficult to manage compared to softwood cuttings. The drawback of softwood is that it is very susceptible to drying out, so providing high humidity is key.

For hardwood cuttings, the opposite is true—don't let the bare sticks get too wet and rot before roots have a chance to establish.

Rooting hormone is recommended for the home gardener when attempting propagation from cuttings. You can get it from your local garden center in a powder or liquid form and apply it to the open wound before placing the cut end in the soil. Be sure to follow label directions. Visit https://nmsudesertblooms.blogspot.com for tips on proper cutting angle, location, and care.

I also asked Dr. Pooler why rooting hormone helps root development when propagating from cuttings, but has not been shown to increase rooting when they are transplanted in the landscape. She pointed out that roots naturally make their own rooting hormones, so when root tissues have already developed, there's no need for added root stimulant.

Collecting and planting seeds is the easiest way to propagate lots of woody and herbaceous (non-woody) species. For more information, see the NMSU Extension Guide H-112, "Seed Propagation of Plants" (http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/H112/welcome.html).

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm a big fig fan. To be clear, I like both large and small figs, bigly. My Las Cruces sources informed me that local figs started ripening a few weeks ago, and many fig trees are at their prime this week in Albuquerque (Fig. 2).
fig drying rack rsFig drying rack in Albuquerque. Luckily, these were not hurt by recent hailstorms
(photo credit M. Cohen).

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the NM Desert Blooms Facebook page (@NMDesertBlooms)

Please copy your County Extension Agent (http://aces.nmsu.edu/county/) and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms (http://desertblooms.nmsu.edu/) and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505- 865-7340, ext. 113.


What’s growing on the underside of my neighbor’s sunflower leaves?

Carl M., Los Lunas, NM


We are building our Extension Master Gardener library. What are your favorite plant books?
- Lin Y., Valencia County, NM


Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson

saltcedarFigure 1. Invasive saltcedar, also known as tamarisk, near Isleta Pueblo (photo credit M. Thompson

I have a saltcedar I inherited when I moved into my rental home in Zuni, NM. I have cut it back to a stump as best I could without a chainsaw or any power tools, but it incessantly puts out shoots and tries to stage a comeback. What is the simplest way to permanently kill this invasive beast?
- Tammy P., Zuni, NM

You are not alone in your saltcedar frustrations. I invited NMSU Extension Weed Specialist, Dr. Leslie Beck, to review your options:

goodlings willow 1Goodding’s willow tree in Taos, New Mexico is both the state and national champion for its species at 110 feet tall and 351 inches in circumference.

goodings willow 2Local arborist, Paul Jones, nominated it in the Big Tree Program (photo credit Santa Fe New Mexican).


Are trees immortal?
- 2nd Grade Student at La Promesa Elementary, Veguita, NM

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson

peachThese two branches from the same peach tree at the NMSU Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas on May 29 have noticeably different peach sizes (photo credit M. Thompson).

wilting leaf pic scot nelsonSouthwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson


The newly installed plants in my garden are wilting and looking terrible even though I’m trying my best to keep them well watered. Suggestions?
- Doug H., Deming, NM

One thing I like about your question is that it sounds like you haven’t given up. Many people who struggle with gardening get discouraged and think anyone who is successful must have a green thumb. That’s not the case at all. As an Extension Master Gardener volunteer in Albuquerque once said, “The best gardeners have killed the most number of plants.” It’s not a contest…but if it were, I might just win.