Smart Gardening

Gary and Sharon Petterson at Gardeners World make it easy to know which plants grow in the shade.

Submitted photo

Each year as the monsoon season descends upon us, we see too many trees uprooted and ruined by poor preparation. With the proper planning and practices, this can all be avoided. Take time to inspect and make certain of the following preventive measures.


Drippers should be away from the trunk and toward the drip line (outer edge of the canopy) of the tree. Adjusting them should be an ongoing project as the trees mature. Wherever the greatest amount of moisture is, the roots will be as well. Too often we see a tree with a 10-foot canopy blown over and exposing a 1-foot root ball. In this situation, it is very likely that the drippers were never moved from around the trunk as the tree grew. By moving the drippers properly, the roots expand and better anchor the tree. The amount and frequency of irrigation depends upon the type of tree and the character of the soil. A rule of thumb would be to slowly, deeply and thoroughly irrigate. The water needs of plants and trees changes with the seasons and the irrigation frequency and duration should be changed accordingly. Allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings and make certain that all of the drippers operate properly.

Arizona soils are hard caliche that does not allow the water to penetrate to encourage deep roots. Push those roots down with First Step soil acidifier. This inexpensive solution should be applied about three times per year — remember holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. If you have never done this, start now.


During extreme wind situations, and all things being equal, a tree with a thick head will be the most likely to become uprooted. The heads of mesquites and other trees that tend to be thick should be selectively thinned. This does not mean radical pruning. You’re attempting to accomplish a thinner head for better wind passage.


Staking is especially important with young trees, or trees you suspect may be a problem. As a matter of routine, we stake all trees, except pines. For young trees, we suggest using the double stake method. Double staking with lodge poles provides a greater stability than the one stake method and ties can be placed at more secure intervals. Regardless of the maturity of the tree and whenever the situation allows, the use of wire and anchors, such as Duckbill, is far superior. While this method may be awkward in turf or high foot traffic areas, it provides the greatest strength and stability. Moreover, it’s much easier to stake the tree properly before it blows over, than it is to try and correct the situation afterward. If you don’t feel comfortable tackling these tasks yourself, we’ll be happy to recommend competent, responsible and reasonable companies who can help.

Is it fixable?

If your tree is down, there is no guarantee that it will come back should you replant it, but there’s no guarantee that it won’t either. Should you decide to replant, take care not to damage the taproot since it is the trees major artery. Peripheral root damage is tolerable, if minimal. Loosen the soil slightly to lend some mobility to the tree. Don’t force the tree to move in the direction you want. Cover the exposed roots, but don’t over bury them. Keep the soil level even with the original. If you didn’t thin the crown, don’t do it now since the tree is already stressed. Move the drippers out to the drip line, if you haven’t already. Replace broken or set new lodge poles and secure with Dand-o-line. Apply First Step soil acidifier and Super Thrive to ease transplant stress and help the tree reaclimate.

West Nile Virus

Most Valley residents are already aware of the West Nile Virus problem. The Maricopa County Environmental Services Department actively surveys Valley locations monitoring for the presence of infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus have been detected earlier than in previous years, according to a recent release by the county. Eliminating sources of standing water is a key element in fighting the proliferation of infected mosquitoes. Prevention steps include: remove saucers from under potted plants; eliminate containers and tires that can collect water as well as cleaning up dirty pools. What do you do about areas in your yard that collect standing water after an irrigation, rain or from sprinkler run-off?

Areas where water is left standing for even a few days can be breeding grounds for mosquito larvae-increasing the disease threat to your family and horses. The answer is to use a water-soluble soil acidifier like First Step. Desert soils are particularly high in clay, calcium, and sodium. As a result they are extremely hard and impermeable to water. Nutrients are locked up in the soil and not accessible to plant roots. The unique action of First Step soil acidifiers softens the hard caliche soil so that water can soak in-eliminating standing water. Other beneficial effects of First Step soil acidifier are:

• Corrects soil pH.

• Increases availability of iron to the plant.

• Increases utilization of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus to the plant.

• Improves plant hardiness.

• Improves thatch decomposition.

• Improves resistance to some plant diseases, such as fusarium patch; improves water utilization and penetration.

• Assists in chlorophyll formation.

One to two applications of this soil acidifier can correct caliche or hardness of the soil. This is a cost effective method of soil correction to eliminate standing water.

Gary and Sharon Petterson own Gardener’s World and Gardener’s Eden Landscaping in Phoenix, 3401 E. Baseline Road. Reach them at (602) 437-0700. For the nursery, call (602) 437-2233 or visit, and for landscaping, visit

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