July 28, 2012

1 - There are options to prevent fruit formation and bird problems when growing New Mexico Forestiera.

2 - Gardening in New Mexico can continue into the fall and winter.

Q. Is there any way to prevent my beautiful, prolific Forestiera from producing berries? I would love to let the birds eat them, but every summer it costs me hours and hours of pressure washing my stucco walls and parapets. I covered the tree with netting yesterday but would love a permanent solution.

- Susan F.

via NMSU University-wide Extension

A. Forestiera is indeed a beautiful native New Mexico plant, often called New Mexico olive. There is a chemical that can cause early fruit drop or prevent fruit set in many ornamental plants. This chemical is ethephon, a chemical that releases ethylene gas, a plant hormone that causes fruit abscission. This product is sold as "fruit eliminator". It may work, but it also may not be successful. Your local NMSU County Extension agent can help you find a source if this product. Be sure to follow application directions to prevent damage to your Foresteria. It is too late to use it this year; it must be used before the fruit "set" soon after flowering. The only best long-term solution is to replace the plant with one that does not produce fruit. The Foresteria is a dioecious plant with separate male and female plants. The female plant produces only female flowers and, if pollinated, the fruit. The male plant produces only pollen and no fruit. When you purchase plants at the nursery ask for male plants. Some nurseries may have some. These will be larger plants in containers that have been seen to flower, producing only male flowers. An examination of these plants should show no fruit. However, a female plant may fail to produce fruit if the flowers are not pollinated or if the birds have already harvested the fruit. Purchasing the plants in the spring while they are flowering, choosing only male plants is the best way to be sure you have chosen male plants. Female flowers are distinguishable from male flowers in that they have the small, future fruit, behind the flower and only a single stigma in the center of the flower.

Q. Is it possible to have a fall garden in New Mexico? When is the last chance for planting?

- J.J.


A. In Albuquerque and certainly in southern parts of New Mexico you can still plant a fall garden. Some crops may still be planted in northern New Mexico. Choose plants that will mature before the first frost in your region. Seed packets usually have "days to harvest" as part of the information on the packet. Count the days to your first frost, add one or two weeks for harvest time, and if there is enough time, plant the seeds. If there is not enough time to start from seeds, perhaps you can find a nursery selling transplants. Some vegetable varieties are frost tolerant. These can be planted now and often harvested well past the date of the first frost. They may not survive a hard freeze, but frost often improves their flavor. Covering the plants with row cover material will often help you prolong your harvest even beyond the first hard freeze. If you have a cold frame, you can extend your gardening season well into the winter. Plants that tolerate some cold weather will prosper in a cold frame. Carrots, lettuce, kale, onions, and many herbs may be grown in a cold frame. Some of these will grow outside the cold frame through the winter. I grow shallots through the winter in my garden. Your local conditions will determine whether the cold frame is essential for a late fall to winter garden.

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, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

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

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!