High Desert Plant Fertilizers … Secret Code Debugged

Reading a bag of plant fertilizer can be frustrating. What is that secret code? Most people, especially those new to gardening, are not sure what to make of “NPK” or the three numbers that appear on every bag – but seem to be different on every bag. We’ve all been there. At Moana Nursery we want to make it easy for you to grow beautiful, healthy plants and we believe that the proper use of fertilizers to build better soil is vital. Here’s a quick guide to what is in a bag of fertilizer and some of the benefits of regularly feeding our High Desert soil with a premium fertilizer.

When you look at a bag of fertilizer, whether for indoor or outdoor plants, you will always see three numbers such as the 3-5-2 formulation of G&B Organics Starter fertilizer. These numbers represent the three main substances, or macronutrients, that all plants need for healthy growth. These macronutrients will be provided in different amounts depending on the purpose of the fertilizer you are looking at.

The first number is nitrogen (N). Nitrogen is necessary for leaf growth and health and a nutrient most often lacking in garden soils. Lawns are made up of millions of leaves so they respond well to fertilizers with higher nitrogen.

The second number is phosphorus (P). Phosphorus aids in flower and root development and it helps promote fruiting. Roses and fruit trees are examples of plants that will thrive when fed with phosphorous.

The third number is potassium (K). Plants use potassium for stem and root development and this nutrient also helps make plants more resistant to disease and bolsters heat and cold tolerance. All plants will produce stronger stems and roots when potassium is provided.

Many fertilizers also list secondary ingredients. Calcium helps in the formation and growth of cells. Magnesium helps build chlorophyll molecules which help plants convert the energy from sunlight into food. Sulfur is also sometimes listed on fertilizer labels. It works with nitrogen to maintain healthy plant cells.

Other nutrients often included in fertilizers are sometimes called trace elements or micronutrients. Zinc and manganese help make other nutrients available to plants while iron helps build chlorophyll resulting in healthy, colorful leaves and stems.

Another category of ingredients becoming more common in high quality fertilizers includes beneficial soil microbes and mycorrhizae. These microscopic living organisms contribute greatly to soil health, disease resistance and overall plant vigor.

Moana Nursery recommends G&B Organics brand fertilizers because they are an organic, scientifically blended source of all the important elements, including mighty microbes, that promote plant health by feeding, building and permanently improving our lean High Desert soils. G&B Organics takes the guesswork out of choosing fertilizers by providing plant-specific formulas. Whether you are growing vegetables, fruit trees, roses, flowering plants, shrubs or trees, G&B Organics has a purpose blended, easy-to-use and long lasting fertilizer that will help you grow beautiful plants.

Moana Nursery believes in making gardening success easy to achieve. That is why we promote creating healthy soil through proper fertilization with every plant we sell. We love gardening in Northern Nevada and want to share our passion for growing beautiful plants with you. Come visit any of our stores to learn how easy it can be!

Fruit Trees In A Small Back Yard

As homes continue to be built larger and garden space becomes smaller, fewer homeowners have the space to plant as many fruit trees. But that doesn’t mean you have to go without the fresh taste of homegrown fruit.

The objective behind this gardening concept is to allow for a prolonged harvest of tree-ripe fruit from a small space. This can be accomplished by planting multi-grafted fruit trees, planting two or more trees with different ripening dates in the same hole, or by espaliering fruit trees along a sunny house wall or fence line.

By using multi-graft trees or planting more trees in one hole, a homeowner can now extend a 3-4 week harvest season into 10-12 weeks of different flavors. Planting or creating espaliers along a fence line can also free up valuable garden space for more fruit trees or other ornamental plants.

Close planting also offers the additional benefit of reducing the size of the tree’s crown, making the overall tree size more manageable. Close planting also can create an environment for better cross-pollination, which also leads to increased fruit production.

Most types of fruit trees need to be pruned each year to stimulate new fruiting wood, remove dead and diseased branches, or to allow more sunlight between the branches to help fruit ripen better and more evenly. If you start pruning consistently when your trees are young, it will be much easier to keep the tree at a manageable or desirable height.

At the heart of small yard orchard planning is the concept of summer pruning. By pruning at the same time you are thinning your crops, you will be better able to distinguish the kind of wood on which the tree sets fruit. You won’t accidentally prune off any fruit because you can see it, and the new growth is always above or beyond the fruit.

Reducing the size of the tree canopy will in turn reduce the photosynthesis (food manufacture) of the tree. This helps to limit the amount of food materials and energy available for the roots to store, which in turn will control the tree’s capability to produce as much new growth the rest of summer or the following spring. Summer pruning also reduces the amount of new growth the tree produces for the rest of the season, again keeping the tree to a more manageable size.

Pruning for size control in the summer will reduce your pruning chores in winter. Once the leaves fall off, you will have a better opportunity to prune for branch spacing and overall shaping of your trees. To create an espalier tree, simply prune off anything that doesn’t grow flat. Then selectively thin and train what’s left to space the fruiting wood. You can espalier most fruit trees, but apples and pears lend themselves to this type of pruning better than other varieties.

Smaller fruit trees can be much more manageable to spray, prune, and harvest than large trees. So, take a new look at your garden and you might be surprised at the possibilities you have for growing fruit trees. Then close your eyes and think about how great the fruit from those trees will taste!



In most instances, xeriscape principles and landscape best practices are one and the same thing.
Let’s take a brief look at xeriscaping (what it is and what it isn’t) to dispel misconceptions that have dogged the concept since the Denver Water Co. formulated it more than 30 years ago. The city’s water agency correctly anticipated the rapid growth of its region but also realized that its water resources are finite. The water agency chose the name xeriscaping (xeros is the Greek word for dry) because Colorado’s Front Range, of which Denver is a part, is semi-arid and receives, on average, just 14 inches of precipitation annually. Denver Water Co. felt the region could not sustain its precious water resources if property owners there insisted upon installing and maintaining landscapes better suited for wetter regions of the country.
Since that launch, cities across the U.S., including some in the Midwest and Northeast, developed xeriscape councils and began educating property owners on the movement’s water-conserving principles.
Here are xeriscaping’s seven big rules to ensure installations provide the benefits, including less maintenance, water and other inputs needed after establishment.
1. DESIGN. When designing a landscape, take into account factors such as climate, shade and sun, the contour of the property (slopes, depressions, etc.), soil types, watering requirements for ornamentals and turf grass, and any local regulations that apply.
2. SOIL. Match plants with the types of soils best suited for the plants’ survival and health. Test the soil and add nutrients and organic matter, such as compost, to promote plant health and also to retain water. Grade the soil to direct any excess rain or irrigation water to plants that would appreciate the moisture rather than having it lost to runoff. Some desert plants prefer gravel soils instead of soils rich in organics.
3. LIMITED TURF AREAS. Xeriscaping doesn’t mean “no lawns,” but it does advocate installing and maintaining lawns only where they serve a purpose and will be used, such as where children and pets play. Avoid grassing these sites with species or cultivars of turf grass that require frequent irrigation. In terms of species, a lawn of a native species, such as buffalo grass, requires significantly less irrigation than Kentucky bluegrass. In general, a warm-season turf grass, such as Bermuda grass, is more drought-resistant than most cool-season turf grasses. Many varieties of fescues (turf-type tall fescues and hard fescues) do well with limited irrigation. Better options for lawn areas may be native ground covers or other drought-tolerant plants.
4. PLANTS. Remember the adage “The Right Plant In The Right Place.” Proper plant selection and placement within a landscape is critically important to the success and enjoyment of the landscape. Group plants with similar light and water requirements and put them in locations that meet those requirements. Turf grass, of course, does best in full sun and will require more water than perennial beds that are also in full sun. Plants with moderate water needs are generally best suited for shaded areas or areas near downspouts, while water-loving plants thrive in damp swales or water-collecting depressions on a property.
5. IRRIGATION. Some people’s conception of a xeriscape landscape is one that requires no supplemental irrigation. In most cases, that would be a stark landscape and one that few property owners would appreciate. The better option is to provide the property with an automatic irrigation system with the latest “smart” features that irrigate the property in zones. For example, areas of turf grass require more frequent watering than areas of native or regionally adapted ornamentals, shrubs and trees, which should be watered with drip or bubbler emitters.
6. MULCH. Mulch serves several purposes on a xeriscape. Mulch moderates the soil temperature on plant roots and helps to retain soil moisture, blocks weed growth and reduces rain runoff. Apply mulch about 3 inches deep. Organic mulches, such as compost, bark chips, pine straw or shredded wood, break down, which improves the soil over time.
7. MAINTENANCE. Xeriscapes require maintenance, especially during establishment. In fact, all commercial and residential landscapes require an appropriate level of ongoing care. A landscape, including a xeriscape, that does not receive ongoing maintenance morphs into a mess. Turf grass requires regular mowing (3 inches high, leave clippings on the lawn), and trees, shrubs and perennials need periodic pruning.

Pesto Italiano … Grow the Basil & Garlic

Imagine our surprise that this wonderful Italian sauce … PESTO … can be just about anything.  That PESTO is simply Italian for anything ground or smashed with a mortar and pestle. Thus, “pesto” from a can, jar, restaurant or neighbor is some unknowable combination of smashed, hopefully edible, plants.  And, whether it includes peppers, spinach or whatever, it can be a unique combination of your own.  This is important because the edible garden is a wonderful entry way for young homeowners and renters alike to get hooked on the incredible difference in quality of HOME-GROWN edibles versus store-bought.

And, the two basic ingredients that are obviously in every pesto, are easy to grow in a container or plot. Yes, basil and garlic are the foundation edibles in every serious cook’s recipe and they are both easy to grow and better tasting when grown & used fresh.  So, get started with that edible garden on any scale and enjoy the smashing.

Fall Planting of Spring Flowering Bulbs – Color Galore!

Tips from our plant doctor, Jon Bruyn:

As we enjoy the gorgeous fall colors, it’s time to think about next spring’s color. I just finished planting spring bulbs in several spots that had no color last spring because my perennial flowers were still asleep. I decided to incorporate more bulbs this year to solve this minor design issue. Spring flowering bulbs provide early and continuous color in the landscape with very little effort on your part. And when planted in the right locations, will multiply each year!

In addition to adding color, I rely on different bulbs to tell me what stage of spring or summer we are in and signal what needs to be done in my landscape. Crocus and snowdrops bloom first, so I know weeds will soon follow and it’s time to for my spring application of pre-emergent. I also know that more cold weather is still coming and a spring snow is likely. This means that I still have time to transplant any trees, shrubs or perennials that I was unable to get to during the fall.

Daffodils typically follow about three to four weeks after the crocus and snowdrops, indicating it’s time to prune back my ornamental grasses, Russian sage and butterfly bush. This is also when I start my weekly watering regime. Weekly deep watering during the low stress, early spring helps promote deep rooting for all plants and lawns, just as they do during the fall. Daffodils in bloom also tell me to plant my tender bulbs – cannas, gladiolas, dahlias and freesia, to name a few.

Grape hyacinths, tulips and hyacinths follow and let me know that watering my lawn should be more regular and in keeping to the Truckee Meadows Water Authority guidelines. Winter storms are unlikely but the threat of frost is of course to be expected. These blooming bulbs also remind me to check if my lawn mower is working properly.

Allium are the last spring flowering bulbs to flower, typically in late May and June. They mark the beginning of warm summer months and remind me to feed all my bulbs with Dr. Earth Bulb Food, Fish Bone Meal or Bone Meal to help them store up energy for next spring. And perhaps they are telling me to go to Tahoe.

Bulbs have uses besides indicating the climate. Hyacinths and paperwhites are perfect air fresheners for your entire home. Paperwhites are the simplest, and when using the glass bulb vase, will also serve as a great education tool for young aspiring gardeners. Hyacinths are for the more dedicated bulb person since they will require a shady spot in your yard or a section of your refrigerator to meet their chilling requirement. Standard hyacinths require about ten to fourteen weeks of temperatures at 35 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be accomplished in a cold frame in full shade, a bulb pot healed into a deposit of mulch, or even a section of the refrigerator.

Bulbs can be stored in a cool location until ready to plant, so do not wait to purchase them. The quality of the bulb is very important to its survivability and quality of bloom. My father was always sending away for inexpensive bulbs he found in magazine ads. When they arrived, which was usually late, he would call me to help. These bulbs were always small, low grade bulbs which no retailer would dare to sell, not even a discount store. Bulbs should be firm and large, the bigger the better. Often when I visited my father to help, I took an assortment of bulbs that I purchased from my local garden center to plant as well. The next spring it was easy to tell which ones my father ordered versus the ones I brought – the flowers on his bulbs were always smaller and sparser than mine.

So visit your favorite Moana garden center and select bulbs that complement your plant palette. If you don’t have much space or the ground is frozen, you can always plant bulbs in a container which you can bring inside once they’ve started to bloom. We’re happy to get you started with your own love affair with bulbs – you’ll thank us next spring! My last tip is to be sure to plant bulbs with Dr. Earth Bulb Food, Fish Bone Meal or Bone Meal to ensure big, beautiful blooms. Remember, great spring color is as simple as DIG, DROP, DONE! Click on link for details.

Organic Can Be “Easy”

Organic amending ... Where is the organic material?

Tips from Plant Doctor Jon Bruyn

By now, most gardeners are familiar with “organic gardening.” While many of you are followers of organic gardening, I imagine you have discovered some of its drawbacks. For example, an organic pesticide will not kill every insect in your yard and may not work as quickly as a chemical pesticide. Organic fertilizers will not force plants to grow as high or fast as regular fertilizers. And organic weed control can be back breaking at times.

Healthy gardening is like healthy living – it’s hard work. However, a few tasks, like taking care of all those fall leaves, can be easy. Years ago, my crew and I spent a lot of time raking fall leaves. We created several large piles and spent the rest of the day piling those leaves into a flatbed truck and hauling them to the landfill. After weeks of this, I finally had to take care of my own yard! The last thing I wanted to do was rake again.

After considerable thought I began to use my 1986 Honda lawnmower and its side chute attachment to blow leaves into the shrubs. The following spring I noticed that those leaves had disappeared as soon as the temperatures started to rise. With this knowledge, I special ordered a mulching mower conversion kit. I also mail ordered a year supply of organic fertilizer which was the only way to get a blended, organic fertilizer for lawns without the smell of bagged manure. What followed was a spring and summer of effortless lawn care without having to bag any leaves!

When fall arrived I discovered, much to my joy, that my mulching mower was able to handle the weekly deposit of leaves. While a heavy deposit gives me some trouble, a second pass from the mower gives a beautiful, clean lawn. The following year my thatch was less and my lawn required less frequent fertilizing.

I continue this routine every year. I look forward to fall and the leaf drop. Mulching the leaves adds valuable organic matter to lawn soil. To make this process even easier, you can purchase a blended, organic fertilizer at Moana Nursery. I prefer Dr. Earth Super Lawn Fertilizer for the fall. It is specifically formulated to promote strong root growth. The high potassium level is prefect for winterizing your lawn and its beneficial soil microbes and micorrhizae greatly increase the break down of leaves and thatch. It’s kind of like an easy diet, healthy for the lawn with less effort and sacrifice.

What Does “Feed Your Soil” Really Mean?

Healthy Soil The Organic Way!

If you know anything about organic gardening, you’ve heard the phrase ‘feed your soil.’ While it sounds like a good thing to do, you may wonder what it means. It may seem that working in fertilizer should do it; that’s feeding, right?

In truth, feeding your soil properly is at the heart of organic gardening. It goes far beyond the temporary application of the major nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium) and even beyond the judicious use of essential micronutrients. Feeding your soil means not only returning those elements, but also improving the texture so that it breathes properly and is better able to retain moisture, ultimately providing a suitable habitat for the microbes that are essential to making nutrients available to plants.

While the interactions of soil, plants, and nutrients are fascinating and complex, feeding your soil is not a difficult proposition. Adding organic matter on a consistent basis (Gardner & Bloome Soil Building Compost works great) and approaching landscape issues in a way that helps foster healthy microbial populations (avoiding compacting or flooding the soil, for instance) initiates and maintains healthy soil.

A quick glance at native Nevada landscapes underscores the wisdom of an organic approach to healthy plants. Although local areas may be quite high in certain nutrients, almost all lack any concentration of organic matter, which in turn leads to nitrogen deficient conditions. It’s not all just about the water!

Next time you hear someone tell you to ‘feed the soil first’, you’ll know what to do to keep your plants healthy and productive.

Updated … What is going on with our bees?

Below is our post on the 2006 bee colony collapse that brought attention and additional research to study this potentially huge problem.  Since this post, bee hives and bee populations have increased significantly and the causes of the collapse have been studied without the hysteria of a problem without a solution. The most recent USDA study and findings can be seen here – - http://geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/03/usda-study-concludes-neonics-not-driving-bee-deaths-as-white-house-set-to-announce-bee-revival-plan/.  The evidence seems to be mounting that the focus on pesticides and neonics in particular is misplaced as the key study did what many had feared, used an unrealistic amount of the pesticide not found in practice, anywhere, to kill bees. Here is an excellent 7 minute video to help educate us all: http://americanhort.org/AmericanHort/Membership/Private/protect_bees.aspx.


What is going on with our bees? (Original Post)
Honeybees are in trouble. In the last 50 years, experts say the domesticated honey bee population declined nearly 50 percent in the USA. This year was one of the worst on record, with some U.S. beekeepers losing 60 percent of their hives.

Colony Collapse Disorder – the phenomenon in which worker bees disappear leaving behind a queen, food and a few nurse bees – started making news in 2006 but answers of “why?” are sparse. An identified source of trouble is that Pollinators are exposed to many pesticides. One class of chemistry – neonicotinoids – has been in the media and regulatory spotlight as of late. Pollinators are exposed to these widely used insecticides through direct contact with sprays and residue on plants. They also are exposed by ingesting the pollen and nectar of neonicotinoid-treated plants, though at lower levels.

The one thing experts seem to agree on is that many factors affect bee health: mites, viruses, bacteria, disease; poor nutrition and beekeeping practices; the transportation of hives cross country; habitat loss; genetically modified plants; lack of genetic diversity; weather and pesticides.

Your landscaping, lawn care & gardening practices play a big role in both protecting pollinators and encouraging their continued success, through smart applications of chemicals and promoting the best kinds of plantings. To keep up-to-date, informed and helpful:
• Follow news reports for helpful tips
• Read the labels and follow directions carefully
• Don’t apply products when bees are visiting
• Be diligent in stopping applied product drift
• PLANT for Pollinators
• Buy Local Honey
• Use safe, organic products

Planting for pollinators
One of the best ways to help bees and other beneficial bugs thrive is to give them a place to eat. The below plants are considered the backbone for any high desert garden or landscape. They are all easy care plants and some are even drought tolerant and deer resistant. Consider these plantings in the high desert to help our bee population and if at all possible, avoid using pesticides:
Herbs & Perennials

Thyme (creeping and culinary)
Culinary sage

Garlic chives
Nepata (catmint)
Russian Sage
Butterfly Bush
Rugosa Rose
Fruit Trees
Flowering Pears
Mountain Ashes

As you can see, the bee-friendly list of high desert plants is a long one with many of our local favorites. Commit to do your part in saving bees!

Could We Benefit From More Trees?

Local Tree Canopy Lacking!

This beautiful tree canopy and the combined tree canopy covering and protecting our northern Nevada community are important markers for determining the “green” space necessary to provide ideal living conditions.  We don’t have many local trees with this kind of dense canopy but the real issue is the total tree canopy coverage. And, it can be measured and compared.

Our Truckee Meadows “Tree Canopy,” as measured by the Nevada Forestry & U.S. Forest Service study (using government “Stimulus” funds – – a topic for another time), is poor … less than Las Vegas even.  Sparks is at 3.9% and Reno is 5.2% with 75% of the combined 4.6% cover on residential properties.  Self-serving but true translation – – we need to plant more trees and do a better job caring for them!  The study shows a current economic value of about $43 million but with a 20% coverage (a level achieved in many cities) those numbers jump to nearly $90 million.  The economic value of trees is more than just a reduction in carbon footprints.  The University has a 9.3% Tree Canopy.  Our area has a lower canopy cover than similar western U.S. cities.  Trees Matter.  This link will take you to the study for further information if desired.

Winter Watering in the High Desert … Usually, Yes!

New Plantings, Especially, Need Winter Watering

Successful  year-round landscaping makes us all winter bed wetters. Yup, it’s too dry in the high desert and again we must pull hoses this winter. Plants in the ground – especially newly planted trees, shrubs, and perennials – need the equivalent of one inch of precipitation per month. If we have a dry period that lasts longer than two to three weeks, you’ll need to water according to these guidelines when the ground is not frozen. Your lawn also can use a little water but it is a lower priority (and needs less) than trees, shrubs & perennials.

  • Water during the day when temperatures are at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit to allow water to percolate through the soil.
  • Finish watering before 3:00 p.m. so water can drain away from the surface before sunset.
  • Water the soil around the plants, avoiding the trunk and crown of the plants. You can use an oscillating hose sprinkler for larger areas or open end hose with the water turned on low for smaller areas.
  • For potted plants, assuming they are in a quality frost-resistant black clay pot and have well drained potting soil, water approximately every two weeks. Containers dry out faster than in-ground plantings.
  • Be sure to thoroughly drain your hoses and store them inside your garage or shed so they will be easy to access and use.
  • We recommend using Cloud Cover, burlap, and mulches to help protect your plants through our cold and dry winter.

Click here for a printable version of our Winter Watering Guide, and remember, do not water when the ground is frozen. If you have any questions, stop by any one of our three Moana Nursery garden centers.