Southwest US & Route 66

Still more observations from the recent trip to the southwest U.S. and what to do about little black flies around houseplants, and the pruning and propagation of currants, especially blacks.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

January 29, 2006

Above: a typical small village along old Route 66 and two other shots of the scenery. Below, one of the many bridges featuring the old metal highway safety barricades, not now seen. Author photos.

I promise not to bore you next week with a fourth installment of tales from my south west U.S. trip! This week is the third and last, and there are two questions answered as well.

In planning our visits for last year’s trip, we looked to the BCAA for advice on routings. They advised there were two basically different routes from Palm Springs (or Los Angeles for that matter) to Las Vegas. One involves use of Interstate 15 which we took on our way to Las Vegas last year. It is a good route, but we encountered an amaz-ingly long delay for the last 90 minutes getting into Las Vegas. On the way out of Las Vegas last year we took a rather obscure route, mostly two-lane with very little traffic that involved a couple of sections of the old Route 66. Our timing last year was not great in that we covered much of this picturesque route near the end of the day and thus could not really appreciate the scenery.

This year was different. We planned to go to Las Vegas on I15 and to come out on the old route. It was a warm, sunny day and we stopped and actually took several photos on the historic route 66 which passes through a number of mountain ranges including the Dead Mountains, Piute Mountains and Sheep Hole Mountains. In addition, we stopped in the historic town of Twentynine Palms. You can judge for yourself about the scenery along this route by checking the two photos that accompany this article.

Next year, if we travel down in that area again, I think we will find some other sections of the historic Route 66 and travel along them to see the varying scenery. What we’ve seen to date has certainly whetted the appetite!

On last week’s AM740 programme Mike Ferro from Mississauga asked a question about black currants--specifically I believe about propagation and pruning. I replied that I had never grown them, and that there were three different types and I didn’t want to give him the wrong information and would check and put the answer on the air on the January 28th programme. Well, Mike, and others, here is the answer. First, it is the red and white cur-rants which are treated similarly, and the blacks which are treated slightly differently.

First, as to pruning, black currants produce their fruit on the new wood (of the previous season’s growth). That means when you prune this spring, you should prune out all the old dark and thicker growth, leaving only last year’s new thin growth if you wish the best crop. Be sure to remove all the old growth as too much of this left will only encourage diseases such as powdery mildew. The red and white currants, on the other hand, produce their fruit on older two- and three-year-old wood. Short spurs develop on this old growth on which the fruit is produced. So with these, the pruning should be to go easy on the older thicker wood--cut some out but leave a reasonable number of branches (canes). And, if there is an excess of newer growths from last year, cut about half of those out as well.

Since time was short on the broadcast last week, I did not want to explain hardwood cuttings, which as I recalled was the best method for propagating currants. Hardwood cuttings are almost always taken from the most vigorous new growth of the present season, during the late fall. We used to make them about pencil-length, and put them in bundles of ten held together with elastics. Be sure to keep all the cuttings facing the same way up. Store them in a cool (but not freezing) place in a box with damp sand or equivalent over the winter. Come spring, plant them out in rows in the garden, in full sun, with each one buried so that at least two buds (facing upwards) are visible on black currants, and twice that many (in other words, not buried quite as far) for red and white currants. A spacing of 15 cm (6”) is best. Be prepared to cover them with some shading if the early spring sun is hot.

The cuttings should have rooted and be ready for transplanting into growing rows by the following spring. In this case, plant each new bush about 1.5 m (5’) from another in the row. Cut the bushes back to about 15 cm high when you transplant them. All currants appreciate a mulch of straw to prevent weeds and keep the soil cool during the summer, and they love heavy fertilizing (20-20-20 for example) in the spring, applied around each bush.

Currants, by the way, are very high in vitamin C, and are said by some to be excellent in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

In the past week, I had two notes about “little black flies” around plants. Vickie, from Vancouver Island (I think) wrote saying: “I am writing for a friend who has so very much problems with little black flies in her house-plants. Do you have any idea what she can use as she is running out of remedies?”

And, my good friend Dr. Susanna Chow in Toronto said, “We have a problem at home, a friend who loves house plants brought a few plants with her to our house. She put them by the kitchen patio door for the sun, but we have a lot of little flies coming out from the plants. What can we do? They get into our foods and I've already asked her to relocate the plants so we can eat in peace. Is there a spray or something that I can do to kill the flies? Please help!”

This is an old problem that often comes from an insect, usually fungus gnats (often but not always caused by over-watering), which live in the soil. They can even come from fresh ‘new’ bagged soil. My suggestion is to get a can (aerosol) of Doktor Doom House & Garden spray which contains .25% Permethrin and does not require a poison symbol on the label, so it is safe to use. I would spray both the plants, and the soil in which they are planted. To have the spraying of the soil be effective, you should let the top four or five cm dry, and then do the spraying. Most important, let the applied spray dry for about four hours before watering the soil again. You may have to repeat the application about every week for a month. Follow the label directions.

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