Ask the Gardeners Q&A

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Q My kindergarten class helped me plant a silver maple on the school lawn to commemorate my retirement. Each child dropped a piece of potato into the hole before I set the tree in. I realize that potatoes contain many nutrients, but why are potatoes used instead of some other vegetable? Is it really a helpful practice or is this just an old custom? R. A. S. Wellsville, N.Y. Since potatoes are 80 percent water and contain other nutrients (18 percent carbohydrates and 2 percent protein), there is merit to putting them in the holes during tree planting. After talking with some oldtime gardeners, we surmise the practice originated in the spring at the time most folks plant trees.

Potatoes, a food staple in most households, were stored for eating during winter, then sorted in spring. Those that were rotten or shriveled and heavily sprouted were dumped. Tree-planting holes were handy burying places. Besides, experienced gardeners knew the value of humus or composted debris in any form, both as a fertilizer and as a means of providing moisture to stimulate the formation of feeder roots.

We suspect not only potatoes but other crops were used. It's a good tip and modern gardeners should make their own compost from food scraps and plant debris (leaves, etc.). Conservation is becoming more popular as our universal water shortage is more widely recognized. Q We planted pole lima beans for the first time, but we got very few pods. After checking with the neighbors, we find they had a poor lima-bean season also. Vines were healthy and produced blooms but beans didn't form. We're puzzled. G. S. Towson, Md.

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Sounds as though the weather was too hot when pollen was ready to fertilize the female part of the bean blossom. Even though lima beans need warm weather to set pods, if the temperature is over 80 degrees F. for more than 12 hours a day when the pollen is produced (or high 90s for more than six hours), no fertilization takes place because viability of the pollen has been destroyed. Q I was given a potted lemon geranium plant, which I grew outdoors all summer. It has done quite well and is now 20 inches tall. Will it do well if I grow it indoors this winter? Also, does it ever have a bloom or is it just a foliage plant? J. McC. Normal, Ill.

Your lemon geranium should do well in a sunny exposure. If it gets 55 to 60 degrees F. at night, it will do much better. We trim ours back to 6 or 8 inches when it reaches much above 18 inches to keep it bushy rather than letting it become ungainly. We root the cuttings for friends. Most scented geraniums have tiny flowers that are rather inconspicuous, but they bloom infrequently. There are several varieties of lemon geraniums and some have better blooms than others. However, the showy leaves themselves

give us such a delightful scent that it is reward enough. We use leaves in flower arrangements and always get favorable comments. Q I have raised tomatoes for 30 years and experienced my first failure this past summer. I planted 12 Big Boy Hybrid and 12 Rutgers, and the vines quickly reached a height of 4 to 5 feet with abundant dark green foliage and a healthy oncoming crop of tomatoes. After a bushel of fruit was set, I applied 5 percent Sevin dust. On July 15 all the leaves began to die, and on Aug. 20 all of them were brown and shriveled. J. S. Belleville, Ill.

You could have used too much Sevin on the foliage. Some varieties are sensitive to this pesticide. Actually you did not need to use Sevin as the vines were growing so well.

Another possibility, your vines may have had alternaria (early blight). Sevin works only on insects and would have no effect as a fungicide to prevent or eradicate blight. The varieties you planted are not resistant to this problem; however, one variety that is resistant is Heinz 1359. Most seed catalogs indicate which varieties are resistant to specific tomato problems. You may want to study them and opt for one or more resistant varieties recommended for your area.

If you have a question about your garden, inside or out, send it to the Garden Page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115. Please be sure to include your name and address along with the question.

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