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Ask the Gardeners. Questions & Answers.

By Doc and Katy Abraham / March 25, 1986



Q A friend who is a cabinetmaker gave us sawdust to use as a mulch on our raspberry bed this past summer. Soon after we added the sawdust, the leaves turned yellowish. Our neighbor says sawdust is toxic to certain kinds of plants. Is this true? R. S. Annapolis, Md. Sawdust is a good mulch for blueberries and other fruits, but you must use a nitrogen fertilizer along with it. As fresh sawdust breaks down, the soil microorganisms (bacteria and fungi), which are responsible for this decomposition, consume so much nitrogen in the process that there is a temporary shortage for the plants. To make up for this shortage, add a cupful of dry nitrogen fertilizer per bushel, or a gallon of liquid fertilizer solution (mixed according to directions) per bushel of sawdust. Q Recently the Monitor's garden section had a brief paragraph in which readers were encouraged to take cuttings of holly bushes (their own or their neighbor's) for the purpose of propagation. Since some plant materials are patented (for example, Black Prince holly), would this be urging readers to commit a ``criminal act''? I would appreciate some comment on this. D. L. T. Berea, Ohio

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Your point is well taken. Patented varieties are becoming more a part of the commercial plant business. The purpose of patenting plant varieties is to prevent commercial reproduction and sale of these varieties without permission from the owner of the patent. This allows the owner to get a royalty on the commercially produced plants.

Although no patent owner is going to peek into plant lovers' backyards, the conscience of the gardener must be his guide when reproducing plants for his own or his neighbor's use. There are plenty of nonpatented hollies (and other plants) for gardeners to take cuttings from. Holly bushes bear male and female blooms on separate plants so at least one of each is needed for cross pollination.

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. Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists.