Ask the gardeners

While on a trip through the Midwest a few weeks ago, we saw many silvery-leaved shrubs planted as windbreaks. Some had red berries and others that we stopped to look at had yellowish berries. The leaves apeared to be alike on both types . . . small and narrow, but in profusion, and very showy. Could you help identify these for us? The shrubs you describe were both Elaeagnus (el-ee-AG-nus). Elaeagnus angustifolia, or Russian olive, has brownish-yellow fruit, and E. umbellatus, or autumn olive (Cardinal variety), has reddish fruit. Both are extremely hardy in cold, windy areas and have grown in popularity since 1940, when the Soil Conservation Service recommended them to stabilize soil and feed wildlife. They are now found in vast areas of the United States and southern Canada. Flowers are rather inconspicuous but very fragrant. Although both provide good wildlife sanctuary, autumn olive is preferred because of its red berries, which attract songbirds. We credit them (along with other berried shrubs) for bringing an exceptionally large variety of birds to our own premises.

I have tried to make some necklaces from Indian corn kernels. The ears from our crop were especially beautiful this year. I've attempted to poke holes with a large darning needle, for stringing, but cannot penetrate the seeds. Do you have a solution? Also, is there some way to prevent the seeds from being eaten by some kind of moth that occasionaly gets into our catfood and other things such as corn, beans, lentils, etc.? Try soaking the seeds a little between some wet paper towels. This will soften them enough to get a needle through. Dry well afterward. Also, you could use a very small bit of an electric drill if you don't want to soak the kernels. To repel Indian meal moths, which lay eggs that produce the larvae that eat seeds, use a light coat of shellac. The whole necklace can be dipped in a very thin coating, then stretched like a clothesline, so that seeds can be pushed apart to dry so they won't stick together.

All kinds of seeds make handsome necklaces and other artistic items, such as seed pictures. These projects are good for youngsters on stormy days.

We are having problems with our asparagus fern. I believe it is Asparagus plumosus. It has a fine, lacy appearance. Last year it thrived in our bathroom, but we now have it on our enclosed porch because it has grown large. The porch is kept at about 50 degrees F. and our other plants are doing fine, but the asparagus fern is turning yellow and foliage is dropping. I always thought ferns liked a cool temperature. Asparagus plumosus fern is not a true fern. Ferns have spores; this plant has purple-red berries with seeds. Its natural habitat is semitropical, so it should have 70 degrees F. and plenty of humidity. If temperature drops too low or soil becomes dry, foliage will yellow or drop. Incidentally, A. plumosus has been changed to A. setaceus.

If you have a question about your garden, inside or out, send it to the gardening page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115. Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists, authors of several books on gardening, and greenhouse operators for 25 years.

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