Ask the Gardeners

Q We are getting very discouraged about growing beans, carrots, lettuce, and beets. No matter what we do, critters dig under the fence, ignore the animal repellent, and have a feast. Try raised beds. They have worked for us. We faced the same problem but now grow pole beans and all other vegetables, except corn and tomatoes, in raised beds. We build the beds 18 to 20 inches high, as that height seems to discourage animals in our region -- even woodchucks. Landscape timbers are treated with a material that is nontoxic to plants, yet makes the construction more durable. We have also experimented with rigid plastic and fiberglass construction, with satisfactory results. Perhaps some of our readers have other ideas on this subject. Q We planted black raspberries three years ago and they are getting terribly overgrown. I am confused about how to prune them properly.

Black raspberries should have all the fruiting canes cut back to the ground immediately after they have borne fruit. If you have not done this, remove old thick canes and also the very spindly ones, leaving only the healthy new ones. These new canes (which came up from the ground last year) should have been ``topped'' or cut back in June of last year to a height of 18 inches, so they would throw out ``laterals'' or side shoots. These laterals are normally cut back to four to six inches during November in areas of heavy snowfall, so they will not break off during the winter. In other areas, gardeners may wait until March to cut them back. These will produce the fruiting wood to bear a crop in the summer. Q Five years ago we set out four dwarf pear trees -- two Seckel and two Bartlett. For the past two years the Seckels have had crops, but the Bartletts haven't produced a single pear. We were told we needed two different varieties for cross-pollination and wonder about the barrenness of the Bartletts.

Most pear trees need cross-pollination with another variety. The Seckel is an exception, being self-fruitful. However, it will not pollinate the Bartlett variety, therefore you will need a third variety such as Bosc, Dutchess, Moonglow, Clapp's Favorite, etc. When planting pears it is a good idea to have three varieties (not farther than 150 feet apart) to be sure of good cross-pollination. Q My great-aunt had a huge fern with finely divided foliage that looked like green mist. She called it asparagus fern because it looked like garden asparagus foliage, except it was more delicate. I recall that it had reddish berries. Not being able to find a plant in the florist shops, I wonder if some could be started from seeds. If so, how long would it take to get plants of ``gift'' size. Is it related to garden asparagus?

The edible garden kind is Asparagus officinalis. The fern-like houseplant (not a true fern) was formerly called Asparagus plumosus, and it may be found as such in seed catalogs. However, some list it by its more up-to-date listing, A. setaceous. Three seed companies handling Asparagus plumosus (or setaceous) seeds are Applewood Seed Company, 5380 Vivian Street, Arvada, Colo. 80002; W. Atlee Burpee Company, Warminster, Pa. 18974; Park Seed Company, Greenwood, S.C. 29646. Most seed companies which handle houseplant seeds would have it also. It takes about 26 weeks before plants will make small, but respectable-looking gifts, if they are potted two or three to a four-inch pot. Seeds are slow to germinate; soak overnight in warm water and keep starting medium at 75-80 degrees F.

If you have a question about your garden, send it to the Garden Page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115.

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