ASK THE GARDENERS. Questions & Answers

Q Can you tell me how to get an avocado pit to sprout? Perhaps I am not putting the correct side in soil. I have tried three without success. R.B. Bremerton, Wash. The broader end with the dimple is the one that goes into the rooting medium. We have rooted them in pots of moist perlite, leaving about one third of the pit sticking out. The easiest method is to use water. Stick three toothpicks into the pit, about midway down the length and equidistant around the circumference. Suspend the pit, with toothpicks supporting it, in a jar. Fill with water until it just touches the bottom. Keep at this level constantly. It will take about four weeks for roots to appear, then the top will split after roots are about four inches long, and a green shoot will soon emerge. At that time you can pot it in a loose soil mix in a clay pot.

Perhaps you have not succeeded because the pits were not from a completely ripe fruit. We find our pits root better if the light is somewhat subdued. Never set in sun while rooting. Q We have evergreens in front of our home which I think are Japanese yews. They have dark green, flat needles from three-fourths to one-inch in length. Some of the bushes have red berries, others do not. Could you explain this? Some children were picking the berries, but I told them I thought they were poisonous and I had them discard the fruit. Is it true the fruit is toxic? J.D. Buffalo, N.Y.

Japanese yew or taxus are handsome evergreens often used for foundation plantings around homes. Flowers are dioecious (male and female parts are borne on separate flowers), and in the case of yews, male and female flowers are on separate plants. Thus, berries appear only on the female plants.

You were correct to tell the children that the berries are poisonous. It is the hard seed inside the fleshy red cover that is toxic. It is wise to caution children from the time they are very young that they should not eat any part of a plant until a responsible adult has told them it is safe to eat. Reader comment: Quite some time back you had a tip from A.F. of Sacramento who suggested planting a clove of garlic at the base of each rosebush to repel aphids. These pests have always been a problem for me. I tried the suggestion and it worked! Many thanks for passing along such information. D.E. Olympia, Wash.

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Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists.

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