Ask the Gardeners Q&A

Reader comment: We regularly read and enjoy your column. My wife has just tried the cucumber peel remedy for ants, sent in by a reader. She does not feel she is having success. Next time you have occasion to mention this you might elaborate on how thick or extensive the peel covering should be. Does one cover every square inch of the affected area and in more than one layer? If such is the case we might have difficulty eating that much cucumber! J.F.A. Lawrenceville, N.J. We do appreciate your kind comments and want to thank others for their thoughtful remarks. We enjoy and profit from all the letters. We have had no comment from other readers about the cucumber remedy, but we did try it ourselves. When we spread the skins of Burpless cucumbers around somewhat haphazardly, we noticed no lessening of the ant population in our kitchen. But when we tried skins of a pickling variety acquired from a home gardener, laid along the baseboard, their parade stopped. The ends of these cukes tasted a trifle bitter. Ant behavior may have been happenstance. We would very much like to hear from other folks regarding the repellent value of cucumber skins ... without their having to use a carload to achieve results!

Q I have a 10-year-old fig plant which bore fruit the first two years, but has not fruited since. It has been repotted several times, into larger pots, and it has been pruned back to keep it a manageable size for bringing indoors each winter. In summer it gets afternoon sun on our patio. When night temperatures begin to fall below 40 degrees, I bring it indoors. It drops its leaves and remains dormant until February or March. When temperatures are again favorable I put the plant outdoors. Did pruning cause the plant to stop bearing? Or could it be our dry climate or radical changes in temperature? B.J.S. Denver

As long as your fig is not subjected to subfreezing temperatures, the radical changes in temperature should not affect it. Some varieties stand 15 degrees without harm. In our area, where temperature can fall well below zero, we grow figs in tubs as you do. Others in our area have trees planted permanently outdoors, but in autumn they loosen the roots on one side and gently tip the tree over (after tying up branches) into a prepared trench in the ground, where they are covered with soil and insulating material for the winter.

Figs do not bear well in alkaline soil, so you should be sure yours are slightly acid (a simple litmus test will tell). One of the prepared peatlite mixes (Redi-Earth, Promix, Supersoil, Good Earth, Jiffy Mix, etc.) would be suitable. We mix ours 4 parts to 1 part good garden loam (to add weight).

Figs need good drainage but should not be allowed to go completely dry. To bear well, they should have full sun. We feed ours a liquid plant food, with analysis 20-20-20, each month during its growing period. Any balanced fertilizer should do.

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