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Q. I’m trying to identify a plant growing along my fence line. It is about 3 foot tall and stays green year round. Grows very slow, and I have a couple others that are smaller. Looks like a pine but does not smell like one. Just curious.

A. I was not able to discern enough detail from your info to confirm the plant’s identity. Here are some tips to help you determine what this evergreen might be. Pines have needles in groups called bundles: some species having two needles per bundle, others have five needles per bundle. Spruces have single needles that are angular, rather than flat, and sharp-pointed at the tip. Yew, hemlock and fir have flattened needles that are blunt tipped compared to spruce. Junipers often have two types of needles: very small awl-shaped and flattened scale-like needles; their foliage overall feels sharp to the touch. Arborvitae has a soft texture with short scale-like needles that are closely appressed to the stem, lending a flattened appearance to the branchlets. You can see photos of these various evergreens online at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/senior/senior.htm; click on the Ornamentals section. If you’re still having trouble identifying the plants, bring a good-sized fresh sample to your Purdue Extension county office (see http://www.ag.purdue.edu/extension/Pages/Counties.aspx for contact information).

Q. In 2000 we purchased 2 dwarf pear trees — a Bartlett and a Moonglow. The first crop was in 2006. We try to pick the pears prior to a frost, but whenever they are picked they do not ripen until November. Sometimes they stay hard, and they are always stony around the core and sometimes in spots farther out. The trees continue to grow straight up and beyond the 15 feet guaranteed. This year we cut them back and the weight of the fruit has finally made them branch out and look like real trees. Years ago we had an ancient Bartlett pear tree that had marvelous pears and ripened in September. What have we done wrong that we are rewarded with stony, poor-quality fruit? I’m ready to cut them down, but don’t know what to buy to start over.

A. Bartlett and Moonglow are good choices for your area, but, unlike most other fruits, pears are best ripened off the tree and certainly should be harvested and ripened long before November. Tree-ripened pears often turn soft and brown at the core and have excessively grainy texture. Moonglow is an early cultivar that should be harvested in August. Bartlett is considered early to mid season, ripening about a week or two after Moonglow. There are several indicators to know when pears are mature enough to harvest. The most obvious sign is a color change from a dark to light or yellowish-green but before they are fully yellow. The fruit should be relatively firm. The small dots on the skin (called lenticels) should turn from whitish to corky brown. Mature pears should finish ripening within a few days if stored at 60-70 F and high relative humidity (80-85 percent).

There are a number of different dwarfing rootstocks used for pears; some are more dwarfing while some are hardier than others. Most are just not very reliable, and their grafts fail within a few years, potentially resulting in rampant growth of shoots from the rootstock. From your description of upright, fast, tall growth, I do wonder if the rootstock has taken over your planting. If you do end up replacing these trees, you might want to avoid the dwarfing rootstocks. For more information on growing pears, Ohio State University has published an excellent Home Fruit Production guide, available at http://ohioline.osu.edu/b940/.

Q. I have fire blight in my orchard of four trees. I am going to remove all; they never had good TLC. I now want to start over, and do better. I have downloaded some material from Purdue Hort website. What would be four good dwarf apple trees to plant? And any other info I can look for on caring and spraying, liquid and schedule?

A. Since you have a history of fire blight problems, you’ll want to be sure to choose resistant varieties such as Enterprise, Freedom, Liberty, MacFree or William’s Pride. An extensive list of fire blight-resistant apple varieties can be found in Purdue Extension publication BP-132-W, Disease Susceptibility of Common Apple Cultivars http://www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia/BP/BP-132-W.pdf. See Table 1. For more descriptive information about apple cultivars in general, have a look at Purdue Extension Bulletin HO-165, Apple Cultivars for Indiana http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/ho-165.pdf . You’ll also want to download the current edition of Purdue Extension bulletin ID-146 Controlling Pests in the Home Fruit Planting http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/ID-146.pdf.


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