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Q. I’ve been interested in purchasing a reel push mower, the kind with no power engine, especially every time I see the price of a barrel of oil rise and every time I try to start my older, smoky power mower. I also like the idea of not polluting the air with noise or exhaust. We have a typical suburban front lawn and a very small backyard (under a lot of trees). Our lawn isn’t particularly thick and plush, and we do get some dandelions and other scrub grasses. During the dry spells, though, I hardly have to mow at all.

A. I bought a reel mower years ago, but it is now in my garage collecting dust and rust! The reel mower can actually make a better cut than rotary mowers if the blades are sharp and the grass, such as zoysiagrass, kept very short. However, the reel mower only works well on level surfaces of short grass that is dry and (the real “catch”), free of weeds, sticks, and leaves. Twigs, mulch, rocks or weeds will catch in the blades, causing an abrupt halt to your action! So, for average lawns, it can be quite frustrating to have so much stop and start. And, of course, not terribly practical for large turf areas, unless you really enjoy the workout!

Q. I have some wonderful wild blackberry bushes in our yard/woods border. They have slowly died out over the years and are getting sparser. We enjoy using them in jelly and cobblers and are hoping to do something before we lose them all. About the only thing I’ve done through the years is to cut out most of the dead canes. We also have let ripe berries fall to the ground, hoping they will propagate. Can you help, or point me in the right direction for the information?

A. Blackberries are not as winter hardy as raspberries, and wild blackberries are not likely to be terribly productive, but they do have wonderful flavor when they do produce. There are a few management strategies that can help their productivity, at least in years when winter injury has not spoiled the show.

Like raspberries, blackberries have biennial canes, meaning the plant produces new canes each year that live for two growing seasons, producing only foliage the first year (primocanes) and flower and fruit the second year (floricanes). Blackberry floricanes produce their flowers on short side branches (laterals). Blackberries can be encouraged to produce more laterals, and thus more flowers and fruit, the following year by pruning the tips back on the primocanes each summer — to about 4 feet in midsummer. In late winter, the laterals can be pruned back to about 18 inches. Floricanes die after fruiting and should be pruned back to the ground after harvest.

For more dependable performance, you might consider planting some of the improved thornless blackberry cultivars, such as Apache, Arapaho or Ouachita, whose flavor is quite similar to wild types, or Triple Crown that has excellent, but different flavor.

Q. Will skunks eat most anything a human will? I read this, but my husband doesn’t believe it. Someone claims that a skunk chewed off mature beets, even below the ground level. Would a skunk do this?

A. Though skunks likely prefer many other foods to beets, it is certainly possible that they would eat beets and many other garden crops. Skunks may also damage garden crops when primarily foraging for other food, such as grubs and earthworms. According to the animal damage specialists at Purdue, skunks prefer to hunt at night for grubs, insects, small rodents, dead animals, fruit, berries, unripened corn, mushrooms and other food items. Where the opportunity presents, skunks will raid chicken houses and poultry yards. In urban areas, they will feed on pet food, garbage, fruit drops from trees and garden vegetables.

For more information on identifying and preventing wildlife damage, visit the USDA-Purdue Wildlife Conflict Information Hotline at http://www.wildlifehotline.info/.

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