December "In The Grow" - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

December “In The Grow”

Q. I gathered some bittersweet branches last fall. These are the decorative red berries gathered in the fall for winter arrangements in the home. I have saved some well-developed seed but can’t get them to grow. I stored some in the freezer for a time, yet neither did they sprout. I’m wondering if they must pass through a bird’s digestive process to sprout. The seed appears to be encased in a thick shell. If so, is there a treatment that could help in the process before trying to sprout them?
– Francis Rogers, Warsaw, Ind.

A. Germinating bittersweet presents some difficulties. First, be sure you really want the plant. It scrambles over everything in its path. The berries are beautiful, but if you already have a source for them, you may not want to give up the real estate necessary to grow your own.

If you decide to proceed, you’ll need to plan for enough space for a male and female vine. Bittersweet is primarily dioecious, which means the male and female flowers are not present on the same plant. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know whether a seedling plant is male or female until it is old enough to bloom or produce fruit. It could be quite a number of years before they are mature enough to tell. Taking cuttings from plants of known gender would be faster and more reliable than seed production.

In order to germinate the seeds, they must first be stratified in moist sand or peat for 2 to 6 months at 41°F. Alternatively, softwood cuttings (cuttings taken from the new growth) should root in sand.

Q. How should I treat the ground under and around my fruit trees and grape vines? For the past several years, I have been getting abundant apples of very poor quality: small and often filled with insects. Is there a simple, old-fashioned remedy?
– Jonathan Knight, Whitestown, Ind.

A. Fruit growing is a large topic, and many things factor into its success. All plants require nutrients, water, sunlight and pest management, but the details vary from crop to crop. I suggest that you contact the Purdue Extension office in your county and request Growing Grapes (HO-45)and Fertilizing Fruits in Small Areas (HO-109). Both are also available at Also, arm yourself with a copy of Controlling Pests in the Home Fruit Planting (ID-146). You may also find a publication from Ohio State University called Growing Apples in the Home Orchard.

In general, grapes may be fertilized with 1 pound of 12-12-12 per mature vine (3 years or older) in the spring. Fertilize apples with 1 pound of 12-12-12 for each year of tree age or each inch of tree, up to a maximum of 8-12 pounds per tree.

Insect and disease management can be tackled with regular applications of a multi-purpose fruit spray (MPFS). These are readily available. Read and follow all directions carefully.

Q. I am 84 years old but love flowers and love to work in my flower garden. I have this Tamarix tree that is at least 5 or 6 years old, and it has never bloomed or had any buds on it. I was wondering if you could advise me on how to help it along. I put fertilizer that I use on my flowers on it, but not a bloom yet. I would appreciate any advice you could give me.
– Margaret Lynn, Springville, Ind.

A. Tamarix should have rosy pink flowers in early summer. It prefers acid, well-drained, low-fertility soil and full sun. It’s amazingly salt tolerant and can grow in sand. It should be pruned back in early spring since it flowers on new growth, although flowers can also arise from previous years’ buds. Make sure your plant is receiving plenty of sun, and give it a hard pruning each winter to encourage flowering.

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