• Helen Hartung / Judy Kirshner

Ask a Gardener (April 2021)

Question: Is it true that planting fish heads with your tomatoes will make for healthier plants? Judy's answer:

Burying a fish under a tomato cannot hurt (unless you have dogs that will just dig up the plant to get to the fish). The fish will decay and add nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium to the soil, as well as attract other soil critters that are beneficial. Calcium is what you need to prevent blossom end rot. I used to put a raw egg under the tomatoes. They did well but I cannot say if it was the egg or not. There is something nice about doing these old-fashioned things, but I think a good organic feeding program will do the same thing. Question: When should California pepper trees be pruned back? Helen's answer: The best time to prune a California pepper is in the winter, when it is not in active growth. This is true for most trees, except for flowering trees, which should be pruned after flowering. Question: What is the best way to keep rodents from destroying (eating!) your vegetable garden? Judy's answer: Rodents are a hard problem. Gardener's Supply sells cloches, small cages and larger cages. I have tried rubber snakes and fake owls. I use special bags to protect fruit when it is ripening and netting for fruit and berries, with limited success. Squirrels are the worst. I have a spray for surfaces and plants called Squirrel Stopper. It is made from oils and eggs. I do not think it is very effective, but I feel like I am doing something. Rats...baiting with a product safe for other animals, old fashion traps...it is an endless problem. Gophers...you can put a wire mesh gopher lining under planting boxes and in the ground and around the plants. Possums...I have no idea. Some people use motion sensitive sprinklers, which works for deer. The real problem is that all rodents learn to adapt and after a few days they figure it out. Question: I used to be able to grow basil abundantly, but the past few years I have had no luck. Any recommendations? Judy's answer:

Basil does best in morning sun. Try growing it on the east side of some other plant or where something larger will protect it a bit from the strong sun in the hottest part of the day. I have also had trouble starting from seed in the last few years. If you buy a starter, look for one with several seedlings, and you can easily divide that to try in different locations.

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