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A Potpourri of Pithy Problems Promptly Resolved*

A Potpourri of Pithy Problems Promptly Resolved*

Q. Dave in Rocky Point New York writes: "After becoming a big fan of your show over the past nine months, I decided to try my hand at growing garlic. I planted the cloves in early October, and they've gone gangbusters - a good six to eight inches of green aboveground already. My question is: now what? Do I cut those greens? Let them go until they presumably die in the colder weather? Bend them over into the ground? I plan to put a mulch of shredded leaves over the bed, but not sure what to do with the greenery."

A. Congratulations, Dave! Garlic planted in the fall may or may not sprout that year depending on a variety of factors, but early sprouting should lead to larger heads at harvest time. Absolutely mulch them with shredded leaves but don't cut or otherwise molest those greens. Your next chore is to cut off the 'scapes' (little bulges) that appear at the top of each stalk in late Spring to allow the plants to devote more energy to growing bigger bulbs. Then read a few of the garlic articles at our Question of the Week archives to time your harvest.

Q. Tom in Portland Oregon writes: "I started composting shredded leaves in a plastic compost bin. I decided to add coffee grounds from home, the office, and the local Starbucks to heat it up. (THEN I decided to Google it and saw your articles recommending this very thing.) I decided to skip kitchen scraps as a precaution against rodents. My question: how much coffee to how much shredded leaves; which are very well shredded thanks to my handy dandy leaf mulcher."

A. Excellent, Tom! Real men always read the directions after the job is done. Now, I presume you have one of those black composters made of recycled plastic; I have several and they work great. If you have the rectangular style, I'll ballpark a five-gallon bucket of wet grounds mixed in well with a bin full of shredded leaves. If you have the larger round style, you can use twice that amount; but don't worry, you have lots of wiggle room here.

Oh, and thanks for making two great holiday gift suggestions for gardeners! Everyone can use an attractive, sealed compost bin or five, and the rectangular ones ship flat, in a box that can go under a tree. And everyone can use a hand-held leaf mulcher (aka a blower/vac); I especially like the rechargeable models; no gasoline to spill and no cord to trip over!

Q. Debbie in Harwood Maryland (20 minutes south of Annapolis) writes: "When and how would you recommend getting rid of a hornets' nest in our tree? We noticed it in August. Help!"

A. No worries, Deb! Unlike dangerous and aggressive yellowjackets that build large nests underground, aerial hornets never bother people unless those people do an Elmer Fudd and try and knock the nest down with a broom. And neither yellowjackets nor aerial hornets re-use their nests. The Queen abandoned your nest earlier this season and will give birth to workers who will build a new nest next Spring, by which time the workers in your nest will have frozen to death over winter. Bonus: Your email signature indicates that you work at the Anne Arundel Middle School. One of the science or math teachers there would love to have that nest in the Spring so they can cut it open and show the students the intricate structure inside.

Q. Michael in Chester County, PA writes: "The lemon tree in my basement just bloomed! It must have turned off its GPS because it's in Pennsylvania! It's in a pot and under six T5 florescent bulbs. I got it for father's day last year with a Key Lime. It survived last winter in the basement, but the Key Lime did not."

A. You had me scratching my head about 'T5' bulbs Michael, but a little research revealed what seems to be a great alternative to regular florescent shop lights. T5s are two-foot long florescent tubes whose spectrum is specially designed for growing plants indoors. They typically come in fixtures of two or four bulbs and are highly recommended for seed-starting and indoor micro-green growing--a perfect HOLIDAY gift for people who can't garden outdoors or who just want to grow edibles all season long.

As to your lemon tree, why is the poor thing in the basement? Unless the basement is finished, heated and well-used, you're missing out on the amazing aroma of those flowers. And you seem to be treating it like a summertime plant, which it is not. Citrus are tropical plants that don't go dormant, and they often bloom and set fruit in the late fall and winter, because their GPS is set for San Diego, not Pennsylvania.

Simply put, this is a great chance for you to get a lot of lemons, but the daytime temps around the plant should be at least 70, nighttime temps around 60; the tree should be kept well-watered and it should be fed every other week with a gentle liquid organic fertilizer.

*I'll give a shout out to anybody who can come up with a p word that's a synonym for 'answer'. My Thesaurus let me down!

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