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Last summer we bought a new house and now we would like to have a garden. In the fall, the graded area around the house got very hard and dry. When it rained the soil became rather clay-like and our new lawn has grown sparsely. Is there something we can do to make it more suitable for gardening?

You probably have what is commonly called hardpan with a large amount of clay. You need to add organic matter to it to increase its porosity.

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Start a compost pile of table scraps, leaves, grass clippings, shredded paper , sawdust, manure, and the like. When rotted, work it into the soil.

Meantime, add rotted leaves and rotted manure, straw, hay, and the like, to the garden so as to induce earthworms and soil bacteria to take up residence and further improve the soil. A friend of ours who had such a soil adds three feet of leaves each fall; in the spring he works them in with a tiller and has the best garden around.

To help your lawn, scratch up any bare spaces with a rake and reseed, then add a light mulch of straw. Keep the lawn sprinkled in dry weather. Grass is very durable once it gets established.

The last few years our radishes have been very nippy whereas they used to be very mild tasting. Do you think this has been caused by a change in our soil?

Pungency in radishes is a genetic trait so we suggest you buy one of the varieties that is bred for mild taste. Although plant breeders tell us weather has nothing to do with taste, we have grown mild varieties that have seemed more ''hot'' when the seasons have been hot and dry.

So in addition to planting one or more mild varieties, we also suggest that you give them ample water if the season requires it.

Two mild radishes that we like are Burpee White and Champion (red). Both are round with a nice crisp texture.

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The leaves of my potted Madagascar dragon tree are turning brown and dropping off. Perhaps I'm not watering it properly or it doesn't get enough light.

We believe you are referring to dragon tree dracaena (Dracaena draco), a native of the Canary Islands where specimens grow to 70 feet.

Common names are sometimes misleading, although the tree may also grow on Madagascar.

The dragon tree needs bright light. If grown in the sun, the edges of the two-foot, sword-like green leaves turn red. Soil should be well-drained, but moist at all times. Drying out would cause the leaves to turn brown. A soggy, poorly drained soil would do the same.

It responds to a feeding of liquid plant food once every six months.

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