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Ask the gardeners

A few years ago, a friend gave me some seeds of American Bittersweet. They sprouted in our cold frame, and I planted them along a fence. However, I have not had a single berry on them.

Why no fruit? Also, is it true that the fruit is toxic? Yes, the berries are considered toxic, and it is best not to have them where small children might be able to get them, either dry or fresh. Also, caution should be taken that livestock not be able to reach the leaves or berries.

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Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) should not be planted near choice woody plants, as it will soon overtake and strangle them. A pole makes a good support. Sexes on this vine are separate, so if you have a male plant, it does not produce fruit. Neither does the female plant produce fruit if there is no male nearby to pollinate it. Rarely does the same vine have flowers of both sexes. In June, when the vine blooms, look at the blooms. You can get plants from a nursery with the sex labeled on the tag, or you can graft a portion of vine of the missing sex onto the one you have.

We have several partial seed packets left over from our spring and summer planting. Can these be saved for another year? If kept dry and at the proper temperature, most seeds will germinate fairly well the following season. A trick we use is to put a tablespoon of dry milk in the center of 3 or 4 thicknesses of paper tissue (handkerchiefs), then fold the sides over so none can seep out, tape it together and slip it into a large glass jar (a large mayonnaise jar is good). Put in the seed packets and screw the lid on tightly. The dry milk takes away any moisture in the seeds and the top will keep any out. Store in a spot that doesn't go over 50 degrees F.; 30 to 40 degrees F. is even better.

We have tried to root coleus, impatiens, and geranium cuttings in water, but the water gets stagnant and slimy, and the cuttings get mushy.

How do you suggest we get these slips to root? If you root them in water, try putting a piece of charcoal about the size of a large bean in each glass of water, and be sure all bottom leaves are stripped off. If they still don't root, you may want to try moist perlite. Make the cuttings 3 to 4 inches long, and leave on only 3 or 4 leaves. If remaining leaves are large, cut off one-third of the ends, so water won't evaporate from them so readily. Keep them in bright light.