My young fig tree is on the north side of a fence. Last fall we had one fruit which did not ripen, and that branch died over the winter. This year fruit appeared in late fall but didn't ripen before frost. How do I winterize my fig tree so I get figs?

Fig trees are marginally hardy in Maryland. Once frost hits, fruit is no good. The problem is that you can't pick figs underripe either, so occasionally the crop is lost. The more protected and warm the fig's location, the better your chance for successful ripening before frost. Because your tree is young, consider transplanting it from northern to a southern exposure.

Unprotected wood of fig trees will be killed by temperatures below 20 degrees F. Figs grown in bush or shrub form are easier to overwinter than those in a tree form, because all exposed wood should be covered in winter. Pin pliable branches to the ground and cover with burlap or tarp, or encircle the fig tree with chicken wire and fill with straw, leaves, or shredded newspaper. Some gardeners pile bags of leaves around fig plants. The top of the plant should be covered with a plastic tarp. In the spring, remove winter protection after danger of frost has passed. Prune out ground suckers and any dead wood.

Thanksgiving made me think it would be fun to plant some Native American crops next summer. What vegetables would you suggest?

You'll be surprised to learn what important vegetables are native, if by American you include North and South America. The famous Native American "three sisters" combo were squash, beans, and corn planted together. The beans climbed up the corn stalk and the squash grew beneath, where it crowded out weeds and shaded soil moisture from the sun's evaporation. Corn is the only vegetable that we are certain originated in North America — Mexico. Tomato and potato originated in South America. These two proved so successful in Europe that we now associate them with Italy and Ireland! Other vegetables for which we can thank Native Americans are peppers, sunflowers, and those Thanksgiving mainstays, pumpkins, along with some decorative gourds.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at hgic.umd.edu.

Plant of the week

Variegated Japanese Sedge

Carex oshimensis 'Evergold'

This ornamental grass excels at brightening a shady spot. Each finely textured clump displays leaves with a broad creamy center stripe and green margins. The effect is a waterfall of golden yellow arching gracefully to the ground. Use this versatile sedge as a massed groundcover on slopes, along woodland paths, borders, ponds, as an accent plant, or in containers and window boxes. It grows about 16 inches tall and wider in partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. In mild winters, its evergreen foliage provides winter interest. If needed, divide in the spring and prune dead or tattered foliage. Not bothered by deer. — Marian Hengemihle