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Garden Q&A: On wild grapes and gutter muck

Fox grapes grow wild and are edible, if quite tart, and good for wildlife. Be careful because there are poisonous wild grapes.
Fox grapes grow wild and are edible, if quite tart, and good for wildlife. Be careful because there are poisonous wild grapes. (Ellen Nibali/For The Baltimore Sun)

These grapes are growing behind my house. Are they edible? They’re about the size of a pea.

This is a wild grape vine, probably fox grapes. The fruit are edible when ripe, though extremely tart for human palates. Great for wildlife.

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One wild grape “look-alike” with poisonous fruits to be aware of is common moonseed. It has dark purple fruits that contain a single flat seed. Wild grapes contain 1-4 pear-shaped seeds. Also avoid porcelainberry, which is poisonous and a foreign invasive. It’s berries are not juicy like fox grapes, and the young vines have lenticels (white dots) while young grape vines do not.

Look at photos carefully and become absolutely sure before eating any wild plants.

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I finally cleared my copper gutters after a few years. Under the newly fallen leaves there was nice dark black stuff. Is it good for compost or mulch? Since it sat in copper gutters for a while and has shingle granules mixed in, can I spread it on my gardens and under shrubs?

Muck from cleaned-out gutters can be used as mulch around plants or added to compost piles. The amount of copper that might be released from copper gutters is minuscule and not a health risk for plants or animals.

There is not much research on the relative risks of contaminants released from composite or asphalt shingles and deposited in water or soil but, based on what we could find, the risks to plants and animals appear quite low..

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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