Q. I love Asian pears and was told that they do grow in Maryland. Would they work in a backyard garden?
A. Yes, they will. There's no need to pay $3 per pound for those luscious fruits when you can grow them at home. The Asian pear makes a handsome, long-lived tree that will usually produce a lot of fruit, with little or no spraying for insects and diseases.
It's very hard to find good dwarfing rootstocks for Asian pears, so you will have to prune every year to maintain the desired shape and size. 'Hosui' and 'Olympic' are two cultivars that have performed very well in our region. Consult library books and Web pages for detailed growing information.
Q. I can't wait to try out the new light stand a friend made for growing flower and vegetable transplants. But my basement temperature is only around 60 degrees. Will they grow OK down there?
A. Although plants in these stands grow directly under the built-in fluorescent lights, you have a problem. Your basement is too cool. Most flowers and vegetables germinate best at 75-85 degrees and grow best at 65-75 degrees. So you'll need to add heat.
You have several options: Drape the light stand with clear plastic (at least 4 millimeters thick) and place a small, fully enclosed ceramic heater on the floor underneath. The heater must have a thermostat that will turn it on around 65 degrees and off at 75-80 degrees.
You can also buy heating cable or a propagation mat that provides bottom heat to germination trays. There are also plastic covers that fit on top of seedling trays that hold heat and humidity and promote germination.
Finally, you can germinate seeds on top of your refrigerator or in some other warm spot and then move them to the basement. In your case, however, you'll still have to supply additional heat down there.
Q. Is it OK to spray houseplants with vegetable oil to make the leaves shine?
A. No, it's not. The oil might damage the foliage. You could buy one of those plant-shining products on the market, but the simplest method is to wipe your leaves with a damp cotton cloth.
THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST
1. Ignore the red and black box-elder bugs sunning themselves on your house's exterior; they are harmless. Smashing them may permanently stain your siding and trim.
2. Check out landscape-design books and Web sites for ideas on creating new plantings or redoing your landscape this spring.
Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd. edu/users/hgic.
Pub Date: 02/14/99