Q. I would like to plant some fruit trees this spring, but I do not have a lot of space. I understand that some need more than one plant to produce fruit. Can you tell me which ones I can grow that do not require more than one plant?
A. Some fruit trees require cross-pollination to produce a satisfactory crop. These include apples, sweet cherries (except Stella and Lappins), and some varieties of grapes and plums.
Others are self-fruitful but produce larger crops when provided a pollinator. These include apricots, blueberries, pears and red raspberries. Those that are self-fruitful and get along just fine without a pollinator include most blackberries, sour cherries, currants, gooseberries, nectarines, peaches (except J.H. Hale), quince, black and purple raspberries, and strawberries. Most fruit catalogs have pollination requirement charts that tell you which varieties are best to pollinate each other.
Do not rule out fruits that require or prefer cross-pollination because of limited space. "Five-in-one" apple trees have several varieties grafted on one tree and provide the needed cross-pollination. Also, related ornamental trees such as crabapples and Bradford pears can provide the needed pollination. If a nearby neighbor has these ornamental trees planted, they may do the trick. Be sure to choose dwarf trees, and grow them on a trellis. This supports the often-weak dwarfing rootstocks and enables you to grow more fruit in a small space.
Q. I have two nice containers that I want to plant with Chinese evergreens, but they do not have drainage holes. Can I just fill the bottom with gravel to provide drainage?
A. Absolutely not! Placing gravel on the bottom of a solid container to improve drainage is one of the most common misconceptions about growing plants in containers. Gravel in the bottom of a solid container actually decreases the soil's ability to drain.
To prove my point, get an ordinary sponge and saturate it with water. First, hold it over a sink lengthwise and see how quickly the water drains from it. Then saturate it again, and hold it widthwise over the sink, and see how much less water drains from it. Finally, saturate the sponge again, and hold it flat over the sink, and see how almost no water drains from it.
Soil works much like the sponge. The longer the soil column, the better it drains; the shorter the soil column, the less it drains. By placing gravel in the bottom of a container, you are shortening the soil column.
A better solution is to get a plastic pot with drainage holes in it. Pot the Chinese evergreen in the plastic pot, and then place the potted plant into your solid container. Whenever you water your Chinese evergreen, be sure to take it out of the solid container and place it in a sink or bathtub until the excess water drains. Then return it to its decorative container. Never allow it to sit in excess water in the bottom of the solid container. Chinese evergreens (and most other plants) are susceptible to root rot in such a situation.
Send questions to Sandy Feather by email at email@example.com or by regular mail c/o Penn State Extension, 400 N. Lexington Ave., Pittsburgh 15208.