Q. How many inches should a chain link fence be buried to prevent critters from getting into a garden?
-- D.D. of Belleville
A. The ultimate underground fencing should extend at least 12 inches vertically into the ground. Then extend it 6 inches horizontally underground outward from the garden. Hardware cloth with 1/4 -inch holes works better to keep out mice, chipmunks, gophers and moles as the holes on chain link fencing will be too large to prevent these smaller animals from going through.
If your area also includes rabbits, skunks and ground hogs (woodchucks), you may want to also extend this fence 2 feet above ground.
Q. The leaves on my houseplants are getting smaller and smaller. They are also turning a lighter green color. What can I do to prevent this?
-- F.L. of Wood River
A. The leaves growing smaller and smaller is a sign that the houseplants are not getting enough bright light. If the leaves have been on the plant for more than three months, they will not grow larger even if out in a brighter light as the leaves have all of their surface development within three or four weeks. When you increase the light, the plants' new leaves should return to the larger size.
The lighter green color of the leaves indicates that your houseplants need some fertilizer. Sometime in February, as daylight grows longer, you can give your plants a houseplant fertilizer application at half the recommended rate.
Not all the news about our hot and dry summer is bad for plants plants. I received a note from J.P. about her passion vines (passion flowers, Passiflora caerulea) and their rewards this year. Some of these plants survived, and not only did the flower, but some produced fruits. She even sent pictures to show the seed pods and her many of her different varieties -- purple petals with white anthers and pistils, pure white petals with yellow anthers and a deep maroon pistil, magenta petals with white anthers and a white pistil with small dots of magenta, and finally an unusual spotted mauve on white petal with purple anthers and a bright yellow pistil. All are outstanding.
She suggests that it would have been great if the temperatures would have stayed warmer longer. And she is wondering if these tropicals could overwinter here outside, for the truly ornamental flowering forms are native to tropical America.
Most will not survive below 40 degrees and are limited to the southernmost part of the United States outside. Sounds like she will be asking Santa for a greenhouse next year. There are actually 45 species of Passiflora. One species (P. quadrangularis) is even sold at times in the produce section of grocery stores as passion fruit, which is easily identified by its quadrangular shape and golden yellow color. The pulp covering the seeds is the part eaten or used in flavoring beverages and ices.
Do it now
HOUSEPLANTS: Check for brown leaves and dry edges, which indicate low humidity around the plants. Place the plants on a tray with pebbles and add water to the tray for evaporation to increase the humidity.
BULBS: Check any bulbs and plant roots that you are trying to overwinter and make sure the area is not too dry or too wet, which will damage the plant material.
PESTS: Start checking plants for mouse damage now that we have experienced some cold weather.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.