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Originally published Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Plant Talk

Camellia hedge choices | Don't feed raccoons

Q: I have an idea for camellia hedges around my back garden, because they're evergreen and bloom early. Can you suggest what kinds of camellias...

Special to The Seattle Times

Q: I have an idea for camellia hedges around my back garden, because they're evergreen and bloom early. Can you suggest what kinds of camellias might work best as hedges?

A: If your back garden is large and partly shady, camellias would work as a hedge, albeit a large, bulky one. Most grow at least 8 to 15 feet high and wide.

Mature plants, however, can be limbed up so you can then plant beneath, although that makes them less effective as a solid screen. On the plus side, camellias bloom generously and their glossy green foliage looks good all year. Be prepared that camellias need regular watering.

The Great Plant Picks program recommends these camellias for Northwest gardens: Camellia x williamsii 'J.C. Williams' has a solid, compact form and an abundance of clear pink flowers from late winter though spring. Camellia x williamsii 'Brigadoon' has serrated evergreen leaves and large pink semidouble flowers.

Camellia x williamsii 'Donation' is an old favorite, with semidouble pink flowers, an upright form and shiny leaves. Learn more about each of these at www.greatplantpicks.org.

Or see a great many beautiful camellias at the Seattle Camellia Society's first show, to be held at the Graham Visitors Center at the Washington Park Arboretum noon to 4 p.m. March 30. You can find the show schedule at www.seattlecamellia.org.

Q: I have the unfortunate situation of a neighbor who feeds the raccoons cat food. I am challenged to fence a new vegetable garden in a way that will keep out both the deer and the large population of raccoons that fearlessly transit our yard.

I'm concerned not only that raccoons will eat some things like tomatoes, but also that their fecal material contains pathogens that could be transmitted to humans. Can you tell me how to keep raccoons out of a garden?

A: Your neighbor is not only creating a difficult and perhaps even dangerous situation in your neighborhood but also not doing the raccoons any favors. Urban Wildlife biologist Russell Link writes in his book "Living With Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest" (University of Washington Press, 2004) "Feeding raccoons may create undesirable situations ... raccoons that are fed by people often lose their fear of humans and may become aggressive. Artificial feeding also tends to concentrate raccoons in a small area and overcrowding can spread diseases and parasites."

According to Link, raccoon feces may contain a parasite that's possibly fatal to humans.

Link's book, available in libraries and bookstores, gives details on how to keep raccoons, that most dexterous of our native mammals, from climbing over or digging under fences (electrified wires, small mesh size on fences, flashing around the base of vertical structures).

Be sure and keep all pet food stored securely, and pick up fallen bird seed and fruit so as not to attract raccoons. And explain to your neighbor that by feeding raccoons she's creating a potentially dangerous problem for people and pets.

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Link also advises that you wash the vegetables well before you eat them.

For additional information on dealing with raccoons, including how to fence them out of the garden, go to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Web site wdfw.wa.gov, click on Living with Wildlife, then click on mammals and scroll down to raccoons.

For more information on raccoon feces and humans go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site www.cdc.gov/NCIDOD/dpd/parasites/baylisascaris/factsht_baylisascaris.htm.

Valerie Easton also writes about Plant Life in Sunday's Pacific Northwest Magazine. Write to her at P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111 or e-mail planttalk@seattletimes.com with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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