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Originally published Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 3:01 PM

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Tips on turning an avocado seed into a plant

Ciscoe Morris gives tips on growing an avocado tree from seed; dealing with sow bugs; and planting cauliflower starts.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Garden Lovers' Book Sale: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle. There is a $20 per person admission charge on Friday night for the wine and cheese preview party but not on Saturday. Information: 206-543-0415.

Northwest Fuchsia Society Spring Plant Sale: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday; Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle. Information: www.nwfuchsiasociety.com

Puget Sound Dahlia Association Tuber Sale: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; Bellevue Botanical Garden, 12001 Main St., Bellevue. Information: www.pugetsounddahlias.org or 425-836-4487.

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After making your next batch of guacamole, grow an avocado tree from a seed with your kids. All you need is a fresh avocado pit, three toothpicks and a glass of water. Stick the toothpicks firmly into the sides of the seed and use them to support the seed at the top of the glass of water with the blunt end submerged an inch deep. Keep the glass in a brightly-lit spot but out of direct sunlight and refill the water regularly.

Before long, roots will begin to grow from the base of the seed, and soon after a stem will emerge from the top. When the stem reaches 3 inches tall, pinch out the top set of leaves to encourage branching. Once the glass is practically full of roots, transplant the seed into a 6-inch houseplant pot and fill it with potting soil.

Keep the avocado in a sunny window, water whenever the surface feels dry and fertilize with a soluble houseplant fertilizer every two weeks from March until September. Transplant it into a bigger container every March. Before long, the tree will be taller than your kids!

Be nice to sow bugs and potato bugs

Sow bugs and potato bugs (also known as pill or roly-poly bugs) are actually crustaceans. They're often blamed for chewing holes in the leaves of ornamental and edible plants, yet, except in rare circumstances, these gentle critters just happen to be present at the scene of the crime and are innocent.

Pill and potato bugs rarely, if ever, feed on tomato or hosta leaves. They abhor dry conditions and are happiest hanging out in moist compost piles where they feed on and help break down dead plant materials. The only harm they might occasionally do is to nibble on emerging vegetable seedlings, and that only happens if they are present in large numbers right when the seedlings come up. Prevent them from harming your little veggies by rolling up a moistened newspaper and lying it in the seedbed overnight. The bugs will be attracted to the moist conditions and crawl into the hideout for the night. In the morning, shake them out over the compost pile to allow these beneficial bugs to do what nature intended.

A 'well educated' cabbage relative

Mark Twain once wrote: "A cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education." I'm not sure what he meant by that, but this descendant of a wild cabbage definitely graduated with top honors. It's highly nutritious, low in calories and loaded with antioxidants. Best of all, it's delicious and easy to grow.

It's too late to start cauliflower from seed, so buy starts at your local nursery and plant them by mid-April.

Cauliflower prefers cool, moist growing conditions. If stressed by unseasonably hot weather, it will form small heads, or bolt and go to seed. Be prepared to water and even shade the plants if unseasonably warm temperatures occur.

Cauliflower likes rich soil well amended with compost and performs best in soils with a pH of 6.5 to 7 (slightly acidic but almost neutral). Since our soils tend to be quite acidic, if you didn't apply lime in the fall, mix a handful of organic bone meal into the hole before planting; then side dress with a half-cup of organic vegetable food.

Sun can discolor cauliflower heads, so either grow self-blanching varieties or watch your cauliflower closely. If the leaves aren't sheltering the head by the time it's the size of an egg, gather up the longest leaves, wrap them over the head and secure them with a rubber band. Harvest when the heads are good sized, before the florets begin to separate.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com; "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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About In the Garden

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
ciscoe@ciscoe.com

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