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Originally published Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 5:00 AM

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The birds and the bees — and your pear trees

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris answers questions about Asian pear trees that won’t produce fruit, and the right timing for fertilizing the garden.

Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

MsK Nursery Seasonal Opening and Rain Gardens Plant Sale: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Kruckeberg Botanic Garden, 20312 15th Ave. N.W., Shoreline (206-546-1281 or www.kruckeberg.org).

Green Elephant Plant Swap: 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, gardeners exchange and share plants, seeds, ideas and gardenalia with all. Church of the Holy Cross, 11526 162nd Ave. N.E., Redmond (425-885-5882 or www.holycrossredmond.org).

Seattle Rose Society pruning demonstration: Noon-3 p.m. Saturday, Woodland Park Rose Garden, 750 N. 50th St., Seattle (www.seattlerosesociety.org).

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In the Garden

Q: I have three Asian pear trees. For years, all three did great, but now only one variety produces and even most of those drop off before reaching maturity. The trees are growing in sunshine and flower well. How can I get them to produce again?

A: The problem is most likely being caused by a lack of pollination. Fruit trees know they’re on Earth to reproduce and won’t waste energy ripening fruit that doesn’t develop seed. In order to form a pear with enough seed to last all season, a flower must be visited by a bee bearing pollen from the blossom of a different variety of pear at least 30 times.

As you are probably aware, European honeybee populations have been in serious decline over the last decade, and there just aren’t enough of them left to get the job done. I recommend giving orchard mason bees a try. These are small blue native bees that seldom sting and are fantastic pollinators.

Starter kits, equipped with bees and nesting chambers, should still be available at local nurseries but don’t delay because the bees will hatch soon. You won’t notice much difference the first season, but if you follow the directions carefully, the bees should build up to large enough colonies to make a real difference by the second year. Once that happens, they’ll do such a great job, your well-pollinated pears will get so big it’ll take three guys to bring each one into the house!

Q: Should I fertilize my vegetable-garden soil now to prepare for spring seeds?

A: The best time to fertilize your vegetable garden is just before you sow the seed or plant starts. If there isn’t anything growing in your vegetable garden right now, however, this would be a good time to work in amendments to improve your soil before you plant.

As soon as the soil is about as moist as a squeezed sponge, spread compost 4 inches deep over the surface of the soil. If you didn’t work agricultural lime in over the winter, spread a pound of lime over each 10 square feet on top of the compost.

Now use your digging fork to mix these amendments into the soil 12 inches deep. The compost will add gazillions of beneficial organisms that will help keep undesirable fungus and bacteria from gaining an upper hand. Working in compost will also increase water- and nutrient-holding capacity in the soil, while improving soil structure. The lime will add calcium and help raise pH to levels better suited for growing most types of vegetables.

Once you’ve completed the amendment process, you’re ready to work in your organic fertilizer, and sow your seeds. Don’t overdo the fertilizer. For most greens, one cup of organic-vegetable food worked into the soil per 10 row feet is sufficient. Also, if your garden is quite large, and you don’t want to look like a Seahawk that was left in the game too long, don’t try to do the whole shebang in one shot. Divide the garden into sections and take on a manageable-sized chunk each spring.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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About Ciscoe Morris

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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