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Originally published Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 5:30 AM

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Pruning arborvitaes, growing vegetables from saved seed

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris answers reader questions about whether to prune an arborvitae hedge to protect it from snow damage, and whether seeds from a saved ear of corn will be successful.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Garden D’Lights at the Bellevue Botanical Garden: 5-10 p.m. Nov. 30-Jan. 4, featuring more than a half-million lights. 12001 Main St., Bellevue; $5, age 10 and under free, advance ticket purchase online recommended (

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In the Garden

Q: An arborist suggested topping my arborvitae hedge so that the top branches don’t splay out if we get snow. They’re healthy now and I like them tall so I’m worried about cutting them. Is it really something I should do?

A: Although arborvitaes (Thuja occidentalis) can generally withstand cutting back, I don’t think pruning the top off guarantees the trees will make it through snowfall undamaged.

I’m sure the arborist’s idea is to cut down to where the branches are thicker in the hopes they’ll be better able to withstand the weight of the snow, but I know from experience that heavy snow can cause even substantial branches to splay out or bend downward.

A better solution is to have the arborist wrap the top part of each tree with deer fencing. Deer fencing is made of black plastic and looks just like bird netting, but it’s much stronger and will last for years. It’s relatively inexpensive and once wrapped around the top of the tree, it’s practically unnoticeable, especially after new spring growth grows through to hide it. Simply wrap the fencing around the top branches, and tie the ends of the netting together to hold the branches in place.

The problem with this solution is that depending on how fast the tree grows, it might be necessary to have someone climb up and rewrap the top of the tree at least every 3 to 5 years to make sure the top growth remains supported.

It’s a bit of work, but if you go the pruning route, you’ll need to have it done every year, which will end up more expensive in the long run.

Q: This year I grew a great crop of ‘Bodacious’ Hybrid sweet corn. I saved the largest ear to use for seed next year, but a friend told me it won’t grow. Is this true?

A: The short answer is that you should have eaten that big ear of corn rather than saving it for its seeds.

Seeds of modern hybrids rarely produce the same offspring as the plant they came from. That’s because breeders cross-pollinate two plants, each with desirable traits such as extra sweet flavor and disease resistance. The result is a totally new plant with the positive characteristics of both parent plants.

Since the seeds that produce a hybrid, in this case ‘Bodacious’, can only be created by crossing the pollen of the parent plants, if the seed from the hybrid produces anything, it will be something different from itself. If you try sowing the seed, there’s no way to know what you’ll get, but it will likely not be as good as the hybrid it came from, and most likely will be an inedible dud.

If you want to grow vegetables from saved seed next season, plant seed from packets labeled heirloom. These plants are not modern hybrids and the seeds produce plants that are basically the same as the mother plant.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, hybrid plants should not be confused with genetically modified crops known as GMOs. GMOs involve modification of genes and DNA and are something completely different.

So next summer, get out the butter and enjoy that sweet juicy ear of ‘Bodacious’ Hybrid corn.

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.

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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.

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