Extension News

Ask the ISU Extension Experts

Note to media editors: Got gardening questions? Contact the Iowa State University Extension Hortline at (515) 294-3108 (Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-12 noon and 1-4:30 p.m.) or send an e-mail to hortline@iastate.edu. For more gardening information visit us at Yard and Garden Online at www.yardandgarden.extension.iastate.edu.


How can I propagate bittersweet? 
American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) is dioecious. Dioecious plants bear male and female flowers on separate plants. Only the female plants produce fruit. A male plant must be present for pollination. Fruit set occurs when pollen from a male flower is transferred to a female flower by bees and other pollinators. Gardeners need to plant at least one male and one female bittersweet vine to produce fruit.

Bittersweet can be propagated from seeds. Collect the fruit (capsules) as soon as they split open. The seeds of bittersweet are enclosed in a fleshy, orange-red material. Remove the seeds from the capsules and let them dry indoors for 2 to 3 weeks. Then place the seeds in the ground in fall.  Place the seeds a quarter to a half inch deep. Bittersweet seeds need to be exposed to cool, moist conditions before they will germinate.  This cool, moist requirement is met by winter conditions in the soil. 

Bittersweet also can be propagated by softwood cuttings. Softwood cuttings are collected in June or July from the current year's growth. They should be approximately 4 to 6 inches long.  Cuttings should be rooted in coarse sand or perlite. After inserting the cuttings, water them in, then place a clear, plastic bag over the cuttings and the container so the cuttings don't dry out.  Place the cuttings in bright light, but not direct sun. The cuttings should develop good root systems in 6 to 8 weeks. Pot up the cuttings when they've developed good root systems. Make sure you make cuttings of both male and female plants. 

What kind of materials can I use to mulch my strawberries?  Clean, weed-free straw and chopped cornstalks are excellent mulches. Leaves, however, should not be used as they tend to mat down and don’t provide adequate protection. Apply approximately 3 to 5 inches of material. After settling, the mulch layer should be 2 to 4 inches thick. 

Should I clean and till my vegetable garden this fall or early next spring? 
Fall clean-up and tillage provide several benefits. Many plant pathogens overwinter in the garden on infected plant debris. Removal and destruction of the diseased plant debris reduces the severity of many diseases. Removal of the plant debris also eliminates overwintering sites for some insects and helps reduce insect populations. Additionally, a fall-tilled garden dries out and warms up more quickly in spring, permitting earlier planting of cool-season crops. 


Contacts :

Richard Jauron , Horticulture, (515) 294-1871, rjauron@iastate.edu

Jean McGuire , Extension Communications and Marketing, (515) 294-7033, jmcguire@iastate.edu