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Article posted: 3/6/2014 1:01 AM

Trim tangled mess from raspberries

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March is a good time to prune raspberries. These thorny bushes can grow into a tangled mess and produce poorly if not pruned properly.

Prune fall-fruiting raspberries (which fruit between August and October) back to the ground now. Most autumn-fruiting varieties produce fruit in the canes' first year of growth. Cut the old canes as close to the ground as possible so that the buds of the new canes will break from beneath the surface of the soil. If the canes are not cut low enough, side branches may form on the stub that will not be as healthy as new canes.

Summer-fruiting varieties usually set fruit in the canes' second year of growth and require different pruning techniques. Wait to prune these raspberries until right after the harvest.

Fertilize houseplants as they begin new growth. At this time of year, when plants still are growing slowly, try low dosages of organic fertilizers or a very light solution of balanced granular fertilizer rather than stronger formulas. Too much fertilizer can damage plants.

Telltale white salt markings on terra cotta pots indicate a buildup of fertilizer salts. If plants have been overfertilized, flush the soil with plenty of plain water and let it drain.

If you feed birds in your garden, try to keep your dog from eating the fallen birdseed beneath the feeder.

The birdseed alone is probably not going to cause any problems for a dog unless he eats so much that his intestines become impacted. Most dogs can pass small amounts of ingested bird seed. But if birdseed ferments in a dog's stomach and causes a large amount of gas, it can cause bloating that can lead to a life-threatening condition. This requires immediate emergency veterinary attention.

Another hazard is that along with the birdseed your dog might eat droppings, which may contain salmonella bacteria. Salmonella can cause severe digestive upset with a great deal of vomiting and diarrhea that can be fatal in very young or old dogs. The salmonella bacteria can also be passed on to you.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden, chicagobotanic.org.

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