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Homepage / Special Features  / Gardening 101  / Ask the Experts – April 2018

Ask the Experts – April 2018

By Kelly Young

My cat is always trying to eat the leaves of the sweet potato plant I grow as a houseplant in my kitchen. Other than being annoyed at my kitty for always knocking over the jar of water the sweet potato is growing in, should I be concerned?

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) do not belong to the toxic nightshade family (Solanaceae) that includes russet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, so all parts of the sweet potato vine are safe for people and pets to ingest. In fact, sweet potato leaves are a delicacy in many parts of the world. This is a good time of year to transplant the vining sweet potato you’ve been growing indoors into the garden, where it just may yield enough tubers to feed a small party this coming Thanksgiving.

Is it safe to put the shells from colored Easter eggs into my compost?

It depends on how the eggs were colored. Go ahead and compost shells that were dyed using food coloring or one of the coloring kits available at the grocery store. Remove stickers or any plastic coating, as they are not likely to be biodegradable by the fungi and bacteria that turn kitchen and yard waste into dark, rich compost. Keep the pile moist, but not wet (like a sponge that has been rung out), and turn it every five to seven days with a garden fork to keep aerated. If the pile is too dry, the materials won’t decompose, if it is too wet or hasn’t been turned enough, it will smell rotten.

My neighbors have been letting me harvest pads from their prickly pear cactus because it is the variety that can be eaten. While I appreciate their generosity, I should probably plant my own. Where can I buy the right variety of prickly pear to grow in my own yard so I can quit pestering my neighbor?

The flat, delicious stems of some species of prickly pear, such as Opuntia ficus-indica, can add a pleasant tartness to savory Southwest cuisine. There’s no need to buy a plant as long as your neighbor is willing to share the pads from their cactus. Wearing gloves, use a clean, sharp knife to remove a few of the pads at their point of attachment, watching out for the tiny hairlike spines called “glochids.” Set the freshly cut pads in a dry location for a few days away from direct sunlight to allow the wound to callous before planting. Place the cut side down and water weekly to encourage root growth. It may take a few months to see new growth, so be patient.

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