Question #1

Imagesnorkelpop asks: Are there any bush watermelons? How about cantalopes, Musk Melons, Honey Dews, etc? Lastly, what about Winter Squash?

carrielamont answers: Dear snorkelpop, not BUSH watermelons exactly, but there are definitely miniature species of the fruits you are asking about. The reason I know this is because I read Jan Recchio's articles about her miniature patio garden right here in the Dave's Garden's article series.

One of the best and perhaps least utilized benefits of being a member of Dave's Garden is access to the combined wisdom of all the in-house articles. Look on your top tab under "Guides & Information" and then scroll down the right side of the screen to get to "Articles" (right after edit! Insectipedia). Once you scroll up to "Search articles," just type in what you're searching for, botanical names if you know them but even "kid project" or "soil composition" will get you plenty of hits. In this case, I would try something like "mini melons," without the quotation marks. I found Jan's two articles easily.

Melody adds: There is a 'bush' version of the popular Sugar Baby watermelon. While It isn't exactly a bush, the vines are much shorter than regular-vined melons. If space is an issue, you might try trellising smaller, icebox varieties. The melons will ride happily in slings made from old pantyhose or cheesecloth. Many farms in Japan use this method because space is at a premium there. Some of the smaller winter squash vareties will climb a fence without any additional help as well. There is a Bush Delicata winter squash and Honey Bun Hybrid is a bush canteloupe. So, there are a few varieties of your favorites that tend to have shorter vines.

Question #2

kwwinken asks: For the past 3 years I have been trying to grow summer/winter squash, pumpkins,Image cucumbers and other similar plants. With no luck. They appear to grow and produce healthy vines. However, the female fruit never matures and in some instances the blossom never opens before it dries up and falls off.
The zucchini for instance will grow vines 4 to 6 feet in length and the young fruit will grow to 1 to 3 inches in length before it turns yellow and falls off and the blossom never opens.
Six years ago I gave away a lot of squash from 10 plants. Last year I had 10 plants and got 1 squash. I do shift the planting location in my garden from far right to center to far left on successive years.

I want to know what is happening to my plants, any idea?

Melody answers: If your vines are otherwise healthy, it sounds like a pollination problem. An unpollinated squash will grow to about the size you indicate and then simply dry up and drop off. Do you have good bee activity during the day? Sometimes a lack of bees in the area results in poor pollination. You can experiment and see if it is a pollination issue by hand pollinating squash yourself. Take a small paintbrush or a Q-tip and lift pollen from the anthers of a male flower and gently transfer it to the stigma on a female one. Your little squash should grow and mature. If that isn't the issue, I'd look to the soil. Squash and cucumber vines will abort fruit in heavy clay soil that is too wet. They do not like wet feet and an over abundance of moisture will sometimes result in fruit drop. You could have your soil tested to see if there is a lack of nutrients or a PH problem as well.

Question #3

Imageunkapete asks: Any suggestions for growing bananas as annuals in NJ? (Zone 5/6) Can I start from seeds and should I be starting them now 1/24/11? Thanks!

carrielamont answers: I don't personally know the answer, but I recall reading an article about some crazy woman dragging banana trees out of the basement every summer. Scrolling up to "Search articles" I find the one I remember, by Jill M. Nicolaus about her experiences with growing banana TREES in Maryland. Sorry, unkapete, it sounds like they're not annuals, but read the article for lots more information.

Melody adds: Depending on the species of banana, some seeds can be quite difficult to successfully germinate. Several have specific temperature and soil requirements or the seeds will simply rot. Novice gardeners should obtain 'pups', which are small plantlets that grow along side of the mother plant. The bananas that we find in the supermarket are hybrids and produce no seed. There are banana seeds available for sale at various sites, but you should find out what the particular seed you are purchasing requires when you purchase them. As carrielamont mentioned, many gardeners overwinter mature plants in a garage or basement.

Question #4

Imagetreehug asks: I have raised cyclamen for years. Mine are in my garden outdoors in a shady protected area. They are blooming now, but all of a sudden for the first time ever, I see dime size holes in the leaves. What is eating them?

Melody answers: It sounds like you might have a slug problem. They like shady areas and cyclamen is a favorite treat. Since they hide by day and do their destructive deeds by night, it may be hard to catch them in the act. If you see little silvery trails on the topsoil, that is a sure sign you have slugs. There is commercial bait that you can use. They like beer, and a small dish sunk in the ground will lure them to a watery death. If you like to personally hunt your enemy, a flashlight and salt shaker are your best weapons. A few grains of salt sprinkled on a slug will kill them quickly. Generally, holes chewed in leaves with no culprit in evidence is a dead give away for slug activity.

Remember, if you have a gardening question that you would like to suggest for this feature, post it here. Our writers and admins will handpick a few of your questions and answer them in an upcoming Ask-a-Gardener, one of our Saturday morning features. Other questions may be moved to one of our other forums so your fellow members can help you.