Garden Detective: pruning raspberries

Prune raspberry bushes to provide good air circulation,

Prune raspberry bushes to provide good air circulation, but remove only dead 2-year-old canes after harvest. The rest will bear fruit. (Credit: iStock)

Jessica Damiano

Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist Jessica Damiano

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more

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DEAR JESSICA: When is the best time to prune a raspberry bush I planted last spring? It grew very well and provided a lot of fruit through early December. Do I prune it now in the winter's cold, while the plant is dormant, or wait until spring? -- Frank Aimetti, Hicksville

DEAR FRANK: Raspberry canes are biennial, which means they die after two years. New ones take their place, naturally, and so there's a constant, alternating cycle of life going on within the bush. (The plant's roots, however, are perennial, so they merely go dormant during winter and begin active growth every spring.) Because you say your plant was producing berries in December, you seem to have an ever-bearing variety of raspberry, versus the type that bears fruit in June. The berries you got last fall were produced on the tips of the canes; this summer, the lower portion will bear fruit, and then those canes will die. You should remove dead canes immediately after harvesting, to open up air circulation throughout the plant and create a healthy environment for the remaining canes, which will produce fruit the following year. Waiting until late winter or very early spring also is acceptable.

DEAR JESSICA: Around mid-December, when we had our first below-freezing night, our parsley was still flourishing, so I changed the soil in the pot and brought it indoors. It's still green and growing in our sunroom, and we use cuttings every weekend. Can we expect it to stay alive all winter? And if so, what care does it need? -- Frank Giordano, Seaford

DEAR FRANK: Parsley is a biennial plant, so it will live for two seasons. Sometimes I leave mine out in the garden all winter; it eventually succumbs to the cold but starts right up again for a second season in spring. The second year, however, the leaves aren't as big and robust as in the first year, as the plant pours most of its energy into flower production. Since you've brought your plant indoors, it should easily stay alive all winter, though it might grow a bit spindly. Be sure it gets as much sunlight as possible and there are drainage holes in the bottom of the pot to prevent rotting.

DEAR JESSICA: My backyard is on the south side of my property, and I recently removed all of the shrubs along the border and installed a 6-foot-tall white PVC fence to contain my five young grandsons. The fence on the south side should have partial shade, and the fence on the west side should be shaded for the most part by trees. I plan on planting hydrangeas and viburnums against the fence, with various perennials in front of them. Are there any other non-toxic shrubs (excluding white) you can recommend to mix with these? -- Richard De Stefano, East Meadow

DEAR RICHARD: You gave me quite a challenge: Most of my knee-jerk suggestions for shady and partly shady areas either produce white flowers or have at least a mild toxicity if ingested -- or both. (You should be aware that hydrangea is among those plants considered mildly toxic.) Among plants that can tolerate some shade, holly has berries that are poisonous, and azaleas, acubas and skimmea are toxic. Japanese barberry would lend nice color, but its thorny branches are vicious. Pieris and cherry laurel are toxic, too.

If the children will spend unsupervised time in the yard, you probably should forgo designing your garden until they are older. Why not plant a vegetable garden for now? Leafy greens like lettuce, spinach and kale can handle quite a bit of shade, and I'm betting your grandsons would enjoy watching them grow, and then harvesting and eating them.