Q: I usually put gravel in the bottom of my flower pots before adding soil and plants. My neighbor uses a handful of rocks she collects from our creek instead. Should I be doing that?

A: For years, experts told gardeners to put a layer of gravel, pebbles, sand or broken pieces of pot in the bottom of the pot before potting up houseplants or outdoor plants. The idea was to improve drainage. But research shows that this advice is wrong. Water doesn’t travel well from one medium to another. So when water runs down through your potted plant’s soil, it stops when it reaches the gravel. That means your plant’s roots are sitting in soggy soil - just what you were trying to prevent. Better to fill the whole pot with potting mix.

If you’re concerned that the mix will wash out of the hole in the bottom of the pot, you can cover the hole with a piece of screen, a coffee filter or a pot shard, but make sure water still runs through.

Q: I have about 30 Northblue blueberry plants and 10 Polaris blueberry plants with lots of blossoms but no bees to pollinate. What can I do?

A: Honeybees and many kinds of native bees pollinate blueberries. I have seen a variety of bees around my blueberries and serviceberries this week, so there should be plenty around your yard, too, unless they have been killed by pesticides. The bees won’t visit until the flowers are open and ready for pollination.

Often, bees are there but we don’t notice them. Sit quietly near your plants on a sunny, calm day and see if they are being visited. If you’re certain they’re not, use a small paintbrush or cotton swab to move the pollen from one flower to another. Alternating between the varieties - putting the pollen from a Northblue onto a Polaris - is recommended. These varieties don't need a different variety to fruit, but they will produce better when cross-pollinated.

Written by University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County.

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