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An avocado from the store, a tree in your home

Dear Master Gardener: I've heard that you can grow an avocado tree from an avocado you buy at the grocery store. Is this an easy thing to do?

Yes, it is easy to grow an avocado tree from an avocado purchased at your local grocery store. If your purpose in growing an avocado tree is to eat the fruit, you will have a long wait and the taste of the avocado will most likely be different from the parent fruit. An avocado tree planted from seed may take seven to 10 years to start bearing fruit.

To turn your grocery store avocado into a houseplant, remove the seed, wash it, and suspend it over a glass or jar filled with water. You can suspend it by inserting three or four toothpicks into the avocado seed, making sure the wider end of the seed is in the water, covered to about one inch. Keep it in a warm place away from sunlight and keep adding water as needed. You may want to change the water every few weeks. The roots and stems should sprout in about two to six weeks.

When the stem has grown about seven inches in length, cut it back to about three inches. When you have thick roots and the tree has started growing out of the top of the seed, plant it in an eight- to 12-inch diameter pot with good quality potting soil, leaving half the seed exposed. Place the avocado tree in a sunny location and water it lightly and frequently, being careful not to over-water. If the leaves turn yellow, then you are over-watering. If the leaves turn brown and the tips curl up, there is too much salt building up in the soil (refer to last month's column about salt build-up in the soil to solve that problem).

Dear Master Gardener: A few weeks ago, my husband went on a business trip to another state and noticed the bed in the hotel had what he thought were bedbugs, so he refused to stay there. Are they for real? What should a traveler do if he or she brings them home?

Bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) are for real and they are on the increase in Minnesota and other states. Most of us haven't experienced bed bugs because they were virtually eradicated from most developed nations after World War II. Entomologists believe the resurgence in bedbugs can be attributed to many factors, such as: an increase in international travel; immigration into the U.S. from areas where bed bugs are endemic; buying, selling, and renting used mattresses, box springs and furniture; and reduced use of pesticides.

You can take precautions when traveling by inspecting the bed in your hotel room, especially behind the headboard, for evidence of bed bugs. These insects can be hard to detect because their flattened bodies can squeeze into the crevices and cracks of beds, box springs, headboards and bed frames. Aside from seeing the obvious live bug, some signs to look for are molted skins or dark, reddish brown fecal matter stains on sheets.

Bed bugs are brown, oval, flattened, wingless insects about the size of an apple seed. They look similar to wood ticks. They hide during the day and come out at night to feed. Victims of bed bug bites are usually unaware they are being bit. It can take up to ten minutes for a bed bug to take a full blood meal. After the bed bug has had its meal of blood it turns a reddish brown, gets larger, and more cigar-shaped. There are no diseases associated with bed bugs, but some people get unpleasant skin reactions.

If you are unfortunate enough to bring them home, they can be difficult to eliminate. Chances are they have hitched a ride on clothing. You should put all suspected items in plastic bags until you can launder, heat or freeze the items. When you wash clothes that you suspect have bed bugs, wash and dry them on the hottest settings the fabric will tolerate. If you find bed bugs in your suitcases, wash them with hot, soapy water, using water that has at least a temperature of 100°to 120° F, and using a scrub brush in the crevices. Another option is putting the articles in a freezing environment (at least 23 degrees) for at least five days.

If you would like more information regarding bed bug identification, behavior and control, go to the University of Minnesota-Extension website at

Dear Master Gardener: I heard on TV that a new and potentially damaging invasive bittersweet plant has been found in Minnesota. What are its dangers and how can I recognize it?

 You heard right. The plant is Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), a climbing vine native to Japan, Korea and China that is now found in 22 U.S. states, including Minnesota. It has not yet been found in the Brainerd lakes area. The invasive species coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture says the threat of Oriental bittersweet is its vines. They have been known to grow to four inches in diameter, wrapping around trees and strangling them. They add weight to the tops of trees, causing them to break or uproot in high winds. They also shade forest floors, allowing fewer seeds to germinate.

Though it is easily confused with American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), Oriental bittersweet differs from American bittersweet in several ways. Oriental bittersweet has wide, glossy leaves and its flowers and fruit are produced abundantly in a great many of the leaf axils. The fruit grows out of yellow capsules. The native American variety has narrow, pointed leaves and fewer as well as larger fruit clusters that grow at the stem tips. Its fruit is released from orange capsules. Both varieties of bittersweet are prized for their decorative qualities, but there is fear that the vigorous Oriental variety will crowd out the native American one.

CROW WING COUNTY MASTER GARDENERS are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension Service. All information given in this column is based on research and information provided by the University. To ask a question, call the Master Gardener Help Line at 824-1000, extension 4040, and leave a recorded message. A master gardener will return your call.