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Georgia Department of Agriculture

Consumer Q's January 2010

Q: Snow and ice have bent and broken limbs on some of my shrubs and trees. When should I begin pruning?
A: Do not be in a hurry to start pruning a branch or a young tree that is bent out of shape. Often the plant will straighten up on its own in a few days. Broken limbs can be pruned immediately. Make cuts with sharp tools. If the plant is completely misshapen after the corrective pruning, consider pruning the entire plant so the subsequent growth will be in balance.

Q: What is a “Sharon fruit?” I saw some at the grocery store. They look like persimmons.
A: Sharon fruit is the marketing name for a type of oriental persimmon. It takes its name from the Plain of Sharon in Israel where many are grown although some are now being grown in Chile. It is non-astringent (won’t make your mouth pucker.)

Q: Has the auction of rehabilitated horses that was cancelled due to bad weather been rescheduled?
A: Yes. The auction will be Saturday February 6, 2010, at the Lawrence L. Bennett Harness Horse Training Facility, 290 Abbeville Hwy, Hawkinsville, Georgia. The gates open at 10:00 a.m., and the sale starts at noon. For more information, photos and a list of horses offered for sale, visit the Georgia Department of Agriculture website at or call 404-656-3713. Proceeds from the auction will go to the care and rehabilitation of impounded horses

Q: Why are barns usually painted red?
A: There are two theories as to why red has become such a popular color for barns.
     Several hundred years ago, European farmers painted their barns with a mixture of linseed oil, milk, and lime, many times also adding ferrous oxide. Ferrous oxide, also known as rust, protected the barns from fungi and moss and gave the paint a dark, reddish-orange color. The colonists may have brought this tradition of red barns to the United States.
     The other theory is that In the 1800s red was one of the most affordable colors of commercial paint, which may be why it became so popular for large barns. Red barns may have also been somewhat of a fashion statement during this time, standing out against the also popular white barns.
     Even with a variety of paint colors available today, many people still paint their barns red out of tradition.

Q:  One of my shrubs looks like it has been killed by the cold weather.  I thought it was hardy.  May I take it back for a refund?
Cold hardiness is not an exact science, and there are numerous factors that come into play when considering how cold hardy a plant is.  A plant may survive 0 degrees F. for one night with no damage provided temperatures rise the next day.  The same plant may be killed outright if exposed to only 15 degrees F. for three nights if daytime temperatures don’t rise above freezing.
     Plants that are well established are less likely to be damaged than those planted more recently.  Cold snaps that follow extremely warm periods are more damaging than those that come after a gradual period of cooling.  Plants that are flushed with new growth due to lots of water and nitrogen fertilizer are also more likely to be damaged than those grown under leaner conditions. Plants in pots and containers are much more susceptible to cold damage because their roots are more exposed than those of plants in the ground.
    Some evergreen plants in sunny areas will experience “leaf burn” if the ground remains frozen for extended periods.  This is because the sunlight will raise the temperature of the leaf and cause it to transpire and lose water.  The plant is unable to absorb water from the frozen ground which leads to the scorched appearance of the leaves. These plants often re-leaf in the spring with no major damage.  This may be the kind of damage you are seeing, and it is premature to write the shrub off as dead. 
     It is also unfair to expect a nursery to predict every possible scenario and guarantee success in all situations and conditions.  If we are that demanding, it may lead to nurseries carrying only Japanese honeysuckle and Chinese privet.

Q: What is the difference between molasses and sorghum?
Sorghum and molasses are both syrupy products with similar textures, but are derived from different plants.  Sorghum comes from juice of the sorghum plant that is boiled down. Molasses is a by-product of sugar production and comes from the sugarcane plant. During the production of sugar, juices from the sugarcane plant are extracted and boiled down to create the crystallized form of sugar commonly sold in stores. As this crystallized version is created, the remainder of the solution forms what is known as molasses. Depending on how many times the sugarcane juice has been boiled, molasses will have a different color, taste and texture.

Q:  What kind of bay is used in cooking?
The bay used in cooking is Laurus nobilis.  It is also known as “sweet bay” or “bay laurel.”  Do not confuse it with other plants with similar names that may be unsuitable or even toxic. 

Q:  I have two identical oaks in my yard.  However, one sheds its leaves early in the fall while the other one holds its leaves almost until winter.  What can be the reason?
  Genetic variability between the trees is probably the main reason.  Oaks, even within the same species, have an especially wide range of characteristics.  Oaks also hybridize freely.  Your trees may look identical, but one may be a hybrid with another oak species, and this could be the reason one retains its leaves longer than the other. Location could be another less important factor involved.  A tree in a protected location, over a water line or sewage line or near a source of artificial light at night will retain its leaves longer than normal.

Q:  Do I need to refrigerate honey?
  No.  Although it will not hurt honey, refrigeration will make it harder to spread.  Storing honey at room temperature will keep it ready to use at all times – those hot biscuits won’t wait. 

Q: What is food coloring made of?  I know some people try to avoid artificial food coloring or dyes.
Ingredients in food coloring and dyes vary.  Some colors are derived from natural sources such as seaweed, seeds and even some insects. Artificial colors are synthetically produced (human made) and used widely because they impart an intense, uniform color, are less expensive and blend more easily to create a variety of hues. Although considered safe to eat for most people, some food coloring – both artificial and natural – can cause problems for people with certain sensitivities.  If you have noticed or suspect problems after consuming products with dyes or added food coloring, contact your doctor.  If your problems are related to these products, you will need to follow your physician’s advice and read product labels so you can avoid the ingredients that are causing problems.

Q:  How much sunlight should a vegetable garden receive?
All vegetables need sunlight.  The garden site should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day.  At least eight to 10 hours each day is even better.  Therefore, vegetables should be planted away from buildings, trees and shrubs which shade the area.  The roots of trees and shrubs will also compete for nutrients and water.

Q: Why did my weeping fig lose all its leaves when I moved it to another window in my apartment?
Weeping figs are very sensitive to changes in their position and changes in the amount of light they receive.  They can easily lose all their leaves after being moved to an area with less light.  It takes a while for them to recuperate from the shock of moving, but they will leaf out again.

Arty Schronce writes this weekly question-and-answer column to address questions about agriculture and questions about the services and products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. If you have a question, please email him at or call him at 404-656-3656.

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