Q - I try to grow fruit in my backyard, but blackbirds take the blueberries, bluejays ruin the grapes, and all of them feed on the sweet cherries. What can I do?

A - There are three things that can be done and none is very satisfactory. You can limit the attractiveness of your garden to birds, limit the birds' access to the fruit, or eliminate the birds.

Most birds feed close to a protective cover that offers them refuge when threatened. It might help to limit bird damage to the fruit by removing these safe areas. When planting fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, do it away from such covers.

Scarecrows, hawk replicas, aluminum strips and pie plates have some effect in small areas, but their effectiveness soon wears off.

Perhaps the most successful anti-bird practice is to cover the plants with some type of netting until harvest is finished.

Eliminating the birds is not a good alternative. Many of the songbirds, which usually take most of the fruit, are protected by law.

The best alternative may be to plant enough fruit for you and you and the birds both. On close examination, you may find there's a lot of fruit left after the birds have had their fill.

Q - I've been told to water my tomatoes only when they need it. How can I tell when that is?

A - Most plants use a sign language that's easily understood if you look at them closely. Become familiar with the symptoms of air pollution, nutrient deficiencies, the presence of insect pests and need for water. Each has identifiable characteristics.

In mass plantings, the identity of individual plants may be lost, but one plant skipped during watering will immediately let you know of its distress by wilting.

If you have a question for Tom Stevenson, write to him at

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