Ask the gardeners

I have been fond of Columbine since childhood. For two years I have searched garden stores in our area for plants. Is it possible to start them from seeds? I tried this with seeds from a friend's plant, but to no avail.

Columbine seeds often germinate erratically. Better to order seeds from a reliable seed company. Most offer a good selection of perennial seeds. You will find it listed under Aquilegia, usually.

McKana's Giant are favorites; however, we tried the variety Spring Song (an F 1 hybrid) and found it earlier, brighter colored, and more floriferous. Although the preferred method of starting plants is to sow in July or August and overwinter plants in a coldframe, you can sow seeds in January or February and get some bloom the first summer.

We have some bulbs and tubers which we have kept in bags in a cool room because we plan to move in spring. Should we be treating them in some other way? We have tulips, daffodils, dahlias and cannas.

Pot up the tulips and daffs immediately, water them well, and store where it's between 30 and 45 degrees F. for 8 weeks so they can form roots. An old refrigerator, spot beside sheltered side of house or a coldframe is OK. If kept outdoors, and your temperatures go much below freezing, cover pots with a foot of leaves, sawdust or straw and cover with boards or a tarp. Rooted bulbs can then be forced indoors, or gently lifted from pots and put in ground at your new home. If dahlias and cannas show any shriveling, put them in moist peatmoss until spring.

I brought my plants in from the cold and noticed that within a few days a thin layer of white mossy growth formed on the soil. What is it and how do I get rid of it. Will it eventually harm the plants?

It is probably one of several molds that would form on decaying organic matter in the soil. Soils that contain rotted compost, manure, or leaf mold may have a moldy fungus growth form on them.

Use the tines of a fork to remove the growth and also to stir up the soil a bit so air can penetrate. If growth hasn't formed on the leaves of your plants, then it's not powdery mildew, and you have nothing to worry about.

I bought several small Christmas cactuses from a greenhouse. I had them in my home only about three days when the buds started dropping off. Is this the fault of the greenhouse or is it something I'm doing wrong?

Our mail has been full of ''bud drop'' complaints on holiday cactuses. It is because the air in homes is too warm and dry. Temperatures in greenhouses usually drop to 55 or 60 degrees F. at night, at which temperature holiday cactuses (and many other plants) do best. Also, greenhouses have much more humidity.

At home the soil dries out much faster and the plant cannot take up enough water to hold the buds on the plant. All plants need more water at blooming time , and usually more humidity than is found in most homes.

However, the plants should never be watered so much that the soil is soppy. They will rot off at the base. If this should happen, cut off the rotted portion and root the remaining live stem.

If you have a question about your garden, inside or out, send it to the gardening page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115.

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