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We built a seed-starting chamber with help from your very fine suggestions. Everything sprouted and has grown well except larkspur, which I especially wanted. The seed was new this year. Can you tell me why it didn't sprout and if there is still time to start it from seed this year?

Larkspur is one of the few annuals that need a cool temperature to germinate (between 55 and 60 degrees F.; 12 to 15 degrees celsius).

Seeds usually take between 15 and 20 days to germinate, and young plants like to remain cool for about two weeks to establish good roots. Always cover lightly with soil, as they need darkness to germinate well.

You can start them indoors or in your area (northern Illinois) you should be able to plant them directly outdoors, as we do, the last week in May, and get blooms by mid- to late August.

I started some polka dot plants from seeds with the idea of giving some to friends as potted houseplants. I have so many of them that I wonder if they would do all right planted outdoors in my flower bed. The pink dots on dark green leaves would fit in very nicely. Could they be taken up in fall and brought in as houseplants?

Polka dot plants make a delightful addition to flower gardens. Both Hypoestes sanguinolenta (pink dots) and Hypoestes white polka (white dots) grow well outdoors where temperatures remain 50 degrees F. or above.

It would be better to take cuttings in fall and root in water than to try to lift the mature plant, although it can be dug and divided with care.

Why did my pole beans have small, slightly curled pods last year? We want to avoid the problem this year.

The major cause of small pods on beans is a lack of moisture. Soil should never be allowed to become bone dry, especially when pods are forming.

Getting more organic matter into your soil and using a mulch will help conserve moisture during dry spells.

Would you make some comments about staking up tomato plants vs. letting them sprawl on the ground?

First we'll list the advantages of stalking:

1. Earlier fruiting and ripening.

2. Cleaner fruit, free from ground spots.

3. Fruits are larger, on the average.

4. Easier picking.

5. Higher production per square foot (but it takes more plants to accomplish it).

6. Avoidance of snail and slug injury.

The disadvantages are:

1. More work in supporting and tying plants.

2. Less fruit per plant.

3. More likelihood of getting sun-scalded .

4. More likelihood of blossom-end rot, since plants are subject to drying winds and more intense sunlight. Unstaked plants sprawl over and shade roots.

5. More staked plants required to produce the same amount of tomatoes that would be produced by unstaked ones.

Whichever method you use, be sure to use a mulch material around your plants to conserve moisture and keep roots cool.

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. Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists, authors of several books on gardening, and greenhouse operators for 25 years.

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