Even a wildflower garden requires care

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

Q. What do you think of the new wildflower mixtures that are now being touted by seed catalogs? Do you think we could have a wildflower garden in place of our lawn?

We like the idea of a wildflower planting worked into a well-planned landscape. We have one in a wooded area and another on a slope. We would not plow up our front lawn and make it into a mini-meadow, however, because it would look too wild.

Landscape plans may or may not include a lawn. There are good plans that make use of ground covers other than mowed grass, incorporating interesting shrubs, ornamental grasses, and trees into a pleasing scheme, using rocks, wood chips, and other accessories.

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A number of seed companies now offer wildflower mixtures for specific parts of the country; some even have mixes for moist, dry, and normal situations. These mixes cannot be strewn on carelessly, because they simply won't grow. They must have a good seedbed, and they will need some care to be sure that noxious weeds (thistles, ragweed, burdocks, sticktights, nettles) do not blow in and take over.

One of the most complete wildflower catalogs is put out by the Applewood Seed Company, 5380 Vivian Street, Arvada, Colo. 80002.

Q. The owners of a nearby family restaurant have offered us coffee grounds for our garden. We have claylike soil, and the garden has not produced very well. Is there any reason for not using the coffee grounds?

Coffee grounds and other such organic matter are great for breaking up a clay soil. They can be put on the compost pile with leaves, grass clippings, vegetable trimmings, shredded newspapers, and the like, and the resulting compost can then be worked into the garden.

In the summer they can be put directly around plants as a mulch and worked into the soil later. Don't be afraid to have mulch that is two or three inches thick.

The coffee grounds are somewhat acidic, so you may want to give your soil a simple pH test from time to time to see if you should add lime. Most garden crops do well with a pH of 6 to 6.8. Coffee grounds are a boon for a ''garbage-can composter,'' as they get rid of odors.

Q. We potted up some paperwhite narcissus in soil so they would bloom for Christmas. They bloomed beautifully, and on shorter stems than those which I have potted in pebbles and water. I placed them in a dark spot for 10 days so they would first form roots. However, an unusual thing happened. One of the bulbs produced yellow flowers instead of white. Why?

A bulb of the yellow variety, Soleil d'Or (sometimes called Rising Sun), got mixed in with your paperwhites. That's all.

Q. I sowed pepper and tomato seeds 3 1/2 weeks ago in your recommended mix: 1 part each of sphagnum peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. I've kept them moist and in our bay window. To date, we've not had one sprout. Why?

Likely your bay window is too cool. To germinate well, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants should have a temperature of about 80 degrees F., both day and night.m The seeds do not need light to germinate, so you could move them to a warmer area. Then the seedlings could be moved back to the window.

Small heat cables or heat mats can be found at garden stores.

An incandescent light can furnish heat, also. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature, and use warm water for watering. Cover the seed box to retain moisture and heat.

You may need to start over. Proper conditions will initiate sprouting in 7 to 14 days.

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