Ask The Gardeners, Q&A

Q. My children gave me a gorgeous pink hydrangea for Mother's Day. When I received one a few years ago the florist told me I could plant it outdoors. The plant, however, has had lush green leaves each summer, but not a bloom. Do you think this one will behave differently or is there some way I can keep it as a potted plant?

In areas where the temperature may drop below zero F., the flower buds of the florist hydrangea are usually killed. A friend, however, has planted several in a protected spot (south alcove of her house). By banking them up with a foot of soil each fall, plus covering with a thick blanket of leaves held in place with a tarp, she has had blooms every year except one when the temperature fell to minus 25 degrees F. She always prunes after bloom.

To have it flower again in a clay pot, shift to a size-larger pot after it finishes blooming, then prune to about the second node above the pot. Set outdoors in a tray for easy watering (the soil must be kept moist) in a mostly sunny spot until frost time, feeding twice a month.

When the leaves drop, set plant in a protected area of about 35 to 45 degrees F. until early January. Then bring it into a room where the night temperature can range between 50 and 60 degrees F. Liquid-feed every two weeks until buds appear (about 21/2 months).

Q. Would you please help settle a neighborhood controversy: to remove or not remove the grass clippings. Also, some of us have new lawns which are not yet thick. Should we allow the grass to grow tall before mowing?

All lawns should be mowed to keep the grass about 21/2 inches high during the summer. Mowing stimulates the grass seedlings to grow. Leaving the clippings on provides humus and fertilizer so you can save up to 30 percent on your lawn-fertilizer bill.

The exception to leaving the clippings on is when circumstances prevent mowing until the grass is 5 or more inches tall. Even then, you should put the clippings on the compost pile to break down into a valuable soil amendment. Some folks put the clippings directly on the garden as a mulch.

Q. Last year we tried growing dishrag gourds (luffa) for sponges, but none of them grew to maturity because of an early frost. This year we started them in tubs in our little greenhouse, then moved them outdoors against a trellis. We already have more small gourds than we need for sponges and wonder if we could eat some of them. They look a lot like zucchini squash.

Luffa gourds take at least 120 days to mature. We also start ours indoors and sometimes grow them to full maturity in the greenhouse. Yes, they can be used like zucchini squash. We like them stir-fried and in soups.

Q. I purchase a few new roses every year, but often wonder why none of the new varieties have the true rose fragrance. How I long to walk in a rose garden such as my grandmother used to have, where the lovely scent of damask roses, cabbage roses, and others filled the evening air!

Unfortunately, most rose breeders concentrate on color, size, and perfection of bloom rather than fragrance. Some fanciers have demanded a return to more fragrant varieties. A few such new varieties are on the market, but none can compare with those you mention.

Some companies specialize in old-fashioned roses. One we've had longstanding communication with is Roses of Yesterday & Today, 802 Brown Valley Road, Watsonville, Calif. 95076. A friend sent us the following names: High Country Rosarium, 1717 Downing Street, Denver, Colo. 80218; Lowe's Own-Root Roses, 6 Sheffield Road, Nashua, N.H. 03062; and Pickering Nurseries, 670 Kingston Road, Pickering, Ontario, Canada L1V 1A6.

Q. We have been growing chrysanthemums for two years and this year they are much taller than they were the first year. They are, in fact, sprawling all over the place. Why are they not short and bushy as they were the first summer?

Regular division of clumps each spring helps mums to remain compact. Also, they should be pinched back about 2 inches when the shoots are about 6 inches tall.

If you neglected to do this, you can still pinch up to the last of July, if you have October-blooming plants. An August pinching is all right, too, if the weather in your area permits November-blooming outdoors.

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

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