Ask the gardeners Q&A

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Q We have recently moved to Florida from the North, and growing flowers has been a pleasure. I can usually root almost any slip, but not geraniums. I've tried sand, perlite, and peat moss with no success. A. H. Tampa, Fla.

We have the best success rooting ours in one part each perlite and vermiculite. We snap the slips off at a joint, instead of cutting them, then lay them on a shelf (out of the sun) for half a day to form a callus. We make slips no longer than 3 or 4 inches and all leaves are stripped off except the top 2 or 3 (to reduce transpiration). Insert in moist medium and keep moist at all times after cuttings are inserted. Keep them out of sun but in good light. Q Our tomatoes were slow to ripen this year, but when they do ripen they have black spots on the blossom ends. Our summer was dry. Could this be a reason? T. E. S. Stroudsburg, Pa.

Cool nights (below 65 degrees F.) cause slow ripening. Even though there are a few warm nights (75 to 80 degrees F.) during the season, they won't make up for the consistently cool temperature the rest of the time. If soil is not kept moist so plants can take up water as the tomatoes are growing, cells on the blossom ends break down and turn black and leathery.

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A thorough soaking early, then an application of a mulch 3 or 4 inches thick, will help retain moisture the rest of the season. In between, use waste water to keep soil moist under the mulch, if you have a water shortage. Adding organic matter to the soil before planting time will help retain moisture. Q We have forsythia along one side of our property line and Tartarian honeysuckle (especially for the birds), along the opposite property line. They have become very overgrown with many thick canes on the inside. If we prune them back now, will it affect the quantity of blooms next spring? C. N. C. Barrington, Ill.

If tops are pruned back now, then the shrubs will bloom very little, because spring flowering shrubs form their flower buds during the summer. But you can remove the old canes at ground level, leaving the younger canes untouched to flower in the spring; you'll still have a floral display on both and fruit on the honeysuckles. If you wish to cut some of the top back, it's best to wait until right after spring blooming. Q My children were snapping seed pods of impatiens in our large flower bed. About two weeks later seedlings came up near the mature plants. Is it possible these seeds germinate so quickly? If so, could we plant some for blooms indoors this winter? Also, can we save seeds for planting next spring? G. H. Falmouth, Mass.

Yes on all counts. You can sow seeds anytime now for winter bloom. To store over winter, let the seeds dry several days on a paper towel, then store in a glass jar with screw-top lid. Add a tablespoon of dry milk wrapped in a paper tissue and secured with a rubber band. This acts as a desiccant. Seed pods don't need to be brown, but seeds should be. If the pod pops open when it's gently pinched on the end and seeds fly out, then they are ready to harvest. Store in a cool, dry place.

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