ASK THE GARDENERS. Questions & Answers

Q Regarding old lilacs, should the multitude of young shoots be pruned away from trunks? Can tops be pruned to keep bushes from getting too tall? Mrs. R.T.W.

Hanson, Mass.

With our own common varieties which are not grafted, we like to have a few sucker shoots coming from under the trunks. It is insurance against borers to have more than one stem. We also like the bushy effect rather than a bare trunk. We suggest pruning out one-third of the suckers each year. If you have a grafted lilac, however, be sure to keep any sucker growth that emerges from below the graft cut off. It will be of a common variety of lilac or it may even be a privet, which, if left alone, will take over the entire bush. Any bush can be trimmed back each year at the top, but it should be immediately after bloom so as not to remove next year's buds.

Q We received a bright pink hydrangea from the florist this spring and wonder how we can keep it over for another year. Blooms have been cut off, but leaves are lush and green. Any we have planted outdoors have put forth new green leaves in spring but no blooms.

S.L.

Kenmore, N.Y.

Since your temperature may drop to between -10 degrees F. and -20 degrees F. during winter, the plant itself would survive, but usually not flower buds. It can be left in the pot and set outdoors in a semi-shady spot during the summer and watered regularly. Bring it back indoors when the weather gets cold and put it in a cool place such as a basement window or a garage where the temperature doesn't fall below 30 degrees F. Give it just enough water to keep it from drying out. Leaves will drop, but new ones will form in late February or March. At that point, move it to bright light and keep the soil moist. It should bloom in April or May. Some folks plant outdoors and put a burlap frame around their plant and stuff it full of leaves or shredded paper. In milder climes they can be planted outside with no protection.

Q I would like to put a hanging foliage plant in my bathroom which has rather subdued light. Is there such a plant that will tolerate this condition?

T.T.

Lowell, Mass.

One of the best vine plants for this situation is one with variegated leaves that are shaped much like heart-leaved philodendron. In fact, it is sometimes mistakenly called this. The botanical name for this plant is Epipremnum, but few plant lovers or growers call it by this name. Popular varieties are usually referred to as Pothos or even by the older name (but not botanically accurate) Scindapsus. A common name is devil's ivy. One variety, called Tricolor, has both silver and cream markings on light green. Marble Queen has silver markings. The plants may require some artificial light to bring back color if light is so subdued that the green begins to predominate.

The plant does well at temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees F. It can go almost dry between waterings but then must be watered thoroughly. It likes a soil with good drainage and plenty of humus. We find a good mix is one part each of coarse sand or perlite, sphagnum peat moss, and garden loam. A liquid feeding of a balanced fertilizer once every four months is sufficient.

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