ASK THE GARDENERS. Questions & Answers

Q A friend has given me some Monkshood plants which she started from seeds last fall. They are now in pots. Neither of us knows how deep they should be planted or if they can tolerate shade or what kind of soil they need for sturdy growth. Also, can you give us the botanical name and tell us if they are toxic. A neighbor has just told us they are poisonous plants. C.J.

Grand Rapids, Mich.

Monkshood (Aconitum) grow best in a rich, moist soil, in semishade. We successfully grew some along the edge of our woods, where they got morning sun only. All parts of the plant are considered toxic (but rarely fatal) if ingested, as are many members of the Ranunculaceae family. It is well to locate them where no little children will be tempted to pick the seed capsules or hooded flowers. They should be planted so the crown is about an inch below the soil level. When well established, these plants will thrive in the same location for years.

Q Is there any fruiting plant in the form of either a dwarf tree or shrub that can be grown reasonably well in a living room under fluorescent light? Are there sources from which one can order such trees?

R.W.

Stanford, Calif.

There are several species of citrus that can be grown quite well indoors. Calamondin is one of the easiest to grow in the home, and it is naturally dwarf. It is a hybrid fruit produced from a cross between a kumquat and a sour mandarin orange. The kumquat itself is an excellent container plant. Other hybrids that are good fruit producers are limequat and orangequat. If you are serious about growing citrus in your home, we suggest you write to one of the mail order houses supplying these fruit trees and ask for their catalog. A mail order house on the West Coast is Four Winds Growers, 42186 Palm Ave., Box 3538, Fremont, CA 94538. Florida is a prime shipper of dwarf citrus, and one well-known nursery is Alberts & Merkel, 2210 S. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach, FL 33435.

To obtain more information about indoor citrus, you can join the Indoor Citrus Society, c/o Mr. Richard Ray, 176 Coronado Ave., Los Altos, CA 94022.

Q I would like to know if there is any component in peanut shells which would make them unsatisfactory for use as a mulch in the garden. I once used sunflower shucks and found a few days later that they contained a substance which would be detrimental to plants growing near them.

S.K.

Portland, Maine

You are referring to what is called allelopathy. It is the same reason some plants cannot be grown near walnut trees, because the juglone in walnut roots will cause other plants coming in contact with it to be stunted. The stunting factor in sunflower shucks has not been determined, and it does not affect all plants. So far as we know, there is no substance in peanut shucks which is allelopathic.

Q Can you identify for me an annual which I was able to get from a nursery last year? This year they do not have it and they cannot give me the correct name. The label on it was something like ``estomeia,'' but I have not been able to find this listed in books or catalogs. It had beautiful purple tulip-shaped blossoms and kept blooming all summer. I would like very much to know where to obtain seeds so I can grow my own next year.

P.W.N.

Norwich, Conn.

We believe the annual you are referring to is Eustoma, also listed in some catalogs as Lisianthus. The confusion lies in the fact that botanists listed it under two names: Eustoma russellianum and Lisianthus russellainus.

At present it is listed botanically as Eustoma grandiflorum. It has been developed from prairie gentian, which ranges from Nebraska to Texas.

Purportedly, Japanese plant breeders took seeds back to Japan and developed the present large flowered cultivar, which is available in pink, white, and purple-blue. Further hybridizing has produced double flowers also. It has handsome, incredibly long-lasting flowers. The plant tolerates hot weather well. Plants from seeds started in February will bloom from June to September. In warm areas, plants will live through the winter.

Unfortunately, the public is inclined to buy bedding plants that are already blooming, so they have unknowingly slighted a beautiful bedding plant because it is usually in the bud stage during the spring plant-buying push. Thus garden stores are reluctant to handle it. Fortunately, many large seed houses handle it. Try contacting Park Seeds, Greenwood, SC 29647; Burpee Company, Warminster, PA, 18974; and Harris Seed Company, Buffalo Rd., Rochester, NY 14624.

Reader comment: Two years ago I learned from your column of a plant that repels moles and gophers in the garden. I had oodles of moles, and the various deterrents I tried had no permanent effect. The plant you recommended was Euphorbia lathyrus. I purchased seeds from J.L. Hudson Company (Box 1058 Redwood City, CA 94064). I froze them for a short while, then planted a dozen or so. The seeds were very slow to germinate, but I got four good healthy plants which I put in corners of the yard. One is huge (5 feet tall and 18 inches in diameter). I have not had a single mole mound since.

S.N.

Portland, Ore.

Thanks for telling us of your success with Euphorbia lathyrus (common name caper spurge). Several others have told us the plant has proved effective in their gardens. Another source is Thompson and Morgan, Box 1308, Jackson, NJ 08527.

Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists.

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