ASK THE GARDENERS. Questions & Answers

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Q I was given a potted amaryllis last year and it bloomed beautifully without any other care but regular watering and a bright window. I was told to water and keep the green leaves growing all summer, then cut them off after they died down. After a few months of rest, leaves started growing again, but there was no sign of blossoms. It still has the green leaves. Is the bulb worth saving? A.G.D.

North Falmouth, Mass.

The bulb is still good. Do not discard it. Last year, you did not give it any plant food. During the period the bulb is growing actively, producing flowers, and later only green leaves, it should be fed and watered regularly. We feed a balanced liquid plant food once a month, during this time. Ours get five hours of sunshine every day, winter and summer. Some folks give them more in winter. They can be kept indoors, or set outdoors during summer months. In late September, if foliage doesn't start yellowing off, they can be induced to take a rest by gradually withholding water. Let them rest for six to eight weeks. If there is still an inch of space on each side of the bulb, no need to repot. If the bulb takes nearly the whole pot, repot in next size larger, setting bulb so half is above the soil. Top inch of soil can have a teaspoon of superphosphate or bonemeal mixed into it. Flush water through soil, then set in good light and do not water again until green starts to emerge.

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Q We have just completed planting three holly trees, two female and one male, which are indigenous to the Cape Cod area. We were informed that they need an acidic soil. Do you have any suggestions for encouraging their growth?

A.C.M.

Plymouth, Mass.

Unlike rhododendrons and azaleas, holly trees do not demand a highly acidic soil. Actually they are not fussy about soil as long as it is well drained and some organic matter is worked into it. They are fond of leaf mold, and we have proved this by working a bushel into each 1 bushel of soil that was taken out of the hole before planting. Leaf mold could also be used as a mulch around the newly planted trees in the fall. If weather gets dry, they should be watered until they are established. They require little feeding if in good soil. A light feeding once a year is ample. Many holly trees do well for years without any fertilizer other than that which comes from nature.

Reader comment:

I would like to make a comment about the proper way to dry helichrysum (strawflowers). The advice on the back of seed packets is usually misleading and wasteful. It says: ``hang stems upside down to dry.'' I always pick off the large blooms (with 1 or 2 inches of stem) as soon as two outside rows of petals are open. The center is still tight. I then push a florist wire up through the center to make a stem. The remaining buds are left on the plant to open at their own speed. I can make about $100 per week for 9 months of the year by selling everlasting flowers to supplement social security.

F.M.

Port Angeles, Wash.

Thank you for your comment. Having been in the florist and nursery business, we learned to pick our strawflower blooms as soon as outside petals were open. At this stage they are the most colorful. When blooms are fully open they fade quickly, and petals may shatter. We use a green florist wire just stiff enough to hold the bloom upright and make a stem, but flexible enough to make a little hook on the end. We push the wire far enough through the bloom to make the tiny hook, by bending the end down. Then we carefully pull the wire back down until the hook is barely visible in the center of the bloom. Center petals usually fold over the hook and the blooms cannot fall off. We immediately stand them upright in vases and they dry beautifully. Florist wire can be bought at hobby shops, or if you are involved in retailing, wholesale floral suppliers.

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