Bloomless clematis and a musty basement

Q I have a two-year-old clematis planted in full sun that has never bloomed. The label says it is an "Anna Louise." What should I do?

J.M.,

Baltimore

A "Be patient," advises Susan Austin of Completely Clematis Specialty Nursery in Ipswich, Mass. (www.clematisnursery.com). It's likely that you bought an immature plant. She considers these "the formative years" as the plant establishes itself. There are, however, some actions you can take. Clematis prefer a neutral soil Ph, so you may need to add pelletized lime. Your clematis needs good drainage. And keeping the plant pinched back to 18 to 24 inches will encourage its growth. "You want it short and stocky." For a quick fix, work in some tomato food. Longer term, lightly work in a handful of superphosphate.

Once this type of clematis gets established, in the spring you should cut back the plant by one-third. A common problem, Ms. Austin says, is mislabeling. If all these steps do not get your clematis blooming this season, it may not be an Anna Louise after all.

QThe water line from my well, which brings in very cold water, also leaves moisture on the cellar floor. The result is a very musty and damp basement. I have only two small windows at the top so air circulation is poor. In the past, I have run a dehumidifier, but I am wondering if there is some other way of containing the dampness without having to run this energy consuming device?

R.D.

Castleton, Vt.

A Unless you are conditioning this space for storage,the dehumidifier should not be necessary, says Howard Clark, project manager for Warfield Services Inc., a commercial builder in Natick, Mass.

Adequate ventilation to your basement or crawlspace, however, is of consummate importance for the preservation of your home's superstructure. The windows you mentioned should be screened or grilled, open to the air all year round, not glazed. Typical code requires at least one square foot of open ventilation to every 1,500 square feet of space via a minimum of two openings that provide cross ventilation.

The moisture problem on your well pipes can be solved by insulating (with foam pipe insulation of proper diameter) all exposed cold piping.This will prevent moisture-laden air from coming into contact with them and the resulting condensation.

If you would like to minimize odors, make sure ventilation is maximized so the space can dry out; add more vents up to a proportion of 1 square foot for 150 square feet of space.

Then wash concrete floors and walls with a trisodium phosphate-type cleaner and/or mildewcide. And finally, apply two coats of a masonry sealer. Any new water will now stand and dry before it can be absorbed to support that smelly mold and mildew.

Readers: Pose your questions and we'll seek out experts on home repairs, gardens, food, and family legal issues. Send queries to the Homefront Editor, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail home@csps.com.

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