Ask the gardeners

Please tell me how to care for a lipstick plant. Are they difficult to flower? The lipstick plant (Aeschnanthus) has 2-inch-long red tubular flowers which resemble an opened tube of lipstick; hence its name.

The plant likes good light and a temperature of 72 degrees or so. It also likes a loose, fibrous soil. Allow the plant to dry out somewhat between waterings.

We have Swedish ivy that was given to us in beautiful condition last fall, but now is ''down in the dumps.'' The ivy was hung next to our picture window all winter. On the side toward the glass, the leaves have brown edges. Is it possible it could have got chilled during the extremely cold weather? Our thermostat is always kept at 65 degrees F. You guessed correctly. We've had many complaints of ''plant chill'' from those areas of the country hit by wind and cold in January and February.

A temperature of zero but with a 15-mile-an-hour wind can mean wind chill outdoors of -36 degrees F. This affects glass like a block of ice, and plants sitting near it get frosted.

Next winter move your plants toward the middle of the room on cold nights.

This is my first year at gardening. I planted some tomato seeds and they sprouted beautifully, but after about a week all of them lopped right over and wilted. Is there still time to start some more? And how can I prevent this from happening again? Tomatoes need only about six weeks from sowing to setting outdoors.

The next time you sow seeds, use one of the peat-lite mixes, or make up your own mix with one part each of sphagnum peatmoss, vermiculite, and perlite. These are relatively ''sterile'' and will not contain ''damping-off'' spores, the problem afflicting your plants.

As soon as the seedlings sprout, move them to a good light place with plenty of ventilation. If the air is stagnant, you can keep a tiny fan blowing (but not directly on the seedlings). This keeps any spores suspended so they cannot light on the plants.

Our fruit trees do not bear as heavily as we would like. Is it true that if we drive rusty nails into the trunks they will make the trees bear better? The answer is no. The failure of a tree to flower and bear fruit has little to do with an iron deficiency. This is simply an old-wives tale that's difficult to debunk.

Even if iron deficiency were a problem, the trees would get very little iron from rusty nails driven into the trunks. Weather conditions and lack of ''rooster trees'' for proper pollination are possible causes of skimpy crops.

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