Ask the gardeners

Please tell me why I can't grow good cauliflower. The plants start to head out before they're large enough and we only get nubs.

Cauliflower grows best in cool, moist weather. Unlike cabbage, it will not withstand severe freezing nor extreme heat such as you often get in Illinois.

During very hot weather the plants are likely to send out heads when only 2 or 3 inches tall regardless of soil moisture.

Try setting the plants out in July so the crop will head in September or early October when the temperatures are cooler. Sow seeds outdoors in mid-to-late June and transplant into the garden in late July.

Some varieties have more resistance to hot weather. Snow King and Snow Crown are well worth trying.

I planted tomatoes and peppers in my garden. A few days later most of them were laying in the row just as though someone had cut them close to the soil with shears. I was able to get some more plants and set these out. The very same thing happened. What pest is responsible and how can I stop it?

When plants are cut off at ground level that's a sign of cutworm damage.

Rabbits and woodchucks cut the stems on a slant and an inch or so above the ground. Birds nip out the tops.

To prevent cutworm damage, make a collar of aluminum foil or use part of a cardboard tube found inside toilet paper, paper towels, or wax paper. Three inches high is plenty. Slip the plant through the roll when planting and mound a little soil around the collar.

Cutworms don't crawl up the barrier. If plants are already planted, slice the tube and slip it around the plants and push it down into the soil a bit. Close with some sticky tape.

We would like to know if it is possible to put too much compost on the garden plot where we grow our tomatoes?

We doubt it. Compost materials are constantly being broken down by soil organisms.

A friend of ours has his municipality use his garden for a ''leaf dump'' each fall. Some 40 truckloads are brought in. Part of it he spreads on the garden and works into the soil in the spring. The rest he saves and uses for a mulch around the plants.

Our friend has a fantastic garden.

The only exception to this question might be if wood chips or sawdust are used in the compost pile. These take longer to break down and often the nitrogen-using bacteria create a shortage of nitrogen in the soil while they are vigorously working on the woody materials.

Extra nitrogen would need to be added to offset this situation.

I have tried unsuccessfully to grow fuchsias from seeds. Should they be soaked in water before sowing? How long does it take for the seeds to sprout?

Fuchsia seeds may take up to 5 weeks to germinate. Soaking seeds is not necessary. Use one of the peat-lite mixes (sphagnum peatmoss, perlite, or vermiculite), cover the seeds lightly, and keep them moist by sub-irrigating the seed box. Maintain a temperature of 65 to 75 degrees.

You can also start plants easily from tip cuttings, using the same medium for rooting (must be kept moist). Save some cuttings when you prune the plant back in the fall. From seeds you'll have some blooming plants in about 10 months; from cuttings in about 6 or 7 months.

Plants like to be outdoors in summer - in a cool, shady spot - and want to be kept watered regularly. If they dry out, or if the weather gets very hot, they will stop blooming. Also, if you let the blooms form seed pods, they will stop producing flowers.

If you have a question about your garden, inside or out, send it to the Gardening page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115.

Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists, authors of several books on gardening, and greenhouse operators for 25 years.

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