Last year we started tomato and pepper plants under a fluorescent light and they turned out beautifully. We want to expand our adventure to include impatiens, marigolds, geraniums (from seeds), and some eggplants. When should these seeds be planted to have them ready by mid-May for setting outdoors? Are there any special requirements for any of these seeds? From sowing seed to setting-out date, you should allow the following number of weeks: impatiens, 9 to 12 weeks (likes light for sprouting so cover sparingly with soil); marigolds, 8 to 10 weeks; geraniums, 18 weeks; and eggplants, 6 to 8 weeks. Eggplants germinate best at 80 degrees F. The others respond well at 70 to 72 degrees F.
A skirt of polyethylene around the fluorescent fixture will keep heat around the seed boxes.
For years we've had a Christmas rose. When we moved to another state in the fall of 1981, we dug up the rose and replanted it in the new location. The climate is similar and it was planted in semishade. Even so, the rose is looking very scrawny and has had no blooms since it was moved. In its other location it had well over 50 blooms each year - even under snow. Christmas rose (Helleborus) must have an alkaline soil (sweet) for it to survive. If a test gives your soil a pH reading of less than 6, the soil is too acid. The plant prefers a pH reading of between 6 and 8. (The pH is a term used to denote acidity or alkalinity and is a measure used in all simple soil-testing kits.)
Further, the Christmas rose resents transplanting. If many roots were torn off in transplanting, for example, it would set the plant back a couple of years.
If the pH is below 6, add a large handful of lime around the plant. We use the charming little blooms of our Christmas rose to decorate the table at holiday time.
You mentioned how dry air in modern homes can adversely affect houseplants. How can we overcome this problem? Small humidifiers can help, but don't let them blow directly on plants. Plants themselves give off humidity, so they help one another if they are grouped together.
Setting them on trays of small pebbles or coarse perlite, and keeping these materials damp at all times, increases humidity. Another method we use is ''double potting.''
In a pot that's two inches larger than the houseplant's, add sphagnum peatmoss or one of the artificial potting mixes. Hollow out a space that is big enough in which to set the houseplant, nesting it so both rims are even. Moisten the medium thoroughly. You will find that the houseplant will need much less water than it did previously.
When watering, we usually add some to both the surrounding medium and the soil of the houseplant, but don't let either get soppy, just moist.
We have very little space around our home for gardening, but we have a hankering for some fresh vegetables so we could at least make a few salads. Could you suggest some plants we might grow around our patio? If you lack ground space, you can grow vegetables in containers. The tremendous demand from small-space gardeners has prompted plant breeders to develop varieties which are especially designed for containers and other cramped quarters.
There are a number of bush-type cucumbers, melons, and squash; short-vined tomatoes and peas; compact pepper plants and broccoli. Many vegetables naturally adapt themselves to small spaces. Lettuce, carrots, radishes, beets, and turnips may come in small sizes, or they can be harvested early.
Most seed catalogs feature space-saver vegetables, so take advantage of offers for free catalogs and study them. We've had excellent success with Patio Tomato, Small Fry, Tiny Tim, and Pixie. Among short-vined cucumbers, Spacemaster , Bush Champion, and Patio Pik have done well for us.
Last year we enjoyed compact winter-squash - Butterbush, Bush Acorn, and Table King. Yellow and green zucchini semibush types are now listed in catalogs. Scallopini and Peter Pan (pattypan types) are very prolific bush types. Sugar Snap pea's daughter, Sugar Bon, did well in half barrels.
If you study your catalogs you will have a lot of fun with your minigarden.