Getting a head start on spring with fragrant apple blossoms indoors

Q. At this time of year my mother would cut some branches from our forsythia and some twigs from an apple tree and make them bloom indoors. I can't recall if she did anything other than arrange them in a vase of water. Last year I tried it, and most of the buds fell off. Am I omitting some part of the procedure?

If your home is extremely dry, the buds will dry and fall off. Wood heat is especially drying for plants and flowers.

Soaking the twigs in tepid water for several hours before arranging them in a vase of water helps to moisten the tissues and break dormancy. Also, enclosing the vase with a polyethylene wrap or plastic bag keeps the moisture from evaporating.

To hasten bloom, place a cotton ball with a little ammonia on it inside the bag and leave for half an hour. Give the twigs good light but not direct sun.

Q. My friends often ask for cuttings from my plants, and nothing pleases me more. However, if they live long distances away, the slips may wilt before reaching their destination. What is a good way to keep them fresh?

Wrap each stem in a piece of sloppy-moist paper toweling; then slip it into a plastic bag, balloon the bag out, and apply a twist tie. In cold weather, put the plastic bags in a paper bag that has been lined with newspapers for added protection.

Q. A florist delivered to me a handsome plant about four feet tall. The leaves are huge (about a foot wide) and are shaped like a giant hand with seven fingers. The tag was marked ''Fatsia.'' Can you tell me something about its care?

In areas where temperatures fall below freezing, Fatsia japonica must be grown as a houseplant. Easily cared for, it does fine in ordinary potting soil, such as one part each of peat moss, garden loam, sand, and perlite. Some rotted compost could also be added. Soil should be kept ''just moist,'' but never soggy.

A feeding of liquid plant food in early spring and midsummer is sufficient. Fatsia japonica thrives in filtered sunlight or full sun and prefers a night temperature of 50-55 degrees F. (10-12 degrees C.).

Q. A bouquet from the florist contained yellow flowers that looked like miniature gladiolus blooms. They were, however, in clusters and not on spikes. Two petals on each floret had maroon stripes. I called the florist, who told me they were Alstroemeria and were imported from South America. Do you know if these can be grown in Indiana, and are seeds available?

Alstroemeria (pronounced Al-stree-MEER-ia) also comes in orange, pink, and white, all with ''whiskering'' on two petals. It is grown as a perennial in the South, but is not considered hardy in areas where the ground freezes.

Some gardeners carry the plants over by digging the roots in fall and keeping them all winter in a cool place, such as in a mixture of moist sand and peat moss. They can be replanted in the spring.

Alstroemeria can be grown either from seeds or the division of roots. They make excellent cut flowers because of their long-lasting qualities. Seeds are listed in catalogs from Geo. W. Park Seed Company, Greenwood, S.C. 29647, and from Thompson and Morgan, PO Box 100, Farmingdale, N.J. 07727.

Q. My African violets have done well until recently. Now I notice tiny white flecks all over the leaves. Also, I've discovered small, soft greenish insects on the buds. Blooms that open look somewhat distorted. How can I get rid of this pest?

Aphids infest your plants. The white flecks are skeletal casts or ''shed skins'' of these soft-bodied insects. You can eradicate them by using this all-purpose formula:

To one gallon of tepid water, add one tablespoon each of liquid dishwashing detergent and hot pepper sauce, plus one pint of rubbing alcohol. Invert the potted violet, holding onto the soil ball with your fingers so that it doesn't fall from the pot, and dunk the plant in a deep panful of the liquid. Gently slosh it up and down and swish it back and forth.

Repeat in seven days to get any insects that may appear in the meantime.

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

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