Ask the Gardeners, Q&A.
Q We have a plant stand with several shelves and fluorescent lights. African violets do very well on the stand, but I also have a shelf of begonias, and most of them get mildew on the leaves. Could it be the effect of the lights?
Fluorescent lights would not cause mildew. The plant stand is probably located in a spot with poor air circulation around it. Mildew is associated with stagnant air and high humidity.
If you can place a small fan within six or eight feet and let it blow indirectly across the plant stand, it will keep any mildew spores in the vicinity in suspension. If the spores cannot land on the foliage, then they cannot grow into mildew spots. Q Is it hard to grow sweet basil indoors? We grew it last summer outdoors and it did well. Now I miss having it fresh to put in my salads and casseroles.
Basil is easy to grow and makes a delightfully fragrant plant to have in the kitchen. We suggest you grow the dwarf types, such as Picollo and Green Bush. Both have smaller leaves than regular basil.
The seeds germinate quickly in a 68-degree F. temperature if they are sown in a peat-lite mix (a mixture of sphagnum peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite), which is available at garden stores. Keep the mix moist by placing a piece of polyethylene over the top of the box or pot.
Two or three plants per six-inch pot will give you some leaves for flavoring in about four or five weeks. Q Last winter I started parsley plants on a windowsill and transplanted the seedlings into two large pots, which I moved to our patio in the summer. They were still growing well when I moved them inside to our enclosed porch. For two months they continued lush and productive but then they suddenly sprouted flower stalks and the stems and leaves became tough. How can I make new growth develop?
Parsley is a biennial, and the normal growth habit causes them to produce foliage the first year, but the second year flower stalks form to produce seeds so that nature can perpetuate the species.
You will need to sow seeds and start all over again.
Next year in the fall, when you bring the mature plants in, sow seeds earlier so you will have new green foliage by the time your old plants produce flowers. Q I was just given a large amaryllis bulb, but there were no instructions about potting, soil type, watering, and general care. Can you help?
Blooms will make the plant top-heavy, so we use clay pots instead of plastic in order to give some bottom weight. Use a pot that is 2 inches larger than the diameter of the bulb so it will have an inch all around between it and the pot wall.
For a potting mix, we use a peat-lite mix (2 parts) combined with 1 part garden loam, but any commercial potting soil is usually fine. Put a half-inch layer of fine stones in the bottom of the pot and then about an inch of soil. Hold the bulb suspended (and centered) so the neck is slightly above the pot.
Gently sift soil around the bulb, taking care not to break any roots. Leave about one-half of the bulb exposed above the soil line.
Water thoroughly and place the pot in bright light, but not direct sun. Water sparingly thereafter until green growth emerges, and then keep the soil constantly moist and feed once a month. After the amaryllis finishes blooming, give it sunlight and keep the foliage growing until it yellows in the fall. Then you should rest the bulb by setting it in a dry, cool place for about six weeks after trimming off the old foliage.
After the rest period you can start the cycle all over again.
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. Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists.