Ask the Gardeners; Q & A

Q While doing some bird watching in the marshes of Georgia and Florida late last spring, we noticed some tall plants with leaves and blooms which greatly resemble cannas. Could it be possible that cannas will grow in water?

Yes, you probably did see wild cannas, the handsome, stalky perennial with the thick rootstalk - a plant thatprefers moist areas. North of the US Department of Agriculture Zone 7, they are not hardy, however. Our tame varieties are dug up in the fall after the leaves are frosted, stored in a cool place, and then started indoors in February or March. They are planted outside just as soon as all frost danger is past.

While they are not usually grown in moist areas in the North, they do not thrive well unless planted in good soil and watered thoroughly during dry spells. They will grow in pools and water gardens if they are treated like nonhardy waterlilies, which are usually planted in tubs and then set into the water.

A lovely display of cannas, growing in a water garden, can be seen at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., during the summer months.

Q When I bought my variegated strawberry begonia, the pink color was very bright, with a pronounced contrast between the green, white, and pink areas. After two months, however, the pink has faded and the green is rather drab. I was told to keep it out of direct sunlight and feed it every three weeks. How can I bring the bright colors back? Also, what is the correct name? I'm quite sure it is not a true begonia.

The botanical name of the strawberry begonia (also called strawberry geranium) is Saxifraga stolonifera (formerly sarmentosa). Your variety is S. stolonifera tricolor and is not related to either the begonia or the geranium. Rather, it gets its name from the strawberrylike runners.

When the colors fade, it is not getting enough light. To enhance the color, move to a spot where it will get some sun, let it grow a little potbound, and do not overfeed. A feeding every couple of months is enough. Let the soil dry slightly in between waterings, but do not let it get so dry that the leaves start to brown on the edges.

One of the merits of this plant is that it will grow well at temperatures in the low 40s and, during mild winters, will survive temperatures in the teens if it is growing in the ground with a mulch of leaves around it.

Q I've been told there is a tall plant with flowers clustered so they resemble a crown and that this plant repels moles. It is grown from a bulb and the name has the word ''crown'' in it. What would I ask for at a garden store and can it be planted in the spring?

The plant you are looking for is Crown Imperial, usually listed in bulb catalogs as Fritillaria (imperialis). Many large garden stores have them in the fall, along with other bulbs. They bloom in the spring if planted in the fall (but can be planted in the spring as well), are hardy, and need a well-drained soil. New ones can be started from offsets from the parent bulb. And yes, the roots are said to repel moles and other digging rodents.

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