Ask The Gardeners. Q&A.

Q My children have given me several different types of begonias over the past year, and I have become so interested in them that I am now a collector, of sorts. Where would I find a list of begonia dealers and other information about available species? It sounds as though you are ready to join the American Begonia Society. You will get a magazine, a list of sources, information on exhibits and shows, growing tips, and much more.

Plant society fees are very reasonable, considering the services it provides. The address is PO Box 1129, Encinitas, Calif. 92024.

Q Almost a year ago I sowed some cyclamen seeds (after soaking for 24 hours) and have grown the plants according to directions that came with them. While they're now coming into bloom under fluorescent lights, some of the stems of the buds, which are still under the leaves, have turned mushy and flopped over. Why? Can I save the rest of the blooms?

The problem is due to botrytis (a fungus) and is usually brought on by poor air circulation around the plants. This often happens when plants are grown under lights with little air movement in the area.

A small fan, placed about 8 feet away and set at low speed, is a great help. Also, setting the plants upon inverted pots and moving the lights up a similar distance away from them, allows more air to move around the buds. Be sure the plants are spaced so there is 5 or 6 inches between them.

Incidentally, cyclamen soil should be kept moist, but the plants should not be kept sitting in water. Should the leaves and blooms suddenly droop, it means the soil is too dry. They can be revived in a pan of warm water that reaches to the rim of the pot. Let set half an hour in a cool place and then remove from the water.

Cyclamen thrive on cool temperatures (55 to 65 degrees F. is ideal, especially at night).

Q While we were away for a day, a gift poinsettia was left in the hallway of our apartment building. When we returned in the evening, we unwrapped it. Except for a slight curling of the leaves, it looked fine. The next morning, however, many of the leaves dropped off and a few days later the remaining leaves were distorted. The temperature does not fall below 50 degrees F. in the hallway so it couldn't have been chilled. What happened?

Researchers have found that when poinsettias and certain other plants are left wrapped for a certain length of time, the plants gas themselves with ethylene (given off also by fruit). This is harmless to humans, but will cause the plant leaves to drop or curl and put the flowers to ``sleep'' so they have a wilted look. This is one reason corsages should never be stored near fruit in the refrigerator.

Some florists are putting vent holes in their wrappers to let the gas escape when the plants must be left wrapped for several hours. You will note that most fruit and vegetable plastic wrappers have holes in them.

Q While walking in a field in late summer, I saw a tightly twined, reddish vine that was attached to a sweet clover plant. It had many clusters of tiny white bell-like flowers (perhaps one-eighth of an inch long), but no leaves. Not only was it twined around the plant, but it appeared to have short roots penetrating the other plant's tissues. It had no attachment to the ground, but was growing right on the clover starting about 6 inches above the ground. Can you name the plant?

Your description fits that of dodder, a relative of the morning glory (Convolvulaceae family). It is of the genus Cuscuta, with the common name of strangleweed. With no leaves of its own, it lives a parasitic life on other plants by sinking short adventitious roots (called haustoria) into the tissue of its host plant.

When established so it gets its nutrients from the host, the lower part of the vine, coming from the ground, dies off. It often kills the host plant and is a serious pest if not eradicated. The plant has a wide range, with plants of the genus being found from southern Canada to Mexico. Q I grew some blue salvia this year for the first time. Seed catalogs say it can be used for winter bouquets. Is there some special way to dry it so the little blossoms won't fall off the stems?

The best way to dry blue salvia and so-called everlasting flowers, such as gomphrena, strawflowers (helichrysum), statice, and nigella, is to hang them upside down in a dry, airy place with subdued light for a week or two. Then arrange them in vases.

Helichrysum may need to have wires pushed up through the centers of the large heads (so the wires can form the stems) before they are dried.

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.

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