Q Do you have any information about cast-iron plant? A friend recently moved and gave me her newly acquired one. It is 21/2 feet high, with wide leaves, some of which have white stripes. You have a variegated species of aspidistra (A. elatior variegata). It is commonly called cast-iron plant because it will survive almost intolerable conditions. If well cared for, the gracefully bending leaves make a handsome plant for a spot that gets bright light, but not direct sun.
The plant responds to a monthly liquid feeding during summer, and the well-drained soil should be kept ``just moist'' at all times. Under normal conditions, it probably won't need to be repotted for several years.
Although it tolerates high temperatures, it does best if the nights are in the 50s (F.) and the daytime temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees. Q Last spring I started geraniums from seeds. In the fall we brought several pots of them indoors and set them in a basement window, where they are surviving but have grown very scrawny. Is there some way I can get them to bloom and become more bushy, or should I throw them out and start all over again?
Geranium plants are remarkably resilient. Bring yours out of the basement and put them in the sunniest window possible. Cut them back to about 4 inches above the pots, and then repot them.
A good soil mix may contain approximately half the old soil, combined with a mix of equal parts builders' sand (available at lumberyards), sphagnum peat moss, and garden loam. Or you may use one of the peat-lite mixes found in garden stores and add 2 parts garden soil and one part sand.
If the plants have large root systems, cut off an inch or so to stimulate feeder-root formation (these are fine roots coming off the main ones). Give the plants a liquid feeding about a week after transplanting and again about 6 weeks later.
We let our geraniums dry just slightly between thorough waterings. They grow best if the night temperature can be in the 50- to 55-degree F. range. It will take 3 to 4 months for them to become bushy blooming plants. From seeds, plants would bloom in 4 months. Q When you give directions for starting seeds indoors, you usually mention they need a constant temperature between 70 and 75 degrees F. for good germination. We have just put up a small greenhouse, heated with a little gas heater. It keeps the temperature about 55 degrees at night, which seems to be fine for the plants we now have growing, but we could never afford to have a constant 70 to 75 degrees. How can we start seeds in our greenhouse?
You need to invest in a heating cable made especially for home gardeners. Heating cables are relatively inexpensive and are available at garden stores. Most are double strand and are laid out in a looping fashion (be sure the wires do not touch). A 6-foot cable would accommodate approximately a 2-by-3-foot area.
Be sure to get one with a built-in thermostat, which automatically keeps the heated area in the range of 70 to 75 degrees and cuts down on energy loss.
You should also construct a simple polyethylene (plastic) cover. All you need are 4 boards for whatever size seed-starting bed you want. Ours are 4 inches wide and an inch thick, nailed together to form a 3-by-4-foot frame. The plastic sheet is laid on top so there is some overlap for stapling it to the sides of the boards.
Shallow trays, such as cookie pans, work fine for sub-irrigating the seed boxes. The heating cable is looped back and forth on the greenhouse bench under the pans.
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.