Ask the Gardeners/Q&A

Q I tried drying flowers last year for making floral stationery and little floral pictures, but the blooms became very fragile and also lost their color. Cosmos, petunias, snapdragons, and little zinnias were the flowers I used. Try using smaller flowers and those that are not too thick. Lay them between the pages of a phone book with one layer of bricks on top of the book. We have had excellent success with Johnny-jump-ups (violas), violets, coralbells, baby's breath, lobelia, buttercups, and flowering weeds found in lawns or along a country highway. Ferns and grasses also work well. Q We have a Mercury vapor night light that shines near our garden. My neighbor says she read an article that said they were harmful to plant growth. Is there any truth to this?

We have asked several state colleges about this and the response has been that they pose no threat to the garden. However, if a night light shines brightly on a planting of chrysanthemums, they are liable to be delayed in their flowering. Mums are sensitive to photoperiodism. In other words, flowering is triggered by the shortening days. Q A year ago, when spring came, I set my poinsettia plant outdoors. I dug a shallow hole and set it in, pot and all. When fall came, I followed your directions and took it indoors before frost to give it the long night-short day treatment. However, some of the roots were torn off when I lifted it out of the ground. It was a huge plant and most of the leaves fell off after it was inside a few days. Should I have pruned it when I set it outdoors? I have another one and want to be sure I give it the right care.

Prune it back now to 4 to 6 inches above the pot. If you sink plant and pot into the ground, slip a nylon stocking over the pot to inhibit root growth into soil and to keep insects out of pot hole. Also, give the pot a twist each week to further confine roots. Before frost, take plant inside, then the first week in October start the daily treatment you mention, covering the plant or moving it to a dark room at about 6 p.m. until 8 the next morning. Do this until the last week in November. Be sure to keep plant watered and give it a bright window during the day. Cuttings can be taken from the pruned tops and rooted in moist perlite or vermiculite. They will need the same treatment as parent plant. Q From a child I had been told that sowbugs and pillbugs were harmless, living only on organic matter in the soil. This spring I planted marigolds in a half barrel. They survived for a week or so, then started to wilt. I dug down into the soil and found hundreds of sowbugs eating the roots. I did not change the soil this year and think they must have been reproducing all year. Since the marigolds were hopelessly damaged, I poured hot water laced with hot pepper sauce all over the soil and it eliminated them. I then scraped off the top 5 inches of soil and replaced it with some that had no pillbugs or sowbugs in it, and my second planting is doing fine. You might like to pass along this information to your other readers.

Thank you for the information. In small numbers, where soil has lots of humus for these Crustaceans (related to crayfish) to feed on, there need be little concern, but we too have had a similar experience. Your hot water-hot pepper solution is a good one. However, if plants are salvageable, tepid water could be used with some insecticidal soap (strongest recommendation), plus two tablespoons of hot pepper sauce and a cup of rubbing alcohol to a gallon of water. For large infestations, gardeners sometimes have to resort to a pesticide such as diazinon. Be sure to read directions and precautions on container. Female sowbugs have ventral pouches in which eggs are laid. After hatching, the young remain in the pouch for some time. When they emerge, the increased population often puts a strain on the food supply and they turn to living plants. We've been told sugar mixed equal parts with borax is toxic to young sowbugs, but we have not tried it. Readers' remedies are welcome.

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