Ask the Gardeners

Q Your discussion of perennial gardens reminds me of my attempt, a few years ago, to cultivate a large perennial bed, which I thought would be easier to care for than a lawn. It was a disaster! It needed incessant weeding and edging. Vigorous growers overtook weaker (but oftentimes prettier) types until it was just a mess. I finally shrank it to one-third the size, keeping the basic varieties you mentioned, and I am thankful for a thriving lawn where weedy plants once disturbed my tranqui llity. At your suggestion, we incorporated some spring bulbs and summer annuals. K. E. B. Athens, Ohio Thank you for substantiating the fact that well-kept perennial beds need constant care. We have simplified ours to include peonies, iris, and day lilies (hemerocallis) with varieties to bloom all summer; also coreopsis, astilbe, and Shasta daisies.

Feverfew (Matricaria), Monarda, and a few other rank growers are planted separately along the sunny side of our woods. We, too, incorporate spring bulbs. We use annuals to good advantage by making mixed pots in spring and moving them into bare spots as each perennial goes out of bloom, so that we then have constant show all summer. Q In my younger days, my family lived in a big farmhouse in the country. I recall a ground cover growing all around the back porch which seemed to keep the weeds out and also provide a pleasing-looking green and white border that covered the ugly foundation. If I remember correctly, each stem had three leaflets (variegated green and white), and plants were about a foot tall. The name had the word gout in it. Do you know the full name, and would it be hardy in our area? M. S. Jonesboro, Ark.

Goutweed, or Aegopodium podagraria, will grow in almost all areas of the United States and in southern Canada. The one you describe is Variegatum, with handsome green and white leaves. It should be planted where you won't have to worry about its spreading into other plantings, since it is very aggressive. But it is a good ground cover and tolerates sun or shade and all sorts of adverse conditions. Q My wife and I have been having a discussion about the ``baggers'' that are currently being touted as a ``must'' for all fastidious gardeners. I am of the opinion that clippings are actually good for a lawn, but I can't substantiate it. Can you offer me any consolation? F. G. Kokomo, Ind.

You are absolutely right. Baggers rob the lawn of valuable humus. Most lawns yield 30 inches of grass per season. The clippings serve as a mulch, shading grass roots from hot sun, and they also inhibit weed growth by shading weed seeds, which need sun to germinate and grow. The only time grass clippings should be removed is when the lawn has been allowed to grow too tall and heavy clumps would cause mildew of the grass plants underneath. Q I have recently become an avid African violet fan and I have a great many leaves rooting in a mixture of perlite and vermiculite. At an auction I was able to buy, very reasonably, about a hundred 21/2-inch clay pots, which a friend tells me are just the right size for new little plants. However, I want to be sure the pots are relatively sterile. How would you recommend they be cleaned? R. V. Boise, Idaho

Soak the pots in a solution of household bleach, 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Let them stand in the solution for 24 hours, then clean off any white residue with a stiff scrub brush and rinse. The residue on old pots is usually from fertilizer salts. Old, scrubbed pots are better than new ones, since they will not dry out as fast. New clay pots should be soaked several days in water. If plants are potted directly in them, they will need almost constant watering, because of the air passing too fr eely through the pores. Q I wonder if you could suggest anything we could do to get rid of a colony of ants in a part of our flower garden. I would prefer an organic method if there is any. M. .L. M. Bethlehem, Pa.

We have gotten rid of several ant hills by pouring boiling water over them, or you can use a nicotine solution made by soaking tobacco in water until the color of strong tea. It is very toxic, but a good pesticide for several insects. Also, diatomaceous earth is commonly used among organic gardeners. You can find it in many garden stores, or you can write to Reader Service, Organic Gardening Magazine, 33 East Miner Street, Emmaus, Pa. 18049 for sources. Include a self-addressed, stamped business-s ize envelope. Q Last year, on a neighbor's advice, I put mothballs around the trunks of my peach trees. I placed them one inch apart, and one inch below the soil surface all around the trunks of the trees. I had no borers. This year I placed them not only around peach trees but around my plum trees as well and I'm sure it is a solution to my borer problems. Hope this will help others. Mrs. J. J. S. Gulf Breeze, Fla.

Thank you for mentioning an old-fashioned remedy. Orchardists used moth balls (paradichlorobenzene) before the advent of DDT. With the banning of this material, they resorted to endosulfan (Thiodan) and other highly toxic materials. However, many home gardeners find mothballs a reliable deterrent, since female moths lay eggs near the base of trunks. A mass of brown gum and frass near base of tree is evidence of work of borers. Keep mothballs out of reach of small children. Q I'm afraid our grapes won't ripen because they are hidden by so much foliage. We seem to have a normal crop of fruit but an excess of leaves. Should I pick off some of the leaves to allow the sun to shine on the grape clusters? G. K. L. Durham, N.C.

Pruning, weather conditions, and fertilizer can all affect leaf growth. If you had a skimpy crop of fruit, it could be due to lack of pruning, excess nitrogen, poor pollinating weather at time of bloom, or winter injury. Since you have a good crop of fruit, ideal weather probably aided leaf growth, too.

Removing foliage will not hasten ripening. Even though the vine itself must be in full sun to produce well, most grape varieties bear grape clusters hidden by leaves. Unlike tomato fruit, which can be induced to ripen faster by some leaf removal, ripening of grapes might be delayed by significant leaf loss, since the leaves produce the food which helps to ripen the fruit.

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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