Ask the Gardeners Q&A

Q Your column of July 23, 1985, includes, in a list of favorite perennials, Lythrum (Morden Pink). I am alarmed to see this plant recommended, since it is becoming a very serious pest throughout much of the Eastern and Midwestern sections of the country, invading marshy areas and driving out other plants beneficial to wildlife. M. J. Northfield, Minn. We understand your alarm. However, you will note that we specifically mentioned the cultivar Morden Pink. The Lythrum you speak of is wild purple loosestrife, very aggressive and almost uncontrollable. We have had our Morden Pink Lythrum in our perennial bed for eight years and it still occupies the same space allotted to it, without its ever having been divided. Q I responded to a magazine advertisement: ``Grow your own exotic bird-of-paradise flowers from seeds.'' I received six seeds for $2 and instructions for planting, but there is no mention of the time it takes for the plants to produce flowers. I would appreciate an answer to this, and a comment on the price of the seeds. J. M. P. Anderson, Ind.

The price of the seeds is not out of line with those we have seen in retail seed catalogs. It will take between 31/2 to 6 years to get blooms from your Strelitzias, depending upon natural growing conditions and the care you give them. In your area they would have to be grown as a potplant, indoors in winter with exposure to bright light and with a high temperature of 50 to 60 degrees F. Plants usually bloom when they have 9 or 10 healthy leaves. Q An uncle of mine, who came to this country from Great Britain, had a splendid garden. One of my favorite flowers was one he called Sweet Sultan. It had fluffy, powder-puff like blooms and was very fragrant. As I recall, flowers were either yellow or purplish. Could you give the botanical name so I might be able to find it listed in catalogs? D. E. N. Alexandria, Va.

The plant is Centaurea moschata, related to Bachelor's Button and Scabiosa. Besides yellow and shades of pink and purple, you can find pure white and recently introduced rich, dark red. The dark red ones (and others) are available from the Country Garden, Route 2, Box 445Z, Crivitz, Wis. 54114. Q One of my co-workers said he heard on the radio while driving to work that coffee grounds and tea leaves are good for plants in the garden. He wasn't sure how they should be used. Have you heard of this? V. M. Flagstaff, Ariz.

Various research centers are coming out with evidence that points to the fact that caffeine can be used as an insecticide. Here is a chance for home gardeners to do some experimenting by testing sprays made of coffee and tea. Many gardeners already put coffee grounds and tea leaves into the soil to add organic matter. Try sprinkling them on the plants and see what effect they have on insects. Q Your article about sphagnum moss having been used for bandages reminded me that early Ford cars used to have some kind of moss in the seats. As a child, I recall the moss sticking through a slit in a damaged cushion. Could it have been sphagnum? B. R. M. Greenwich, Conn.

We're not sure about sphagnum moss, but we know that Spanish moss was used in car seats in the early days. This is verified by a friend of ours, an antique car buff and upholsterer, who says it was collected in Southern states and the outer coating on it was removed by some kind of solution, after which it became more wire-like and springy. We'd be interested in knowing if sphagnum moss was used as a filler, also. Incidentally, Spanish moss is in the same family as the pineapple. Both are Bromeliads. Q We have some flowering crab apples that are producing young shoots from the base. Could these be used to start new plants? S. L. T. Othello, Wash.

Although it is possible to root such cuttings, it would be a waste of time to do so, since they come from below the graft. This is the area where the known variety is budded onto an apple seedling of unknown parentage. What you would get is a ``wild'' tree, which probably wouldn't even be a crab apple.

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