Questions & Answers, Ask the Gardeners

Q On our newly acquired property, we found a large shrub (10 feet tall), which had golden yellow foliage this past autumn. To our surprise, soon after the leaves fell, curious yellow blooms with 3/4-inch-long, very narrow, ribbonlike petals appeared. They were quite tight to the branches and had a delightful aroma, somewhat spicy. Can you identify the shrub for us? J. E. Harrisburg, Pa. What you have is a witch hazel, probably the common one, Hamamelis virginiana, since this is the one that blooms in the fall, sometimes before leaves drop, but usually after. Another species that would survive in your hardiness zone is H. vernalis, or vernal witch hazel, with smaller yellow flowers opening in February or March. Flowers are even more fragant than H. virginiana. A hybrid, called Arnold Promise (introduced by Arnold Arboretum, Boston) has much larger, primrose-yellow flowers and brilliant orange fall foliage. It is now being offered in many nursery catalogs. Q We have rust in the tops of our asparagus plants each year. If we transfer some of these plants to a new location that has better air circulation, will that eliminate the problem? L. B. Wentzville, Md.

It would be best to dig and discard your old plants in early spring and plant new, resistant varieties in a completely different location. While there do not appear to be any 100 percent rust-resistant varieties at this time, there are exceptionally good varieties that are showing remarkable freedom from the rust problem. Try growing Mary or Martha Washington, or any of the other selections with the Washington name. Waltham Washington and Viking (Mary Washington Improved) are especially rust-resistant. Q I have some fancy-leaved begonias which I would like to propagate. I tried putting stems in water, as I do my African violets, but no results. Is there some other way to get new plants without dividing the whole plant? M. E. R. Wenatchee, Wash.

Heavily veined begonia leaves can be used to propagate new plants by cutting the veins crossways, about midway between the leaf edge and the base of the leaf where the veins converge. A cut 1/2 inch long is sufficient. First remove the leaf from the plant, leaving about an inch of stem. Lay it upside down on a firm, flat surface and cut through each vein. Lay leaf flat on moist rooting medium (1 part sphagnum peat moss and 1 part sand or perlite). Push stem into it, then pin down with hairpins. Set pot in sub-irrigation pan so you can keep it moist at all times. Give good light but avoid direct sun.

Another method is to cut wedges from leaves. Lay leaf bottom side up and cut wedges with the narrow end at the base of the leaf where veins converge. Each wedge must have vein running through center. Stick them into medium slantwise, with one-quarter of wedge covered by medium. Roots usually form on wedges or slits in 11/2 to 3 months if temperature can be maintained at 70 to 75 degrees F. Q I received a beautiful cyclamen before Christmas and it is doing well in a bright window. The third day I had it, the leaves and blooms all flopped over, but I recalled one of your columns telling how to set pot and all in a deep pan of very warm water, up to the pot's rim. In half an hour, in a cool spot, it had perked up completely. Now I'd like to know how to get the plant to bloom year after year. T. J. Washington, Mo.

It will bloom longer if you can give it a night temperature of 55 to 60 degrees F. and no higher than 70 degrees F. during the day. Give it a liquid houseplant food about once every two months during bloom period. Move the plant outdoors after danger of frost is over, setting it in a protected semi-shady spot. As leaves dwindle, let it grow somewhat on the dry side, but not bone-dry. Leaves will become sparse. At that time repot the beetlike corm into an inch-larger pot, but at the same depth in the soil. A mix of one part each sphagnum peat moss and garden loam, plus one-half part each of coarse sand and perlite (or one part either one), will be OK. Water sparingly until plant has a good number of leaves. Bring into cool room before frost in fall and gradually increase watering as new leaves grow and buds begin to form.

If you have a question about your garden, send it to the Garden Page, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115.

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