ASK THE GARDENERS, Questions & Answers

Q I love to make bouquets using my flowering shrubs, but some do not hold up well in water. I especially have trouble with lilacs and other shrubs with heavy flower clusters. Is there any procedure I can follow to make them stay perky? Mrs. J.P.J.

West Bloomfield, N.J.

Stems of many flowering shrubs will hold up in bouquets if they are picked early in the morning soon after daybreak. Cut with pruning shears or a sharp knife (on a slant), put into warm water, and place in a cool spot to ``harden off'' for an hour or more before arranging. Most can also be cut in the evening after the air cools. On rainy days, they can be cut anytime. Some, like lilacs or viburnums, with thick stems and heavy blooms, should be pounded on their stems to crush the bottom inch or so. Then we put them in a mixture of rubbing alcohol and water at the rate of one cup of rubbing alcohol (70 percent) to four cups of water. The solution should reach several inches up the stem. Use the same water and alcohol mix for arranging in a vase.

Q I have a pussy willow tree which produces beautiful catkins. The last few years, however, it has had something on the leaves which look like pimples or bumps. Even the new little trees I have started from cuttings have the same thing. Is it harmful, and if so, how can I get rid of it?


Brookings, S.D.

Your tree has Willow Gall Mite, a tiny pest that irritates the tissue until it forms into a bump. The pest uses it for a home at a certian period of its life cycle. While the galls seem unsightly, they do not damage the tree, since the chlorophyll in the bump can still perform its function for the tree.

If the appearance is bothersome, you can spray in spring when buds start to swell with a dormant oil spray. Be sure to follow directions on the container.

Q Part of our property has a fairly steep slope where it adjoins the highway. I would like to plant it with wild sweetpeas. Friends have given me seeds each spring, which they have saved from their plants, but nothing comes up. I have also tried digging some of their vines, but these do not survive even though I keep them watered. How can I get them started?


Decatur, Ill.

We have had excellent success from sowing seeds in fall after the weather cools. Heat deters sprouting. If the weather is dry, keep them watered. Plant about half an inch deep in full sun. Be sure you have them where they will not be a pest to other plants. As a groundcover next to a lawn that is kept mowed, Lathyrus latifolius will be no problem.

Doc and Katy Abraham are nationally known horticulturists.

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