Gardening Question of the Day

I'd like to give 'Paper White' narcissi as Christmas gifts. When is the best time to plant my bulbs?

Plant your 'Paper White' bulbs in early November to have blooms in time for Christmas. Use a bulb pan, and plant the bulbs in stones.

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I want to make sure my Christmas cactus produces flowers in December. What should I do now?

Buds will form on a Christmas cactus when it is kept at a constant temperature between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit or when you give it at least 13 hours of complete darkness each night. If you can achieve either of these conditions, the December blooms will be well worth the effort.

I live in Chicago and have Stargazer lillies in large plastic containers. How should i winterize them?

Dig up the bulbs and store them in ventilated bags (onion sacks) in a cool room out of the sun. Make sure to wrap the bulbs in moist (damp, not wet) newspaper, or put the bulbs in bags of barely moist peatmoss sphagnum. The material must be damp, not wet. If the bulbs are allowed to dry out, they will die. If kept too wet, the bulbs will rot. Check the material (sphagnum/newspaper) every few weeks to re-wet it if necersssary. The cooler you keep the bulbs the better (above freezing).

When did people begin growing apple trees as a cash crop?

People have grown apple trees for cultivation for many centuries, improving the stock over time through seed selection and grafting for propagation. The kinds of apples we have today are the combined results of natural cross-pollination among several species. Control of diseases and pests in apple crops is a costly undertaking, requiring increasingly bigger orchards where large growers can achieve cost efficiency.

Is it possible to grow rosemary in an outdoor bed in Nashville, Tennessee, without having to dig it up and bring it inside before the first frost? I am wondering whether heavy mulching at the base and a burlap cover over the plant would help it live through our mild winter freezes.

Since rosemary is a tender shrub that overwinters well in Zones 8 through 10 and Nashville is in Zone 6, you'll be taking a risk by leaving yours outside through the cold season. But it's worth a shot. Mulching heavily is a good idea -- try surrounding the plant with leaves packed into black plastic bags -- and consider building a cold frame for the plant. Also, if you can, put the plant on the south side of your house, up against a wall for protection, but in full sun. This may provide enough warmth to help the plant survive the winter.

When should I harvest my pumpkins?

Anytime before the first hard frost. A variety called hard-shelled maximas can handle light frost, but all others should be harvested before the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. As harvest time approaches, pinch out plant leaders and flowers, and remove small green pumpkins that have no chance of ripening. This will help the remaining pumpkins along.

How can we get rid of ants burrowing up between our patio stones?

There are approximately 8,000 species of ants, and without knowing which species you are dealing with, it is hard to advise you. If you are not sure of the species, you can have a pest control company come out and identify them for you. Or you can simply scoop up some live ants in a dry medicine bottle or baby food jar and take them to the pest control company for identification. Depending on the species, ants may eat grease, sweets (both those found in a home and the sweet nectar produced by aphids), or even other insects. Once a colony locates a desired food source, hundreds of "workers" may descend on the food. To repel ants, try vinegar, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cream of tartar, salt, or perfume. Just place one of these substances along their path. If it doesn't work, try the others in turn until you find one that is successful. You can also kill the ants by dehydrating them with instant grits, which you can find in the cereal section of the grocery store. They eat them and go off and die.

Can I use pine needles as a plant cover in my garden throughout the winter?

Pine needles are great for insulation. They make a wonderful mulch for perennials, strawberries, and any shrubs and trees that like acid conditions. They also can prevent problems with shallow-rooted plants caused by freezing and thawing.

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