New year's flowers may spring from last year's saved seeds

Backyard Q&A

December 13, 1998

Q. An elderly neighbor has lovely old flowering plants that she's been growing for many years - butterfly weed, cardinal climber, love-lies-bleeding. They just seem to reseed themselves. Can I take seeds from her dead plants and plant them in my garden now?

A. Presumably, these are older, nonhybrid cultivars that will come true from seed. Yes, you can scatter and lightly cover seed from these annual plants in your flower bed now. You might want to keep some of the seed in a glass jar in your freezer this winter and start them in pots next spring to have extra plants.

Q. I'm puzzled as to why most of my luffa gourds never matured. I harvested them on Nov. 4 and they were still green and heavy. The skin on some of the others did harden and they made nice sponges. Are they getting too much shade?

A. Luffa gourds grow best in full sun and take as long as 150 days to mature after sowing in the spring. The gourds that dried properly were probably the first fruits to set on the plant.

Next year, try sowing the seed indoors in mid-April and setting out the transplants in late May. Also, remove the first flowers that appear and head back each plant when it reaches 5 feet in height. This will stimulate lateral growth and early fruiting.

Q. I was pulling out my sweaters from a storage box and noticed some little, brown, hairy-looking caterpillars walking around. I didn't notice any damage to the sweaters. What am I dealing with and what should I do?

A. Sounds like a type of carpet beetle. These are very common critters that feed on wool, lint, food crumbs, pet hair, dead insects and organic debris. They don't feed on man-made synthetic fibers. And they aren't as damaging as clothes moths. Washing or dry-cleaning your stored clothes will kill any beetles that are present. Vacuum and clean out your storage areas, and use naphthalene flakes or mothballs to kill any beetles that return to the area.

This Week's Checklist

1. Buy your Christmas tree in daylight, when it can be closely examined. The needles should be turgid. Hit the butt end on a hard surface. If a lot of needles drop, the tree is too dry.

2. Keep the tree covered with plastic for the ride home from the farm or sales lot. This will prevent it from drying out.

3. Before you set the tree up, cut off 1 inch of the butt end to facilitate water uptake.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd.edu/users/hgic.

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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