Sunday, January 3, 2010

Q & A

Q: Why do the potted amaryllis bulbs I often receive as gifts rarely bloom for me the following year? I thought that amaryllis were easy to grow!
A: Amaryllis grow and bloom like weeds IF taken out of that cramped pot and planted in a sunny landscape bed given ordinary care. But in a pot they are utterly dependent on you providing just the right amount of light, food, water and winter dormancy.
Q: Those perky little kitchen window herb gardens I see on TV always fail for me even though I follow all the directions. Why?
A: Most herbs require full sun to thrive, and very few window sills provide enough. So indoors they usually get lanky, infested with spider mites, then die. Forget using the teensy pot that comes with those herb kits and instead grow them in your sunny beds or in 8 inch pots filled with a 50/50 mix of potting soil and compost, plus 3-4 crushed eggshells and 1/4 cup dry dog food nuggets to nourish them and balance the acidity (pH) of that soil. Keep them lightly damp, not soggy as many hail from dry Mediterranean areas.
Q: I have ant nests in my driveway, but I don’t want to use pesticides where my kids and dog play. Any non-toxic suggestions?
A: Pour boiling water on the nest. Repeat as needed, perhaps weekly, till the queen and larvae are dead. Cruelly effective as long as the water is RIGHT off the stove and still boiling.
Q: My kids want their first garden, and I want to be sure they enjoy confidence-building success. Any simple easy ideas?
A: Get a 10 gallon flower pot with drainage holes and fill it with a 50/50 mix of potting soil and compost, plus 10 cups of dry dog food nuggets and 2 cups of dolomite (or 2 dozen crushed egg shells) and mix thoroughly. Place in a full sun area and water well to settle the soil. Let the kids plant sprouted potatoes or onions 4 inches deep; use the onion leaves like chives and pull up the potato plant after flowering and it has yellowed to reveal a crop of baby taters. Or have them plant 1 inch deep big, easy-to-grow seeds like nasturtium, morning glory, dried beans (pinto, etc.) from the kitchen cupboard, radish (fast growers for short attention spans!) or zucchini or yellow squash. Water right after planting then deeply weekly and witness the germination of young gardeners!

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