B. Rosie Lerner
Consumer Horticulturist







Question and Answer

Q. In the November edition of "Electric Consumer," the "Gardening Q&A" talked about cardinal flowers. I wondered if these could be purchased anywhere, as I would love to have some by my pond. I live in Northeast Indiana, and, if you know where I could obtain some, I would appreciate the information.

A. Known botanically as Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower is a wonderful native plant that is especially attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. Garden centers that carry a good range of perennial species are likely to stock this plant or at least the seed. But, if you have any trouble finding it locally, cardinal flower is widely available through mail-order sources, including: Carolee's Herb Farm, Hartford City, Ind., 765-348-3162, http://www.caroleesherbfarm.com and Munchkin Nursery, Depauw, Ind., 812-633-4858, http://www.munchkinnursery.com

Q. For the past two or three years, we have had some creature that has burrowed down the newly planted rows in our vegetable garden, eating the seeds we hoped to have grow and produce. The ground is disturbed, as if whatever it is has tunneled along the length of the row. Beans and especially corn have been the chief recipients of this unwanted attention. Is there anything we can safely put into the row as we plant these seeds that will discourage this activity? We have used corn seed that has been treated with insecticides, but that doesn't seem to deter our “friends.” Last year, we replanted three times before finally having the seeds stay put long enough to germinate and grow. This gets to be rather expensive, besides being unbelievably frustrating and delaying the results we plan for.

A. There are a number of varmints that could be responsible, with the most likely suspect being ground squirrels (Eastern chipmunk). Transplanting, when possible, rather than sowing seeds will help get around the problem. But some crops must be direct-seeded. You could make an inverted U-shaped cover out of one-fourth-inch mesh hardware cloth to embed around seed rows, particularly if you just have small areas to protect. Leave them in place just long enough to allow the seeds to sprout. You could also try trapping the critters, but, in most cases, others will pick up where they've left off.

Q. I need some answers about a banana tree that I am growing inside. I'd like to transplant it outside this year, but it is four feet, at least, and I don't want to keep it in the house ever again. My question is: When can I safely transplant it outside? I also want to know if I can keep it all year round or if I have to cut it way back to bring it inside for next winter. I'd rather try and keep it outside year round but bury it deep to do this.

A. Bananas are tropical plants and will not over winter outdoors successfully in Indiana, even if you try to cover it. You can move it outdoors to the patio during much of the frost-free season, but bring it back indoors when temperatures are likely to be below 40 F. You can either keep it as a potted plant over winter, or you can remove the plant from the soil, cut the foliage back and pack the rhizomes (underground stems) in a box of dry vermiculite, peat moss or sand and store in a cool, but non-freezing location. Repot in spring and move outdoors after danger of frost is past.

Q. I have three Rose of Sharon shrubs, and every year they are full of buds. In the beginning, they bloom great, but after awhile there are still tons of buds, but they don't bloom. Some of the buds start to bloom, but the flowers just turn brown and fall off prematurely; some just fall off and never open. I am clueless at to what is wrong or if this is just normal.

A. I get this question so frequently that I am beginning to think that it IS normal for this plant to drop flower buds! Individual flowers of this plant are not particularly long lasting, so it is difficult to say what is premature blossom drop. Hot temperatures, heavy rain, wind, etc. will hasten drop of mature blooms. But, if buds and immature blossoms are falling, it is likely to be caused by plant stress, such as too little or too much moisture and/or fertilizer. There is also a fungal disease called Botrytis that infects flower buds and causes them to turn brown and drop, often before or just after they open. It is possible that a combination of these factors is to blame.


Writer: B. Rosie Lerner
Editor: Olivia Maddox,