Q: Buying flowers at the store is expensive. Is it possible to bring twigs and branches indoors for early blooming?
A: It's a great idea, but there are certain trees and shrubs that are more suitable to forcing into bloom than others. It takes two to six weeks for cuttings to bloom indoors. Stems should be split at the base and then placed in vases, filled with warm water, and a 1/2-teaspoon of sugar should be added. All this will speed the blooming, as will warm room temperatures and a sunny window.
An obvious choice is the reliable Forsythia. Here are a few other suggestions:
Camellia: This luxurious bush usually blooms by mid- to late April in various shades of red and pink. Cut off several long branches with lots of buds.
Star magnolia: This hybridized, low-growing tree displays white, fragrant flowers around late April. If you are able to cut several branches from a star magnolia, you will be rewarded by the fresh scent, similar to citrus, that permeates your home, once the star-like blossoms burst open.
Santa Rosa plum: This fruit-bearing tree creates a show of tiny, white-blooming, slightly fragrant flower clusters by late May.
Q: I've noticed our local garden center puts out peat-packed roses, with only one or two short-cropped canes sticking out of the wrapping, as early as late February. They are inexpensive, but are these good-quality roses?
A: What you described are the bare root-stocks of roses that are very hardy. Among these, you will frequently find exquisite shrubs, climbers, and ramblers that are highly fragrant. A number of them are old-fashioned or antique roses, with canes that display a lot of thorns. These are pure-species roses whose strain has not been interrupted through hybridization. The moment you are able to work the soil, it is important to create a hole big enough to accommodate the root system and mix premium garden soil in with the dug-up clay and peat mix that these roses are packed in. After planting your rose, don't be concerned about additional periods of frost—it will do just fine.
Q: Starting seeds indoors has become one of my favorite projects. But they tend to become leggy after a couple of weeks, then begin to look sickly. What am I doing wrong?
A: The most important aspect of starting seeds indoors is a large, sunny window. Depending on how many seed varieties you'd like to start, it may be a good idea to buy several dozen six-inch peat pots, plastic trays to accommodate the pots, enough light potting soil to fill these peat pots, markers, and a roll of thin plastic wrap. All this is available at your local garden center. May 1 is often when gardeners set out their tender plants. Therefore, if we start our seeds toward the end of March, it will give our seedlings four to five weeks to grow. Line up your peat pots on the plastic trays, fill each to the rim with potting soil, and begin to place the seeds of your choice in the palm of your hand. You can gently press individual seeds into the soil or freely sprinkle seeds onto the soil, then cover these seeds with another layer. Water sparingly and gently cover all pots with a thin plastic sheet. Place each tray in a sun-filled window. Make sure to keep all pots moist but not wet. Remove the plastic layer during the day, but cover seedlings at night, to avoid the cold and draughts.
Victoria M. Elder, a professional creator of residential gardens, answers frequently asked questions from Baltimore-area gardeners. You can e-mail her with your gardening questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.