Dear Problem Lady – May 2017

Presented by The Capitol Hill Garden Club


I oversee the maintenance at a local private garden. For the past two springs, the multitude of daffodils planted in 2012 have not flowered well – lots of buds, but most dry up before blooming. My own daffodils and others all over the Hill bloomed profusely. What is the problem? Soil? Crowding?
We did have hot weather in January, followed by hard freezes – but as you say, your own daffs bloomed well. Moisture has been similarly sporadic – first months of drought, then rains. Somehow these bulbs lacked enough of the basics. (Now isn’t too late to sprinkle bone meal over them for 2018.) Try digging up a small patch to examine whether the bulbs are deep enough, crowding, or if the soil looks inadequate.

I planted 16 giant zinnia seeds in peat pots in a little portable “greenhouse.” Directions said they germinate better if you put them on someplace warm. I used a heating pad on low. Wow! In three days they had all sprouted. Since zinnias love heat and sun, one day later when it was over 80 degrees F. I moved them outside, still inside the little plastic-topped incubator. They were all dead in three hours. What did I do wrong?
First, kudos for getting them to sprout so quickly. Nature can be so satisfying. But tiny seedlings must be stronger before going outside. Keep them inside – in a window or under a light – for a few weeks until they have a number of leaves. Slowly introduce them outside, in shade at first, without the cover, and gradually bring them into sun. They need several days to acclimate (or “harden off” as it’s called). Ultimately you were correct, zinnias do crave all the sun you can give them. You just needed patience through the developmental stage.

I can’t remember whether the so-called grapes on my so-called Oregon grape holly are last year’s or this year’s. They are an attractive gray-green color, and profuse. Question: When should I cut them off?
The grape-resembling fruits on your non-holly plant, Mahonia, are this year’s creation. Over the summer and fall they turn darker to purple and then dark-blackish wine color. They are full of pectin and can make interesting jelly, but need a lot of sweetening. Birds and some people can eat them when ripe, but the taste can shock humans! They are not poisonous. If you want baby Mahonia plants, leave some to fall as they will. Otherwise, cut them off any time.

The next public meeting of the Capitol Hill Garden Club occurs on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at the Northeast Public Library, corner of Maryland Avenue and Seventh Street NE. Meetings start at 7 p.m. and are free and open to all. Membership details at

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