Cut flowers from the garden can stay fresh and attractive much longer than they usually do, if given the proper kind of treatment. Cut them early in the morning or late in the evening, several hours before they are to be used, to allow time for conditioning. They will have a slightly higher supply of reserve food in late evening but may be less crisp because of water loss during sunning hot weather.

Most flowers should be cut before they're fully open. They will retain their attractive form longer than if cut when mature. Flowers that open rapidly, like roses, should be cut when the buds show color.

Use a sharp knife or pruning shears when cutting flowers. Do not use household shears, which will mash the stem and close some of the tubes needed to absorb water. Make a clean, slanting cut. A square cut may allow the stem to rest flat on the bottom of the container and reduce water absorption.

Strip off any lower leaves that will not be needed. Immerse the stems in warm water at about 110 degrees F. Flowers with shiny or leathery foliage, such as peonies and roses, can be immersed up to the flower. Store in a cool, dark place, out of drafts, for two or three hours.

The most important procedure to maintain cut-flower quality and reasonable longevity is use of an effective flower preservative. It should contain sugar (food), bactericides and acidifying agents.

Some specialists believe that bacterial contamination of vase water is the main cause of cut-flower deterioration. Bacteria are splashed from the soil onto the stem and grow when the stems are placed in the holding solutions. The bacteria block the xylem (water-conducting elements) in the stem, the stem is not able to absorb water, and the flower wilts prematurely. Bactericides are included in preservatives to reduce or eliminate bacteria in the holding solution.

Sprite, a soft drink, can be used as an effective flower preservative, accoring to research at Michigan State University. Sugar in soft drinks sustains life and the citric acid and carbonation help control microorganisms that can block flower stems. Mix one part water and one part soft drink and add half a teaspoon of cholorine bleach to each quart of solution. The bleach cuts bacterial growth. Some other effective preservatives include Floralife, Burpee Everbloom and Smithers-Oasis. Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A Q: Every year after planting my garden, weeds come up, hundreds of them. Is there a way to get rid of them without spending half a day pulling them up? A: Digging the soil to get started brings weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate. Ou can shave the weeds off with a sharp hoe while barely shaving the crust of the soil. Digging deeper may bring more seeds to the surface and damage plants already established. Q: This year for the first time my 10-year-old rhododendrons have big spots on their leaves that turn brown. Can you tell me what's wrong? A: Prolonged dry weather last summer or heavy rainfall with poor drainage could be responsible. Q: What's the best way to propogate deciduous azaleas? I tried rooting them from cuttings for two years with no success. A: The National Arboretum was able to propagate Ghent, Mollis and Knaphill hybrids by taking cuttings while new groth at the base was still green and had just begun to harden slightly, and rooting them under intermittent mist. Q: The leaves on my small avocado plant have turned brown and crispy. What could be wrong and can the plant be saved? A: Good drainage is essential for this plant. It requires frequent watering and will go limp quickly if allowed to dry out. If the plant wilts, leaves will revive after water is provided, but in a couple of weeks the edges of the leaves may turn brown and soon drop. Q: My bearded iris is getting crowded. Should it be divided, and if so, when? A: Bearded iris multiplies rapidly and usually needs to be dug, divided and replanted every four or five years. Otherwise, there will be fewer blooms and they will lack size and quality. The best time to divide and replant is soon after it finishes blooming. This is a semi-dormant period of the plants and endures for about four weeks. Q: I have odd and ugly growths on the tip ends of stems on one of my pink azaleas. Do you know what it is? A: It is a fungus disease, called Azalea Leaf and Flower Gail, more alarming than damaging. Pick off the galls and put them in the garbage can. That will take care of it. Q: I brought petunias, zinnias and marigolds in packs. They are tall and spindly. Can they be made to spread out and be attractive? A: Pinch an inch of the top of each plant, which will cause side branches to develop on the lower part of the stem. Q: Is pruning a large oak tree back to the trunk a safe practice? A: Few large oaks can survive such drastic pruning. The leaf surface and root area should be kept in balance. A good rule of thumb is never to remove more than one-third of the leaves or one-third of the roots at one time. Q: I have a maple, six inches in diameter in the trunk, that I want to transplant to a different spot in the yard. Can it be done? A: It's much safer to root-prune the tree before moving it. In late summer dig a trench eight inches deep all around the tree, 18 to 24 inches from the trunk, cutting off the roots cleanly with pruning tools. Then fill in the trench and keep the root ball watered during dry weather. By spring there should be a good root system within the ball and the transplant can be done with little risk of losing the tree. Q: What effect would an auto exhaust have on a azalea plant about six feet distant for one minute? The azalea is more than two feet tall. A: An automobile engine can emit ethylene at concentrations of 1,000 parts per million when idling, and 10 ppm could cause injury. Q: Can I prevent onions from going to seed by breaking the stalks? A: No. Seed stalks originate at the base of onion near the roots, and by the time they are visible have already penetrated the onion completely. Q: Does Moses-in-a-Boat ever have flowers? A: Moses-in-a-Boat or Moses-in-the-Cradle (rhoco discolor) produces little white flowers in the leaf bases, or boat-shaped bracts. The plant needs 50 degrees to 55 degrees F. at night, 70 degrees during the day, filtered sun, and should be kept evenly moist but not wet. Q: When should zoysia grass in the lawn be fertilized? A: Zoysia can be fertilized when it's making active growth, May through August. Once a year may be adequate for an establised lawn; zoysia plugs will spread more rapidly if fertilized monthly during the growing season. Q: We have a new lawn started from seed this spring.We turned the sprinkler on every day for 10 or 15 minutes and the lawn looked fine. We went away for a week and when we returned the grass was half dead. What could have happened? A: When the lawn is watered, at least an inch should be applied, and two inches would be even better. This would take several hours with a sprinkler. Sprinkling lightly every day or two brings the roots to the surface, and then when you stop sprinkling the soil dries out quickly and they die. Q: After it is applied, how long does it take for a spray to dry?n A: That depends on the weather, relative humidity and time of day. On a dry, sunny day with a slight breeze, drying may be complete in half an hour or less; on a cloudy day with high humidity and no wind, it may take several hours for the foliage to dry. Q: My tomato plants are coming along fine. When should they be fertilized? A: When the first fruit is about the size of a half-dollar, scatter a heaping teaspoon of 5-10-5 fertilizer uniformly around each plant, keeping eight to 10 inches from the stem. Mix it into the top half-inch of soil with your hands and then water thoroughly. Repeat once or twice a month; poor foliage color and stunted growth usually indicate a need for it. Q: My neighbor told me I should pinch my petunias. What did he mean by that? A: You can pinch petunias, marigolds, cockscomb (celosia), snapdragons and mums to make them spread instead of growing taller. Use you index finger and thumbnail to pinch off the top of the main stem. One pinching usually is enough for petunias; with mums, pinching should continue until the middle of July. By then growth should be compact and sturdy with flower buds forming.