J. Hatch of Arlington:
What shall I do with my asparagus fern? It has turned yellow and dry almost entirely. Is it dead? It was very large. Can I divide it?
A. Low relative humidity may make Asparagus sprengeri drop needles or cause the stems to turn yellow. Cut off the yellow stems at soil level - a matter of good grooming. Increase humidity by setting the pot on a pebble tray or in a jardiniere with an inch or two of pebbles in the bottom, and keep water on the pebbles.
The soil should be kept moist at all times. A large sprengeri may need water two to three times a week.
Since your plant is very large, the pot may be filled almost entirely with roots with very little soil remaining to contain water. If that is the case, the plant should be repotted.
Asparagus sprengeri is usually only repotted when it literally bursts its pot. Sometimes it will fill the pot with roots until the plant rises an inch or more above the rim of the pot, and the thick roots are clearly visible. The roots adhere to the inside of a clay pot so that it is necessary to pry them loose. You may have to break the pot.
Cut off the fronds in preparation for repotting. It may seem like a drastic measure, but with a sharp knife you can cut an inch from around the root ball and across the bottom, thus reducing the overall size. Then return the plant to a clean pot of a same size with some fresh potting soil well tamped in around it.
If you want to divide the plant, cut the fleshy roots apart with a sharp knife and install the separate pieces in individual pots.
After repotting or dividing the plant, water it thoroughly and keep it in a shady place for several days.
Ronald Ward of the District:
My asparagus fern is loaded with red berries. Can I plant them, and how?
A. The red berries on Asparagus sprengeri contain ripe black seeds.
Mature asparagus ferns flower during the summer. Pea-size green berries follow the flowers. Sometimes these berries remain on the plant for many months, turning red indoors during the winter when they can be harvested for planting.
Seeds can be sown as soon as they are ripe or at any time of year, provided the seeds are kept dry and in a cool place until sown.
For planting, remove the red pulp and let the seeds dry for a day or two.
Place potting mix in a relatively shallow container with holes in the bottom. Set the container in water until the soil surface is damp, and then drain. Plant the seed about one-quarter inch deep. Cover the container with a pane of glass or plastic wrap to retain moisture, and place it in modest light and warmth. Germination of these hard seeds may take 2 to 3 months. If you can provide bottom heat of about 70 degrees - you can use a heating cable - that may speed up germination. They will come up if you don't give up. Plantlets resembling tiny pine trees sometimes spring up in the soil around a pot of sprengeri from berries produced on a plant being summered in the garden.
Mrs. Eunice Weston, Laurel:
My miniature rose bush got a couple of buds on it, but they dropped off and it isn't getting any new leaves. The buds drop off my gardenia and the leaves are turning yellow.
A. Miniature roses require at least four hours of full sunlight per day. Insufficient light and lack of humidity may be your problem.
The gardenia is really not a satisfactory houseplant under ordinary circumstances. Lack of humidity is the main cause of bud drop. Gardenia needs high humidity, moist soil, cool nights and bright light.
One means of increasing humidity is by grouping plants together. Or set plants on a water-proof tray of pebbles in an inch of water. Do not set pots in water. Misting helps in some situations but is only a temporary way to speed up the process.