Your questions indicate gardeners are moving indoors and thinking about winter. It seems logical at this time of the year.
Q One of my favorite successes is the accidental discovery that a lovely pink impatiens my son potted for Mother's Day several years ago continues to bloom all year round indoors, and grows to full size by our north windows and under fluorescent lights at work. Can you recommend other shade-loving plants that grow and bloom so reliably indoors all year? -- Bruce Stein
AYour success with impatiens is because of your conscientious attention to the plant's need for moisture, good drainage and just the right brightness. A shady site outdoors is equivalent to bright indirect sunlight inside, but heat buildup from direct sun near a window can burn shade-tolerant plants. There are some plants that will be free-flowering, others offer color and interest in other ways.
Try the following outdoor plants as houseplants. Mid-February is a good time to start some from cuttings or seeds. Other flowering shade-tolerant plants can be found at garden centers and divided as they mature:
* Coleus leaves are more colorful than its flowers. It will grow from seed and display its foliage year-round indoors. When you grow it as a houseplant, pinch the small flowers as they form if you want it to remain a colorful foliage plant.
* Drummond's phlox (P. drummondii) can be grown from seed. Provide as bright a window as possible and pinch the spent blooms to encourage continuous blossoms. It prefers cooler temperatures than our summers, meaning it should be happier in a cool, bright indoor environment. Good drainage is necessary.
* Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) is grown as a florist flower. It likes cool temperatures, greenhouse conditions and good humidity. In this environment, it will flower indoors in winter. Set plants on saucers of pea gravel, filled to the top with water to keep humidity around the plant. They grow well from seed.
* Tuberous begonias (B. tuberhybrida) produce a showy pink, red or orange flower in bright indirect light. These free-flowering begonias will be a focal point in your indoor flower garden. They can be grown from seed or tubers.
* Angel-wing begonia (B. x argenteoguttata) is easy to grow and propagate and a classic parlor plant, available in a wide variety of leaf variegations and textures that do well in lower light. It likes a sunroom or window with bright, indirect light. They grow clusters of small pink or white flowers and large rough textured leaves, often with reddish veins and leaf stems. Grow a dwarf variety (one to two feet), such as dragon wing, honeysuckle (fragrant) or kismet.
Experiment with others. A couple of seed sources are Burpee (www.burpee.com) and Thompson & Morgan (www.thompson-morgan.com).
I have a number of hardy hibiscus that have done well. Someone gave me a non-hardy one that I brought indoors the past two years. It has gotten too big for me to bring in. Is it possible to cut it back? -- A.D. Tice
Bring your hibiscus indoors as soon as possible. Before doing so, cut in half by selectively pruning thick older stems from the plant. Conventional guidelines recommend pruning in late winter, but cut now, because you have to fit it into the house. New growth will still emerge and flower in spring. Keep in a sunny location for winter and water lightly. The plant might grow sparsely. About April 1, begin fertilizing, following instructions on fertilizer label. Because of disease and insect problems, many gardeners use tropical (non-hardy) hibiscus as summer flowering annuals.
One of your articles last year referred to several useful landscape tools and equipment with a particular emphasis on the user-friendly aspect for women. One was a combination leaf blower and shredder. Could you forward that information? -- Kaifa
I wrote about the 18 Volt Lawncare Center with Charging & Storage Station, Model CCC3000, with Black and Decker Hedgehog hedge trimmer, Grasshog string trimmer and edger, and Cordless Broom. They were sold as a three-piece set that came with three interchangeable, rechargeable batteries and chargers in one box. They work quite well but are best for small jobs, because of the life of the battery. Following that article, I got several e-mails from readers who couldn't find it in stores. I used these tools and reviewed them. They are in home improvement and garden centers now. If you still can't find them, check the Black and Decker Web site (www.blackanddecker.com).
I have a camellia oleifera hybrid in a well-lighted spot in my house, sprouting buds now. The buds fall off before they blossom. Should I plant the camellia outside? Would a southwestern location against the house wall be suitable? -- Kusum Wagle
Tea-oil camellia (C. Oleifera) is one of the hardiest and will withstand our winters outdoors, reportedly to minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Install it in a sheltered location where it will get protected sun. It likes sunlight, but hot afternoon sun can cause sunscald and might bleach or kill leaves. Plant it in a mix of one-third compost and two-thirds native soil. Keep evenly moist, not standing in water. The buds might drop indoors from a lack of humidity, because the soil is too wet or a vent or door creates variations in temperature. They are not houseplants. Their flowering power is superior outdoors. This species generally flowers white or light pink, October into November.
I have peonies planted in the lawn. I would like to create a mulched bed around them. Once the plants are dormant and cut back for the winter, is it safe to spray the area with Roundup to kill the grass before mulching, or would I have to protect the area where the bulbs are? -- Chris Mullen
Roundup (glyphosate) won't harm dormant roots but also won't kill grass now. It will only affect actively growing plants. Your question reinforces the importance of always reading labeled instructions. Spring is the time to control weeds, grass and other unwanted vegetation with Roundup, or other herbicide containing glyphosate. This winter, before growth begins, skim off as much grass as possible by hand. Use a flat edged digging spade. When growth begins in spring, spray the remaining grass. You will use less chemical and be able to stay well away from the peonies.
I have a pink diamond dome hydrangea. Early this spring, I cut it back to three or four feet. This summer it grew to about seven feet or more with blooms. When is the best time to cut it back? Should I cut it a second time in early summer to keep it under control?
-- Linda Bruner
Your pink diamond dome hydrangea (H. paniculata) blooms on the current year's wood with beautiful large clusters of flowers. Prune it 12 inches or lower, leaving about three buds tall per stem. Cut it in late February or early March, before growth begins. That will keep it more compact, but because of its growth habit and flowers at the end of the stems, this shrub has a floppy habit when in bloom. Only prune hard one time and don't prune mid-season or you sacrifice flowers. It's the perfect late flowering complement to a perennial or mixed shrub border.
I pruned my pyracantha in March and had only a few orange berry clusters this fall. When is the best time of year to prune pyracantha? It is getting quite large for the space we have. -- Wanda Mikovch
Pyracantha blooms on the previous year's growth. The flowers have an ornamental effect, but the clusters of berries in fall steal the show. The more flowers you have the greater the number of berries.
Pruning can be tricky. When you cut yours in March, some of the flowers that would have opened in April or May were sacrificed. This means fewer berries in fall. Selectively cut the new growth after flowering in May, leaving as many of the flowers as possible, to form berries in fall. Touch up the plant in fall, cutting away some of the leaves and stems that might be covering the beautiful berries, but remember that those new stems also hold the buds for next year's flowers and berries.
If your pyracantha needs hard shaping or renewal pruning, it can take hard cuts as long as it is cut back to a leaf or intersecting branch. Don't leave woody stubs without foliage. Prune in spring, but hard pruning will affect the amount of berries for a year. Shade will also reduce flowering and berries.
Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. E-mail or contact him through his Web site, www.gardenlerner.com.
Pyracantha berries form on flowers from previous year's growth. The more flowers on the plant, the greater the number of spectacular berries.