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Problem & Solution
November/December 2017

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Love those Zinnias
Problem: Thank you for the lovely article on zinnias! I love them too. Do you have a suggestion for a foliage plant to grow to use in bouquets of zinnias and other cut flowers?

Nancy Post

Solution: There are so many! I have five or six plants growing in my beds and gardens that I use over and over. My most-used filler comes from foxtail (asparagus) fern. I love the dark green, “ferny” foliage and it is available in my garden from April up until the first freeze. Because of this, I use it a lot. Yarrow is another favorite. In the spring, I use the delicate clumps of small flowers like designers use baby’s breath. In summer, I use the greenery as an awesome filler that lasts forever in the vase. Boston fern and foxtail fern also provide great material. For more “spikey” fillers, I use the grass-like leaves of my bi-color iris, and I also love using “woody” plants like coral honeysuckle and the gray foliage of ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia. — Jay White.

Seedlings in the Heat
Problem: A friend wants to plant tomatoes for a fall garden. He purchased a pack of ‘Amish Paste’ tomato seeds and planted them all. He asked me to babysit them while he took a two-week vacation. He then explained that the few plants (about nine) were all that lived. He had planted them in good potting soil and kept them moist. But we have extremely hot weather and I watched in horror as all but one drooped and died. That one died when we received a good rain shower.

I’ve started four more in a seed-starting medium and have since moved them into small peat pots. (My normal methods for starting tomatoes.) With the heat the way it is, I’m asking if you have some helpful guidance.

Jerry Ryals

Solution: Too much water can actually be harmful in this hot weather (July-August). Once the seeds have emerged, let them dry out between waterings. Give them some sun in the morning but shade in the afternoon. Resist the temptation to keep them soaking wet or they will damp-off and die.

Storing Seed
Problem: At the end of the gardening season, I seem to always end up with a mason jar full of partially used seed packets. They end up in my workshop or kitchen cabinet. I wonder about their viability. Is there a better place to store them? Some of the tomato seed is very expensive and I hate to lose it.

Joe Edwards

Solution: Yes, take that same mason jar with seed and place it in your refrigerator. Before you do, make sure the jar is dry and that each packet is dated and sealed (a paper clip will do). Also, place a couple of tablespoons of powdered milk in some tissue paper (Kleenex) and secure it shut with a rubber band. Then place the powdered milk in the jar with your seed packets. The powdered milk will work as a desiccate and keep moisture from building up in the jar. Tomato seed stored like this will last up to four years, squash up to five years.

Spinach Won’t Sprout
Problem: I have trouble getting spinach to germinate. I waited until late September to plant, but it is not coming up. Maybe I have bad seed or I’m planting too deep.

Christa Worley

Solution: Spinach seed is finicky when it comes to soil temperature. The soil needs to be at around 75 degrees or lower for good germination. You probably planted a little early. Placing a shade cloth structure above the planting row can help improve germination when conditions are marginal.

Soak your seeds in water in the refrigerator for 24 hours prior to planting. This will initiate the chemical processes that lead to germination. Water the soil in the seed row prior to planting to soak it deeply. Then plant the seeds 1/4 inch deep. Seeds should germinate in 7 to 10 days. When seedlings are about 2 inches tall, thin them out to about 6 inches apart.