August 3, 2008

Moses in the Cradle is Winter-Hardy in Virginia Beach Yard

Q. You recently had a question on Moses in the cradle. Since I have grown that plant for nearly 20 years, I've found that it is winter-hardy in my Virginia Beach yard. A clump of them in each corner of my tropical garden in full sun comes back every year. They are much prettier when grown outside - a deeper, richer purple than when grown indoors. The more sun they get, the deeper their color.

Another reason for their name Moses in the cradle is that the little boat-shaped bracts are lined with lots of fuzzy downy hairs for the tiny three-petal white flowers to nestle in.

I have noticed among the Caribbean ports we have visited that they are grown everywhere in that area.

- Esty Vollrath, Virginia Beach

A. Thanks to our "Banana Lady" for helpful information on Moses in the cradle.

Does tree lack sunshine?

Q. I have a dogwood tree over 8 years old, and it has never bloomed. What can I do to get it to bloom? Does Preen garden weed preventer or mulch with weed preventer keep weeds out of flower beds or will I have to continue to pull weeds all summer?

- Virginia Worrell, Portsmouth

A. Usually the reason a dogwood does not bloom is lack of sunshine. Is your tree getting at least a half day of sun? If not, is there some way you create more sunshine for it?

Often young trees are seedlings that don't bloom for up to 7 years of age. Since yours is 8 years old, it should be blooming.

I have never used Preen although I have heard people talk about it and they say it works. I believe I would buy the mulch with weed preventer, which gives your garden a good mulching as well as preventing weeds.

Tomato-growing tricks

Q. I have been trying to grow tomatoes in five-gallon buckets for the last several years. I plant indeterminate plants but have found they produce an initial crop of tomatoes and then die out. I've since learned the key is to monitor the pH level of the soil as tomatoes need acidic soil to thrive. Some literature I have recommends adding sulfur powder to the soil to reduce the pH level and increase acidity.

I've also learned a trick that involves planting a raw egg in the soil beneath the tomato plant roots to add sulfur. As the egg rots, it releases sulfur into the soil. Have you ever heard of this technique?

- Rick Millis, Norfolk

A. The right acidic reading for most vegetables is 6.5, so I would be careful trying to change the acidity of your soil.

Indeterminate tomato varieties should produce one large crop and then continue to produce at a slower rate all summer. Try some different varieties, and that might help.

I've never heard of the raw egg theory. Some gardeners always put eggshells in the hole before planting a rose plant to supply calcium.

Tomato Growers Supply is an excellent source for all varieties of tomatoes and good advice. You can call them at (239) 768-1119.

Ask us

No gardening questions are taken over the phone. For a faster reply, e-mail [email protected] and include your city. Or, write to Robert Stiffler, The Virginian-Pilot, 150 W. Brambleton Ave., Norfolk, VA 23510. Fax to (757) 446-2963. Limit letters to one or two questions. For an earlier reply, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

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