• Question: A friend of mine gave me a couple of Kaffir Limes in order for me to attempt to grow a tree from seed. I did an internet search on Kaffir Lime Seed Propagation and I didn't learn a heck of a lot of information. I'm in Zone 10 (I believe) in the Tampa Bay area so they should do okay, that way. But what is the best way to start these? Do I soak the seeds? If so, for how long?

  • Answer: (1) split the limes from pole to pole to extract the seeds. This results in fewer seeds cut in half. You will likely get 25+ seeds. They are seedy little devils (2) plant as soon as you can. Fresh seed is far more likely to germinate than old seed. (3) just about any potting soil, 1/4-1/2 in deep, kept moist and warm will, in my experience give upwards of 75% germination. (4) You can probably grow them just fine in the ground where you are. They have survived 25deg F. with only 5in or so of tip burn here. (5) My oldest seed-grown plant is about 8 years old. It has never bloomed. It is in a container, though. Not a great loss as the leaves are the primary part used in cooking. (Yes the zest is nice, too)


  • Question: I have a gloxinia which I bought at a nursery several weeks ago. The plant droops when it wants water and then slowly perks itself back up during the day after it's been watered. In the past few days, however, it has been turning brown. I took it back to the nursery and they suggested submerging the pot in water for a few moments and letting that soil get really wet (since the soil was dry despite having been watered right before bringing the plant over). They also gave me some plant food drops, which I mixed into the water, and I let the water drain out at the end of this process. Well, it's been two days and while the leaves are still green and velvety and half of the buds seem to be okay, the other half are brown and I've had to cut them off. Moreover, the flowers that had bloomed keep drooping to one side and I've had to cut those as well. I am afraid that this will "spread" to other parts of the plant, if that makes any sense. Is my plant headed for death, or should I just give it some time? Is there anything else I should be doing? I'm finding that it's quite a temperamental little plant but I am determined to keep it alive! Thanks in advance for any advice!

  • Answer:  "Goxinias" (actually, it is probably a Sinningia) are Gesneriads, and Gesneriads need some understanding. Submerging it in water was bad advice. Gesneriads have relatively fine roots that MUST have oxygen. They suffocate easily. Poor drainage is fatal to them. It is true that they like moisture, but they must have a light, fast-draining soil. If you keep a saucer of standing water under the pot, that is fairly sure to kill them (or most of their relatives for that matter). Something else you should know: this plant was bred from wild ancestors that are from alternatingly wet-dry forest. It is normal and natural for them to go quite dormant after blooming. The tops die off, and nothing is left but the tuber. Letting it dry out perhaps a bit too much may have shocked it into trying to go dormant. Soaking it after it tries to go dormant would be really bad because its tolerance for wet feet while it is trying to go dormant is low. I can't tell from your description whether the plant is just trying to go dormant, or if it has gotten sick from cultural issues (like, say, root rot). If you see any soft, dark, wilty tissue, that's really bad. You're right, if its disease it could spread. If it just seems to be drying up without any signs of diseases, that's not bad. I suggest limiting water to just enough to keep it from shrivelling, and if it looks like it wants to go dormant, decrease the water even more, just to keep the tuber from shrivelling. Keep it a bit cooler while dormant. The light exposure while it is still awake should be bright but not hot and not too much direct sun, which can burn it. It's naturally a shade-tolerant plant. A few hours of direct sun and bright open shade the rest of the day (actually, it could probably live on bright open shade) is enough. The Sinningia called "Gloxinia" is a beautiful plant, but its dormancy makes it tricky. If you like it but wanted something a little easier, there are plenty of other Gesneriads that are a little easier to grow. One year I grew some--Streptocarpellas--that are tolerant enough of cool temperatures to grow outdoors in hanging baskets for the summer (they have to come in during the winter unless one happens to live in the subtropics). Streptocarpus are easy (not particularly long-lived, but easy). African violets aren't hard either, just make sure that they have the same good drainage they all need. If you need to catch runoff water, you can place them on a tray filled with pebbles. The pebbles keep them above the standing water, so their roots can breath. I hope it recovers.


  • Question: I have gardenia in a large pot. All summer it was  firn outside. Now that winter is here how do I care for it. DO I take in in doors? Do I cover it?  if so what should I use? Do I need to trim any of the stems? I live in Raleigh North Carolina and we de get a few inches of snow (may be 1 to 2 inches avg whole season) But also ICE storms are frequent (2 -3 times a in the winter). Any advise or help is appreciated

  • Answer: I bring mine in, northern DE, and it thrives in moderately sunny window with good watering and occasional sprinkling of lawn fertilizer. I mist to keep down spider mites and had a scale problem solved with systemic spraying outside. Gardenia is over 30 years old. Gives lots of flowers and now has several little clones, some of which, I'll give as Christmas presents. G. jasminoides (now known as G. augusta and including such popular varieties as 'Mystery' and 'Veitchii') should be hardy to 20F. If the cold weather comes on gradually, it can even take colder temperatures. Indoors, you may have to provide extra humidity (e.g., mist the foliage daily). Other Gardenia species are far more tender and cannot take even light frost.


  • Question: We recently bought a house with a fountain in the backyard. The fountain is built with a rock cascade and a small pool set into the ground. The pool is about 2 ft x 6 ft and about 2 ft deep. During summer it was fun. Now that winter rains are starting, we are looking at a good way to keep the pool drained. We will not be using the fountain for the winter that much. But we want to avoid the standing water accumulating from the rain. We are in San Francisco area. So no problem of freezing :-) The pool seems to be a pre-fabricated sheet metal one which has been set into a hole in the ground. I can see a drain hole at the bottom center with a drain cover similar to those you can see in the bathtub/shower stalls. Obviously the drain hole is closed for normal use. I can not find any way to open it up. What should I look for. Any way to find out if the drain hole is actually connected to a actual draining outlet ( the construction might have been done without that feature ). We can periodically go and run the pump to remove the water. But we are looking for a option with less maintenance. Any comments and suggestions from the experienced netters are highly welcome.

  • Answer: Might the drain hole lead only to the pump? In that case, running the pump would be pretty much the only way. A couple of suggestions: 1. Put the pump on a timer, so it runs the fountain for 30 minutes per day. 2. Use a "sump pump" type setup, where the pump is triggered by a certain water level and it's set to pump the water out of the pool. You can buy a sump pump float switch and plug the fountain pump into that.


  • Question: I would like to clone my lemon and lime tree I need to know how to take and root cuttings from them. I have tried once with three cuttings from each and failed. I have heard it can be done? I have had no luck yet.

  • Answer: You need to take a cutting that is just about the right size and the right degree of ripeness (just barely ripened wood, not quite green anymore, usually works well). Cut it at a branch, and maybe use some rooting hormones. I haven't used the gel kind but supposedly they work well with things that are hard to root. Then you trim off most of the leaves, plant the cutting, and keep it sufficiently warm, humid, and bright but protected from direct sun. IF your plants are not seedless, there is another possible way, tricky, but intriguing: Citrus frequently produce parthenocarpic fruits complete with fertile seed that grow into replicas of the parent. No guarantees, but this phenomenon has been known to frustrate people who wanted genetically distinct offspring. If you tie gauze bags around the flower buds and carefully remove the anthers as soon as the flowers start to open, you might be able to obtain apomictic seeds from the fruit (seeds produced without pollination). Citrus very often yield fertile apomictic seeds. These would indeed produce plants the same as their parents. The usual way to propagate citrus is to create a rootstock from a seedling (which often is unlike its parents if the flowers were pollinated) and then graft or bud the desired variety onto the rootstock. With a somewhat incompatible rootstock, you can create dwarf trees from varieties that are normally not dwarfed. That is how my 'Eureka' lemon, 'Robertson' navel orange, and kumquat are all dwarfed. I have had the lemon more than 35 years, and it's about 3 feet from soil to top. Yet it bears full-sized lemons; one year I got over 60 lemons from it. However, all three of my citrus were bought from a nursery. While I'm generally successful with rooting perennial cuttings, I have very poor luck with woody plants. I have never been successful with either budding or grafting.

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