Dear Garden Problem Lady


Feeling beset by gardening problems? Your problem might prove instructive to others, and help them feel superior to you. Send them to tWhy does so-called planting mix have a lot of little white Styrofoam morsels in it?

The white, foam-like balls in your potting soil are most commonly made from a naturally occurring volcanic glass known as perlite. They are not Styrofoam. The pellets help keep soil loose and aerated. They do not absorb moisture, but hold it in tiny cavities, ready for nearby plant roots. Unlike Styrofoam, which will never decompose, the perlite beads decompose naturally over time, and pose no threat to the environment

My Nandina is covered with bright red berries. Are they poisonous?

 Nandina berries contain highly toxic hydrogen cyanide, which is extremely poisonous to all animals, causing death within minutes. But it is generally not toxic to humans. Sudden death may be the only sign or symptom of cyanide poisoning, as Dame Agatha Christie well knew.

My potted flowering Quince looked pale a month ago. Now its leaves are pale and sparse. Neglected in all seasons, every year it has rewarded me by blooming its glorious head off. What is the best care for a Quince?

Quince blooms (on previous years’ growth) best after at least eight weeks of cold weather. You have hit the perfect treatment – neglect. Flowering Quince thrives in almost any well-drained soil, and likes sun or partial shade. We are lucky here that it can start blooming as early as New Year’s Day!

How late is too late to plant spring-flowering bulbs?

Because bulbs need time to root and establish themselves, a good rule of thumb is to plant them when average nighttime temperatures are in the 40- to 50-degree Fahrenheit range. By this rule, now is too late. But don’t wait. Bulbs won’t survive out of the ground indefinitely. They’re better off given a fighting chance in the ground than wasting away in a cupboard. Flower bulbs are survivors by nature’s design. Every year stories abound of bulbs that bloom after being planted under the most improbable circumstances. Plant as long, or as late, as soil remains unfrozen enough in which to dig a hole.

Our Black-eyed Susans disappeared during the long summer drought. Is that the end of them, or will hidden roots revive next spring? 

If the plants have disappeared with no sign of physical presence such as root ball or stalks, chances are they won’t come back. If they went to seed before dying you may have some seedlings in spring. Their first leaves are slightly hairy.  

 The next public meeting of the Capitol Hill Garden Club occurs on January 14, 2020 at 7 pm at the NE Public Library, corner of Maryland Ave. & 7th St. NE. Meetings start with refreshments, and are free and open to all. Membership and Program Topic details are at