Dear Garden Lady

May I offer readers something I learned the hard way: plant Nasturtium seeds in September! For years I have planted Nasturtiums in May and June, but they never thrived. Last year, thinking it likely that our summer heat does them in, I planted Nasturtiums in September. By mid October I had healthy, blooming Nasturtiums in their vivid oranges, yellows and crimson lasting all fall.

Thanks for the tip. Nasturtiums have big seeds that sprout and grow quickly. The flowers are tasty, too.

Are there any perennials that actually do well in clay soil?

Yes – but everything on this list does better in soil that drains better than clay does and contains more air and compost. That said, these perennials can manage well in clay: Asters, Black-eyed Susans (Rudbekia), Daylilies (Hemerocalis), Japanese Irises, Ferns, Potentilla – even Viburnum.

What is Summer Amaryllis?

Amaryllis belladonna, best in zones 7-9, can grow in the garden all year long. Plant in the fall with their necks just at ground level in a spot with full sun. In the spring stalks, leaves and superb flowers unfold. The Amaryllis sold in pots for indoor bloom in winter is called Amaryllis hippeastrum.

This year for the first time I have ventured to grow dahlias. Despite the heat they have been magnificent. Can they survive in the garden over the winter?

Not in our climate. In areas colder than Zone 8, dahlias are considered to be tender bulbs that will not survive exposure to harsh winter weather Dahlias grow from tubers that somewhat resemble sweet potatoes and grow shallowly. Sensitive to freezing temperatures, Dahlias should not be planted outdoors until the threat of frost has passed and the soil is about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. They like full sun.. In Fall, when leaves begin to turn black, loosen soil around the tuber, lift gently, remove soil from tuber gently, taking care not to break the “necks” protruding from the root, and to preserve the “eyes”, from which flowers will grow next spring. Discard tubers that lack eyes. Label each tuber. Keep the stem that is attached to the tuber.  Store in a cool place (around 40’F), away from light, in a container loosely filled with peat moss or crumpled paper. Tubers must not dry out entirely. If tubers appear to be drying out, sprinkle the container with a small amount of water. Plant when all danger of frost is gone.

Feeling beset by gardening problems? Send them to the Problem Lady c/o The Capitol Hill Garden Club at andrew@hillrag.com. Your problems might prove instructive to others, and help them feel superior to you.  Complete anonymity is assured.

Capitol Hill Garden Club programs are free. On Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. Kevin Conrad, Woody Plants Director at the US National Arboretum will speak on Small Trees Suitable for Capitol Hill Homes at the Church of the Brethren, 4th Street door, corner North Carolina Avenue and 4th Street, SE. Membership details at 202-543-7539. 


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