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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Dear Problem Lady – February 2017

We forgot to prune our beautiful lacecap hydrangeas and are now wondering whether we should still do it this late. Or have we missed the boat as far as expecting any beautiful flat blue blooms in 2017? I always get lacecaps mixed up in my mind with the snowball and oak leaf varieties of hydrangea.
–– You are not the only one. Some hydrangeas can be cut back anytime because they bloom on “new” (this year’s) wood. But a lacecap blooms on “old” wood. Its buds are already “set.” So wait – if it needs pruning – until just after it blooms this summer.

Instead of a bouquet, my dinner guest arrived with two pale yellow orchid plants in pots. I was speechless with gratitude – and fear. How must I care for these exotic things? Their name is Phalaenopsis. I want to be worthy of this flattering gift.
–– With almost no effort you can be worthy. Read up on Phalaenopsis care on the internet. The essentials are: bright, indirect light – no direct sun – and not very much water, but high humidity. Fill a dish or tray with pebbles and water to the top of the pebbles. Place the orchid pots on top of the pebbles near a southern window. Be sure sun does not directly reach the leaves. Water only once a week, most sparingly. They like night temperatures of no less than 62 degrees F and daytime temperatures of no more than 80. An average of 70 will work. Some recommend feeding. Use a special orchid food or a general 20-10-20 fertilizer – one half teaspoon per gallon of water.

I am considering writing a crime novel set on Capitol Hill. Are there ordinary garden plants whose toxicity would be sufficient to cause the death of an adult?
–– You would be surprised. While some cause mere stomach upset or skin abrasions, many are lethal – horse chestnut, hydrangea, lupine, the seeds of the sweet pea. Look online for a longer list. Your problem, however, will be easy detection by forensic toxicologists, combined with implausibility. Victim must not suspect, and neither must all but your canny detective.

We have no water source in our backyard. How can we garden? We do not wish to have to install a tap there yet.
–– Try a rain barrel, hooked up to a downspout from your roof. They are quite popular. However, you will be as dependent on the arrival of rain as any old-fashioned farmer.

Feeling beset by gardening problems? Your problem might prove instructive to others and help them feel superior to you. Send them to the Problem Lady c/o dearproblemlady@gmail.com. Complete anonymity is assured.

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