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In the Garden

Q: I tried forcing paperwhite narcissus in my home, but just as they began to bloom, they flopped over. How can I prevent this?

A: Paperwhites are one of the easiest of all spring-blooming bulbs to force in the house. All you need is a watertight container and some decorative stones or marbles. Place the bulbs on the top of the decorative material, pointy side up, and use the same material to cover all but the top third of the bulbs. Fill the container with water, keeping it filled to the base of the bulbs, and before long you’ll be rewarded with deliciously fragrant snow-white flowers. As you found out, however, a common problem with paperwhites is that they grow too fast in our warm homes. This results in stems that are too tall and thin to support the weight of the flowers, causing them to fall over. Fortunately there’s a simple trick that can prevent this from happening. When the stems reach 5 inches, add vodka to the water. Much as you might expect this treatment to make the plants tipsy, it instead burns the roots, which slows growth and prevents the stems from toppling. The stems will only grow to about half of their normal height, but the flowers will be just as large and fragrant as ever. Don’t overdo the booze; the recipe calls for 1 part vodka to about 7 parts water. If you exceed the recommended dose, your inebriated paperwhites might not only embarrass you in front of visitors, but they probably won’t ever bloom.

Q. I have a fairly large Christmas cactus. Every year the buds form but never open. They just fall off. What’s going on?

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A. Did you move your Christmas cactus while it was in bud? These plants are famous for dropping their buds if they’re moved into different conditions right before the flowers open. You can move your Christmas cactus into a different room for display purposes, but always wait to do it until it’s in full bloom. The blossoms rarely fall off once they’ve opened. If you didn’t move it, then the bud drop could have been caused by overwatering. These forest cactuses prefer to be kept cool and dry before they bloom. Too much water combined with warm conditions can lead to bud drop. Once it sets buds, water your Christmas cactus only if you notice it begin to wilt. Once it blooms, resume watering whenever the soil surface feels dry. Your plant is probably as frustrated by this situation as you are, so follow these instructions, and next time it sets buds, your Christmas cactus will put on such a great floral display you won’t believe it’s the same plant!

Ciscoe Morris: “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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