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Q & A about gardening

Q. I am thinking about getting a Ti plant. I saw on the web that they do best in zones 9a-11. Do you think it will grow and survive here in zone 8? I do not want to waste my time, money and effort if it is not worth it.
– Jennifer Lindauer, Virginia Beach
A. You can add a splash of the tropics to your patio or garden setting with this shrubby plant from Hawaii. Colors range from red to white, depending on the cultivar and sunlight exposure. It is a tropical plant, so you could plant it in the ground, but it would need to be dug up and moved indoors for the winter, so I suggest leaving it in a container to make the move easier. These plants can reach a height of 10 feet with a spread of 4 feet, so a three- to five-gallon container will not need repotting as often. You can fertilize them in early spring, but use a balanced product with all the numbers the same; a high nitrogen fertilizer will reduce the intensity of foliage color.

You must use caution when watering Ti plants, which are susceptible to fungal problems and fluoride. You should try to do your watering in the morning and water the soil, not the leaves. These plants are very sensitive to fluoride, so unless you know your local water supply is nonfluoridated, use water only from a rain barrel or well.
As with all tropicals, they will need to be brought indoors when nighttime temperatures fall to 45 degrees. Tropical plants will start to suffer damage at 40 degrees. Before you bring plants indoors, you will want to de-bug them. The easiest way is to set the pot in a water-filled container with a little soap. Allowing it to soak for an hour will remove any ants, slugs or other critters that have made your container a home during the summer.
Once it is inside, use a moisture meter to avoid overwatering, and remember, no fluoride on Ti plants. More houseplants die from overwatering than for any other reason. A moisture meter is a must for anyone with houseplants or plants outside in containers.
Q. I always look forward to your column in the Saturday paper, and I usually come away with something new that I have learned from it. Recently it was about pruning lilacs. When we lived in New Jersey, my pride and joy were my lilacs, especially the purple ones. The scent would just fill the house when I brought in cuttings. We moved to northeastern North Carolina and I have been told that I can grow lilacs here, but they won’t have the same strong scent as up north. I was told that they need a really cold winter to set buds and prepare to release their scent. Is this a fact?
– Louise Neskovski, Moyock, N.C.
A. The common lilac, syringa vulgaris, is the one that produces the strongest scent and does need some freezing temperatures to break dormancy and produce flowers. I think you will get freezing temperatures in most years but not every year. The strength of the scent is more or less depending on what the weather is like when the flowers bloom. The scent will be stronger if the weather is hot and dry when they bloom than if it is cool and wet.
garden gem
If you have a cool-season (fescue) lawn, your mower should be set to cut at 3 ½ to 4 inches from now until the second week of September. Warm season lawns (Bermuda, zoysia, St. Augustine and centipede) should be maintained at 3 inches. The shade created by taller grass will conserve moisture in the soil and reduce the number of weeds in the lawn.