Q: In the springtime along the road near my house, there were some phlox plants blooming. I kept track of them, and now I see they have long seedpods. I collected a few pods' worth of seeds, but I am not sure what to do with them. Do I plant them now or wait until spring?
A: The best thing to do when planting wildflower seeds is the same thing that nature is doing with them. Since they are still on the plant along the roadside, you can just store them. If they fall out of the seedpods in the fall, then plant them this fall. If they stay until spring, then plant them in the spring. If the winter weather is cold and the seeds aren't planted, you will also need to mimic the cold weather by placing the seeds in your refrigerator.
Now I must also mention that there are about 70 species of phlox in the states. Many are very rare and found only in a single state, or even in a single valley or a specific habitat. If you are collecting such wildflower seeds, you may be collecting rare or endangered seeds that are protected by your state's laws, and you may face fines or other penalties for doing this collecting. The same penalties would apply to collecting portions of the plant that you may try to propagate.
You may need a special permit to do plant or seed collecting. You should check with your local state school extension service office for more information. There also may be local organizations set up to protect the rare plants in your neighborhood that would appreciate your help locating and propagating the plants.
The normal garden phlox species Phlox divaricata, Phlox maculata and Phlox paniculata are all easily found at garden centers. They are native to the eastern half of the continent and are usually found in wooded areas with moist soil. They tend to have a serious problem with powdery mildew on their leaves, which causes the plants to look rather poor during wet summers or when they are irrigated with water that gets on the leaves. Newer mildew-resistant varieties are available at garden centers for a higher price and are usually worth the money.
Q: All across my garden and landscape there are yellow leaves falling off my plants. Some are from trees, shrubs and even perennials. What could be affecting so many plants all at once?
A: The answer is your environment. You are probably in a drought-stricken area, and all of the plants are doing what is normal when they are not getting enough water for their needs: getting rid of extra leaves. Usually the oldest leaves lower on the plant fall off first. They are getting the most shade from the higher leaves, so they are the most expendable.
There is nothing to worry about, unless some plants are losing too many leaves. Water the ones that appear to be the most in need so they can go into the fall's cooler weather in a healthy manner. Don't fertilize them because that will stimulate growth that can't be sustained.
You should also expect to have a much worse fall color than normal. Trees that are stressed will drop many of the leaves before the fall color arrives.
Q: My tomatoes are ripening, but many of them have split sides. What is causing this?
A: This is a normal response to a lack of water followed by too much water. As the fruit matures, it gets to a certain size. Lots of fruit demand a lot of water, so a plant bearing lots of fruit will let each one get to a specific size. If additional water is suddenly available, some of the fruit will retain this water as some of the seeds grow larger and more mature, but the skin can't grow anymore, so it cracks open.
There is nothing harmful about the fruit until decay organisms take hold, so harvest the fruit as soon as you see the cracks, and eat it as usual.
A more consistent watering schedule will help, but sometimes rains come along that provide the extra water and there is nothing you can do about the cracks.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.