Califonia Bountiful

Gardening Q&A

January/February 2017 California Bountiful magazine

As a California Bountiful reader, you have the opportunity to get your seasonal gardening questions answered by gardening expert Pat Rubin. Here are a few questions from our readers.

I'm trying to get a jumpstart on the season and get lots of seeds planted. I have two problems. First, some of the seedlings look like they rot away at the base of the stem and just fall over. Second, the roots come out of the peat pots I am using, but if I don't keep the pots wet all the time, the peat gets hard and the roots sticking out die.

The first problem you are having is called "damping off." It is sort of a crime of opportunity. The conditions have to be just right for it to occur. It's most prevalent early in the seed-starting season when temperatures are cool and there is a lot of moisture. Some plants are especially vulnerable. Basil is one of them. Simply start those seeds a little later and the problem should right itself. If you really need to start early, make sure there is plenty of air circulation around the seedlings. A fan on low speed will help. As a bonus, the air blowing across the seedlings also makes them stronger.

Second, you've discovered the greatest weakness of peat pots: They work better in theory than in reality. The pots have to be kept damp, and often that is too damp for what you are trying to grow. I prefer plastic pots. A really economical solution is one of those gadgets that makes pots out of newspaper. They are surprisingly easy to handle and because the paper tears easily, the roots that come outside the pots don't get strangled like they do when the peat pots dry out.

I planted gladiolus bulbs last year. They bloomed beautifully. This year, the bulbs are beginning to sprout, but there are also dozens of tiny-looking gladiolus plants coming up. What happened?

Those are baby gladiolus bulbs. Gladiolus bulbs are actually called corms, and the young ones are called cormels. One glad corm can produce six or eight cormels each season. It takes two or three years for the cormels to get big enough to bloom. In the meantime, they can make a mess in the flowerbed if you don't want them. They are easily pulled up early in the season.

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