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Wind chill can harm plants next to windows; sowing dust-like seeds

Q When we returned home after visiting our family around Christmas, all the plants on our sunporch, except a Boston fern, had blackened even though we had watered them thoroughly before leaving. The temperature in the house remained at 50 degrees F. The plants in our game room, some of which were the same as those on the sunporch, were all right. We lost a dieffenbachia, dragon tree dracaena, zebra plant, pothos (Scindapsus), and false aralia. What happened?

In your part of the country (upper Midwest) the wind-chill factor caused the outside walls, and especially the glassed areas, to be cooler than the thermostat reading. It is very probable that the severe weather while you were away caused the temperature near the windows to dip almost to the freezing point.

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The plants you mention are of tropical origin and cannot tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees.

People living in cold parts of the country should move their plants to warm areas of their house during severe weather.

Q We were intrigued last year when you wrote about growing Non Stop begonias, and we bought some seeds. The seeds were so tiny that separating them was impossible, so we ended up with a crowded bunch of seedlings right in the middle of the starting mix, thus making them hard to transplant. Please tell us how to sow the seeds more thinly.

The problem of sowing any dust-like seeds can be offset by putting about one-quarter-inch of plain dry gelatin in the bottom of a clean, dry salt shaker, then empty in the packet of seeds.

Screw the top on tightly, hold the shaker upright, and gently shake back and forth to mix in the seeds. Then hold the shaker in a slantwise position and gently shake while moving it back and forth over the starting mix. Sow about four months before you want blooms.

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