Q. Can you identify a little shrub we grew in our northern Illinois garden many years ago? I believe we called it butterfly bush because of the way it seemed to draw butterflies. It was fragrant and the color range was blue, purple , orchid, and soft pink. The woody stalks would freeze each winter and we would prune them back to about 4 inches aboveground. The blooms looked something like Persian lilacs.
The shrub is Buddleia, also called butterfly bush or summer lilac.
Pruning back to 5 or 6 inches in the North is a must, but it is recommended in the South as well, since spring pruning will induce more profuse blooming. The plants blossom from early summer to fall, producing plenty of flowers for cutting, even in the first year.
Besides the pinks, blues, and purples, there is a white variety and a new one that is golden.
Q. Your item about nasturtiums encouraged us to try them in our garden this year. They are a joy to behold, so much so that I'd like to dig one up and bring it indoors before frost. Would this be practical?
Although nasturtiums grow in partial shade during bright summer days, they need a sunny window in the winter to induce good bloom. They are difficult to dig up and pot if they are growing directly in the ground.
We always start a few seeds in hanging baskets in late summer or early fall.
Nasturtiums take only 7 weeks from seed to bloom. Sturdy stem cuttings usually root readily in water. Take cuttings where the stem thickens. You can enjoy a bouquet while they are rooting.
Q. In a florist's bouquet we received a few weeks ago, ivy was used among the flowers. After the flowers withered, we removed them from the green absorbent material, or floral foam. We kept the foam watered and the ivy stayed fresh-looking. When we removed the foam from the vase we noticed it was full of ivy roots, so we potted the ivy in a hanging basket (foam and all). We're now wondering if this material would be good for rooting other cuttings as well.
The various floral foams, if kept moist, are good for rooting cuttings of most plants. We have not had success rooting roses and some other woody-stemmed plants, but others may have found it worked just fine. If so, we'd like to hear from them.
In Britain and some other European countries, shredded floral foam is used as an ingredient in potting mixes, and it is gaining in popularity here in the United States as well.
Q. Have you ever heard of taking cuttings (slips) of tomato plants in the garden and rooting them to be grown indoors for winter? I tried it with some slips about a foot long, but they just wilted in the water. I read somewhere that they are more sturdy than those started from seeds. How did I fail?
We have taken cuttings (about 6 inches long) and had them root well in water or perlite. They form a bearing plant faster than seeds, but you must be sure the cuttings have no insects on them, such as whitefly or potato-bug eggs.
Once you get the insects indoors, it is hard to get rid of them.