Q: I planted a dozen beautiful coneflowers of different colors last year. The label said they are perennial but the six that came back this spring gradually died in summer. The soil is well-drained and I only watered when things were dry. What am I doing wrong? Ellen Segal, Atlanta
A: In my opinion many of the new coneflower varieties are short-lived. One garden expert says that because the newer varieties are typically sterile, they don’t drop fertile seed. The original purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, drops lots of good seeds. Although the plant itself may only last a couple of years, there is always a seedling or two at the plant’s base to take its place, giving a perennial look. If you are seduced by the bright colors of new cultivars of coneflower, think of them as annuals and you won’t be disappointed.
Q: Is it difficult to grow a pawpaw tree from seed? Peggie Hawkins, email
A: It isn’t terribly hard but you’ll need to be patient. Keep a copy of “Moby Dick”on hand for down times. Ishmael will be your companion for a while. Start in fall with seed from a ripe pawpaw. Soak in room-temperature water for five days. Remove from water and immediately plant the seeds six inches apart and two inches deep in a sunny spot. Cover with chicken wire to deter squirrels.
Mark the planting spot carefully: You won’t see anything emerging for 10 months. Describe to your family what has happened in the first thirty-five chapters of Mr. Melville’s tome. This will keep you busy for a month. Finally, in July or August next year, you’ll notice small leafless stems coming up. Make a foot-high tent of chicken wire over the stems. Return to “Moby Dick” for another month until you finally see a few leaves. Go back to your bookmark and read five chapters each month for another year.
When the sprouts are a foot high you can transplant them, being sure to dig deeply enough to avoid damaging the tap root. Make the chicken wire tent taller, to guard against accidental mowing. By year three the pawpaw saplings will have lots of leaves and you can get back to Captain Ahab’s final adventure. In late spring of the fifth year, hang a raw chicken neck in the tree to attract pollinating flies. In October, close your book and recite “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee,” as you take a bite from a delicious pawpaw!
Q: I sprayed my canna lilies with insecticide every two weeks to control leaf rollers. Is there something better I could be doing? James Smith, Fayette County
A: The cigar-rolled leaves of a canna infested with leaf rollers are really ugly. In addition to spraying, make a note to remove all foliage after the first frost this fall, since the last generation of leaf rollers overwinters in the dead leaves. As soon as you see leaf damage in spring, start unrolling the leaves and destroying the leaf roller caterpillars inside. Both operations will disrupt their life cycle and reduce numbers in summer.