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Volume 15, Issue 20 ~ May 17 - May 23, 2007

The Trick to Keeping Sweet William in Bloom

Not magic, just timing, makes a bi-annual bloom thrice

As a bi-annual, sweet William requires two growing seasons to complete its life cycle. So planted in early spring, sweet William will flower a little the first year but flower profusely the second year, after which it produces a heavy crop of seeds before dying.

This bumper crop of seeds exhausts the reserves of the plant and shades the foliage beneath.

Because the seed capsules are so large and so dense, each must photosynthesize to maintain its strength.

The trick to keeping sweet William in flower all summer — and have them flower again a third year — is to shear them severely soon after flowering, while the seed capsules are still small and green. By severely shearing — within inches of the ground — at this time, you prevent the plant from exhausting itself producing seeds, and you expose the lower leaves to direct sunlight.

Shearing away the seed capsules causes the plant to grow more stems from the base, which will produce flower buds and more flowers the following summer. Preventing the plant from maturing its seeds also forces it into juvenile growth. If the plant produces more seed capsules later, shear again mid-summer. Sweet William plants are unlikely, however, to set seeds during the hot summer months.

I have successfully forced Sweet Williams to flower for three consecutive years by using this method. You can, too.

Yes, We Have Advice on Bananas

Q I purchased a Blood Banana from a local tropical nursery. The directions were to transplant from the one-gallon pot it is in now to a larger pot, using compost as a planting medium. I just want a second opinion as this is my first tropical plant. Also, the pot I have to transplant it into is about three to five gallons. Is this a good size or should I get a larger one so I just have to move it once? It will be in a container all its life as I live in an apartment.

—Dan Kohler, Washington State

A Since the plant is destined to survive in a container indefinitely, I would move it into a three-gallon pot, then in eight to 10 months shift it into a five-gallon planter. The banana will live about two years before producing a flower and a stalk of bananas. After it produces bananas, the plant dies, but new sprouts first emerge from the base. Cut the sprouts off after they have formed roots and transplant them into a gallon container.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected]. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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