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Ask the Gardener: ‘Tis the season to put Christmas cactuses outside

Ask the Expert Gardening
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If you re-pot a Christmas cactus, re-pot, use fresh commercial potting soil mixed with 25 percent sand of vermiculite and a slightly larger vessel. Adobe Stock

What to do this week Try to finish most of your plant shopping. Add a few grains of a time-release fertilizer like Osmocote when planting. Harvest strawberries, lettuce, greens, broccoli, peas, and cabbage. Sow bush beans and carrots. Containers are an easy way to decorate outdoor living areas, but select larger containers; small pots may require daily watering. Celebrate National Pollinators Month by planting nectar-rich flowers. Butterflies like a single row of petals surrounding a central disk, which can be found on sunflowers, asters, purple coneflowers, and black-eyed Susans. (The nonprofit Native Plant Trust; nativeplanttrust.org) in Framingham sells unusual nectar-rich plants.) Tolerate lawn and garden imperfections to avoid pesticide use. Neatness is nature’s nemesis. Pull weeds before they go to seed, and do not compost weed seeds. Find the weeding tool that works best for you, perhaps a stirrup or swan neck hoe if you prefer standing or a root-prying asparagus fork for kneeling. Let columbines, foxgloves, hollyhocks, sweet Williams, forget-me-nots, feverfew, and other biennials reseed themselves for a flower garden that is more casual but less effort. Look into automatic-watering systems to save time and money. DIY plastic drip irrigation tubing is the least expensive to install and use. Let lawns go dormant through the summer to save even more money.

Q. I have two Christmas/Easter cactuses that are several years old. They bloom and do well, but then sections wither/appear unhealthy and fall off. What can I do to avoid this?

L.S.L., Merrimack, N.H.

A. That is their way of saying they are not happy. Maybe they want a vacation. Now that the nightly lows are well above 50 degrees, you can move indoor plants outdoors until the temperatures drop again in September. Select a spot shielded from direct sunlight and wind. Since Christmas cactus dislike sudden temperature changes, they may drop more stems, but there’s not much you can do about that. Water weekly, and if you decide to re-pot, use fresh commercial potting soil mixed with 25 percent sand of vermiculite and a slightly larger pot.

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Peonies are hardy but resent being moved. —Adobe Stock

Q. I will be renovating my driveway soon and need to move established peonies. How should I move and store plants until I find a permanent location?

R.S., Boston

A. Though they look delicate, peonies are tough and long-lived. If you are just moving them from one spot in your yard to another, you can do it anytime. It’s a big job, so why not save yourself, and the peonies, grief by finding a permanent location? If you are giving them away, ask the new owner to help dig them up and replant them immediately. Otherwise, you will need very large plastic pots with drainage holes in the bottom and a bag of topsoil to fill them. The entire root may be 3 feet deep and wide and shaped a bit like a tooth, with a flat crown on top attached to thick, brittle roots. You want those deep roots intact, so dig a trench around the edge of the rootball and then try to lift or pry it out. If it comes out in several pieces, replant each one several feet apart. They will eventually grow into separate individuals as long as each piece has a flower stem attached. When replanting, carefully cover the top of the rootball with less than an inch of soil. If it is buried too deep, it will never bloom. Don’t expect new flowers for a couple of years, because peonies resent being moved.

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