Dear Problem Lady


A Christmas cactus arrived at my house, in full bloom, just before Christmas. It is still blooming. What care does it need? Our town house has limited light exposure. I do hope I don’t have to throw it out when it fades. I love it, and I love the person who gave it to me. I want to keep it as long as I can.

Tricky. Christmas cactuses want cool temperatures; best around 60 degrees F, and no direct sunlight – just bright indirect light, such as from a skylight or north window. They must have high humidity, so put your cactus on a bed of water-immersed pebbles. Do not overwater the plant itself. Do not underwater. Err on the dry side. They also need long dark nights. Summer outside in a shady, cool spot.

When is too late to plant spring bulbs?
It is not easy to plant bulbs in soil that is frozen. That said, because DC weather at this time of year can be – let us say “variable” – much of a garden’s soil may remain “unfrozen” from time to time. So, if you can dig through your soil to the depth needed by your bulbs (about three times the vertical height of the bulb, six inches or more) then go for it. Bulbs need about three months of cool dormancy in order to bloom. Yours will not have had a great start. On the other hand, bulbs want to live and bloom more than anything. Like us.

Settle an argument please. My wife thinks that orange roadside lilies are tiger lilies. I think they are ordinary day lilies and that tiger lilies are the ones shaped like a so-called Turk’s cap and have black spots or speckles.
You are correct. Take your wife out to dinner to celebrate.

Somewhat in despair, I’ve been gazing at my garden this autumn and thinking how unkempt it looks. Somehow it has stopped working. What to do?
Without more details, the Problem Lady believes you are doing the best possible thing already. Just staring at your garden is most helpful – a good, hard look. Should this garden be edited? Even if some things do well, are you tired of them? Does the garden need revving up? Or calming down? What would make you like it again? Walk around your neighborhood to get new ideas. Remember that colorful summer annuals can often transform the blahs. The right answers will come from you alone.

Members will discuss their own gardens at the next public meeting of the Capitol Hill Garden Club on Jan. 9 at the Northeast Public Library, corner of Maryland Avenue and Seventh Street NE. Meetings start with refreshments at 6:45 p.m. and are free and open to all. Membership details: