Dear Garden Lady

October 2018


Are begonias perennials or annuals?
In the tropics they are perennials. Here they cannot survive our winters, unless brought indoors.

My daughter says I should buy some Mexican sunflowers next year because they bloom right up to first frost.
Mexican Sunflower – Tithonia Rotundifolia – is a sensational, neon orange or golden daisy-like annual that thrives in zones 1 to 10. If you can give them full sun, go for it.

My darling wife (from the South, you know) wanted a banana tree. We have one. I must say its enormous leaves have been spectacular. Will it survive a DC winter?
Of course it will. Notwithstanding that in our climate the banana tree will never have flowers, let alone bananas, some of us do love those magnificent leaves. When they fall off they can be left at the base of the tree to insulate its roots. New green shoots will appear in spring sunshine.

When should I cut back my tall New England Asters?
Cut them back after all their foliage has died.

The African violet I received for Christmas last year has begun to wilt. What might I be doing wrong?
You certainly have done very well so far. Our biggest mistake as amateurs is to water an African violet too much. When waterlogged, its fine roots die for lack of oxygen. So water only if the top of the soil is dry to the touch. Using lukewarm or warm water, apply from either the bottom or the top. Remove excess water after the plant has taken up all it needs. Violets bloom best when pot-bound. Place in bright but indirect light close to, say, a North-facing window.

My brother admires Virginia creeper vine for its brilliant red color in the fall. I told him to find another vine for the side of his house because Virginia creeper is horribly invasive. What do you think?
Virginia Creeper is immensely strong. Its woody vines with attractive five-part leaves can easily climb 20 feet, forming an attractive and dense green screen with purple berries and scarlet foliage in autumn. If your brother can trim the long runners that spring from each leaf junction, and stop its many underground runners spreading throughout the rest of the garden, he might be the one fellow who can master Virginia creeper. This plant is intensely invasive.


The Capitol Hill Garden Club will feature a program on fall gardening issues on Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 at the NE Public Library, corner of Maryland Ave. & 7th St. NE. Meetings start with refreshments at 6:45 pm and are free and open to all. Membership details are at