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Peace lily problems often soil or water-related

Q: I inherited a 10-year-old peace lily from my grandma when she passed away. I've transplanted it into a larger pot three times in the past seven years, but it's declining. Is there anything I can do? — Benay Knaany, Pittsburgh, Penn.

A: The photo shows your peace lily leaves with brown tips and margins, which are almost always caused by peace lily's adverse reaction to salts that accumulate in the soil from water type or excess fertilizer. Fertilize peace lilies no more than monthly during the increased daylength months of March through September and skip the other months.

Peace lilies are very sensitive to fluoride, chlorine and water from a softener unit. Instead use rain water, distilled or reverse osmosis water. Water thoroughly, less often, but frequent enough to avoid wilting.

The pot looks large for the plant's size, which makes it wallow in excess soil and moisture. Repot into fresh soil in a pot that's at least two inches smaller in diameter. Locate the plant's root ball high enough in the pot so there's only a half-inch of 'headspace' depth between the pot's rim and the soil surface. Hopefully new sprouts will arise to replace damaged shoots.

Q: Last year I tilled a new vegetable garden in my backyard. Tomatoes and peppers did well, but the Burpee cucumber seeds didn't even emerge from the soil. I planted them in a small round circle in a mound with six seeds in each, planted one inch deep. I watered faithfully to keep the soil moist about one inch. Did I plant the cukes wrong, or is my soil not conditioned right? — Joe Vasek, Moorhead, Minn.

A: I grew up with my parents and grandparents using garden slang, so I learned that planting cucumbers, squash and melons in 'hills' meant planting about six seeds in a closely spaced circular group. When hearing that seeds should be planted in a hill, the logical misconception is that they're planted on a raised mound, which is what you might have done. Planting in a grouping is customary for cucumbers and other vining crops, but at normal ground level, instead of on a mound.

Seed of cucumbers and related vine crops germinate best in soil that isn't overly moist. It's possible the soil was staying too wet. One-half to one-inch of rain or equivalent sprinkling after planting is all that's needed for cucumbers to emerge.

Q: I'd like to grow garlic this spring in my above-ground container box, but after doing a little research I found that garlic should be planted in the fall. Since that ship has sailed, is it possible to have success if I plant real early in spring? - Steve Odegaard, Fargo.

A: You're right about garlic's preferred planting time being in the fall, after the first killing frost. Fall planting produces the largest garlic bulbs, but spring planting can still yield a decent garlic crop, if cloves are planted very early in the spring, long before you'd think about planting other garden crops. Because raised-bed gardening is a fairly recent successful trend, there isn't a long history of planting and overwintering garlic in above-ground planter boxes. Raised planters are subjected to colder winter temperatures than soil at ground level. When fall-planting, choose varieties termed 'hard neck,' because they're the most winter-hardy.