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Home & Design Garden party: Tips to quickly turn yourself into a green thumb

1. What’s the best plant to give as a gift?

Bar none, the most thoughtful, longest-lasting gift to give anyone, gardener or non-gardener alike, is a Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender.’ These plants are easy to find in nurseries right now and will bloom with a dazzling neon-blue brilliance from late August until November, outside or indoors. They have glorious purple-backed, silvery-green leaves that curl up if you forget to water them. Bring it indoors in the fall and it will continue to bloom for most of the winter. Whack it back in spring, then place it outside after May 24 for another season of gorgeousness. It is one of the most satisfying plants I know.

2. I live in a condo, but want to have a fruit tree. Are there any that will survive life indoors?

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Many citrus plants will produce small, tart fruits when grown indoors.

gerenme/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Indoor fruit-tree growing can be spectacular as long as you aren’t expecting big, lush crops of juicy fruit. The foliage and blossoms are the draw here. You can grow all the following indoors: pomegranates, figs, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, peaches and nectarines. Except for grapefruit, citrus plants will produce small, very tart fruits – good for making marmalade. Grapefruit won’t produce fruit, but has wonderful, shiny green foliage that makes it worth the effort. They all need soil that drains well and must have between four and six hours of sun daily.

3. I have cacti, snake plants and a fiddle-leaf fig tree. Is there one type of soil I can use for all of them?

No, don’t do that. Use a cactus soil or hanging-basket mixture for the cactus and the snake plant. The fiddle-leaf fig tree will need a much richer soil: Add compost to a bagged potting soil mixed half and half with cactus soil. It’s always best to check with the grower when you are purchasing these plants. Don’t use soil for azaleas or roses because it will be too acidic. Whatever you plant in, it should be on the pH scale between 6.0 and 6.5. Start fertilizing a month later and don’t overwater – soggy roots can mean leaf drop or death.

4. What should I do about perennials in the garden that have gotten way too big?

I highly recommend the Chelsea chop: cutting back perennials such as asters, sedums, coneflowers and lespedeza, which can get much too blowzy and need staking just when they head into bloom in August or September. For a future shape that’s lower in form and more mounded, wait until the end of June, when they are at about three-quarters of their mature height. Take a clean pair of sharp clippers and give them a good whack back of about a quarter to one-third of their height. They will recover fairly quickly and will bloom just slightly later than usual.

5. Should I mulch my garden in the summer? I am being overwhelmed with weeds this year.

This is the ideal time to mulch and, yes, this is the worst year for weeds in ages. I buy from a local outlet that uses well-composted bark from local trees, which is mixed with finely chopped bark chips. It looks okay as is, but I like to add a layer of compost to make it have a consistent dark colour. Don’t use dyed bark; it never looks anything but tacky. A natural look is what is desired, but it should be elegant as well. A mulch is like a blanket that keeps the temperature of the soil even and cuts down on weed growth. It’s not perfect, but leaving soil exposed will allow weeds to have their own pernicious way. And don’t let a leaf blower get near mulched borders – it ruins the mulch as well as the soil profile.

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