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Originally published Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Plant Talk

Getting that camellia to bloom

Q: I bought Camellia sasanqua 'Apple Blossom' two years ago with blossoms on it. Last year it bloomed just before the big windstorm, so...

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Q: I bought Camellia sasanqua 'Apple Blossom' two years ago with blossoms on it. Last year it bloomed just before the big windstorm, so the blossoms were short-lived. This year, I haven't seen any sign of blossoms. Any ideas?

A: Sasanqua camellias bloom in winter and earliest spring, and 'Apple Blossom' is a particularly lovely type with blush pink single flowers and glossy green leaves. It thrives in well-drained soil, rich in organic matter and appreciates an application of acid fertilizer in early spring.

Your 'Apple Blossom' should be flowering by now, so I'd have to guess it needed more water over the summer to set buds, or didn't get enough sun. Sasanqua camellias need regular watering for the first few years, and, unlike their more familiar cousin Camellia japonica, needs quite a bit of sun to flower well. Or could you have pruned it late enough so that you mistakenly cut off the buds? Be assured camellias are long-lived plants and when grown in the right conditions bloom prolifically over time.

Q: My new favorite year-round plant is Euphorbia wulfenii. I understand that this plant comes in large, medium and small. Besides the standard wulfenii that gets about 4 feet by 4 feet, there is 'Humpty Dumpty' which is 3 feet by 3 feet, and then 'Shorty', being 1 ½ feet by 1 ½ feet. Are there any other differences in these plants besides their height and compactness?

A: Euphorbia is a huge genus with more than 2,000 species, and since E. characias subsp. wulfenii has become so popular, it has many new cultivars, including the new, more compact types you describe. All are drought tolerant, showy, easy-care perennials with gray-green leaves topped with domes of chartreuse bracts in springtime. 'Humpty Dumpty' and 'Shorty' are not just shorter than the rangy species, but also smaller scale in leaves and bloom, making them ideal for pots and urban gardens. Their flowers and foliage are just as eye-catching.

Q: My sister, an avid and master gardener, has requested a riddle, one of those round soil strainers. I'm finding one hard to come by; I think she was, too, which is why she requested it of me. Might you know of a resource for such a thing in the Seattle area?

A: I hadn't heard these useful implements called "riddles" but I remember my mother had a set of homemade ones with wire netting in various textures to strain her compost. I find new galvanized steel riddles for sale on English Web sites such as amazon.co.uk.

You might also check a store, such as Hardwick's in the University District, that carries old tools and implements. If all else fails, you could make a set of riddles for your sister. You'd need a sturdy frame several inches deep of a comfortable size to handle, with a fairly fine wire mesh stretched tight and fastened to one side.

Valerie Easton also writes about Plant Life in Sunday's Pacific Northwest Magazine. Write to her at P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111 or e-mail planttalk@seattletimes.com with your questions. Sorry, no personal replies.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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