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Garden Q&A: On hardy camellias and growing lettuce indoors

Hardy camellias are bred to withstand cold temperatures.
Hardy camellias are bred to withstand cold temperatures. (Ellen Nibali/For The Baltimore Sun)

I want to grow these! I saw them in Annapolis around the holidays.

Winter hardy camellias were developed after a devastatingly cold winter in the 970s killed all 900 camellias in the National Arboretum except one ugly duckling from China grown for its seed oil. From that, Dr. William Ackerman hand-crossed 10,000 plants, whittling them down to 34 selections hardy to below 10 degrees.

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Be sure to choose a variety that’s hardy in your growing zone. Most of central Maryland is 7a or 7b. (View a map online to accurately determine the hardiness zone where you live.) Fall blossoms last until temperatures plunge. Site is important. Protect from prevailing winds. Part shade is good, primarily shade from afternoon sun in summer. Some shade helps prevent winter leaf burn, too.

Camellias want well-drained soil. Water when needed to keep soil moist (not soggy) from spring through fall for at least the first two years. Mulch 2-3″ deep at most, keeping mulch off the trunks. Mulch will moderate soil temperature, aid moisture retention, and add organic matter and nutrients to soil as it breaks down. These camellias fare best with spring planting so they can establish roots before winter. Deer may browse. There are also spring-blooming camellias.

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I grew up on a farm and hated gardening. Now guess what? I’m in a life care community experimenting with lettuce I transplanted indoors under grow lights. They survived the first month well with 16 hours of light. Now the romaine seems to be bolting and growing tall and spindly. I reduced lighting hours to 12, and began watering from the bottom. Any guidance to grow greener, more succulent lettuce inside?

A plant brought in from outside will mature before long and not provide you with the harvest you hope for. Remove old romaine plants and try starting lettuce from seed every couple of weeks so you can harvest all winter.

Lettuce is a long-day plant, meaning it will start flowering (bolting) when the hours of darkness decrease. If you try to grow a lettuce plant indoors to full maturity, it may start to flower when the grow light is on for 16 hours each day. But this shouldn’t be a problem, if you harvest the leaves with scissors when plants are 6 to 8 inches tall. These baby lettuce plants will re-grow, giving you a second and possibly third harvest! This is called “cut and come again” harvesting. Place the lights just a few inches above the lettuce plants to keep them stocky. Bottom watering is a good practice.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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