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Coaxing a bromeliad into bloom

Question: I've been growing bromeliad pups for about two years and they haven't flowered. There's also a white film on parts of the leaf. _ Ellen Graff, Spring Hill

Answer: If the white film you've noticed has a mold-like appearance or is sticky, the plants need to be sprayed for scale insects. But I suspect the "film" is normal. Bromeliads are a diverse group of plants and many have leaves covered with a distinct silvery or grayish "powder."

Although bromeliads thrive in shade, those with thick, leathery, grayish or silvery leaves require bright, but not direct, light for best growth and flowering. Try moving your plants to an area with brighter light. If the plants are getting enough sunlight, you might be able to force one to bloomby placing a tomato in the "vase" _ the cup in the center of the leaf rosette.

Preserving eucalyptus

Question: I have a eucalyptus tree and would like to know how to preserve branches cut from it. _ Dorothy Aquilino, Winter Haven

Answer: Eucalyptus is easily preserved by cutting and hanging loose bunches of stems upside down in a cool, airy room. Run a fan in the room, if needed. In two or three weeks, the branches will dry and can be used in wreaths or other dried arrangements.

Eucalyptus also can be preserved using glycerine (available at drug and craft stores), which results in flexible, rather than brittle, foliage and stems. Cut fresh branches from your tree and place them in a mixture of one cup glycerine and three cups water. Keep the branches in the solution until all leaves have turned brown and supple. As the level of solution decreases, refill with water only.

Snack for staghorns

Question: I've been told that putting ripe bananas in my staghorn fern once a month will fertilize the plant. Is this true? _ L. R. Mollinedo, St. Petersburg

Answer: It sounds silly, but bananas are high in potassium. Placing the peels in your staghorn fern provides a natural fertilizer, and it's also a great way to compost the peels. Bananas won't supply all the food the fern needs, though, so apply a complete fertilizer occasionally.

Peace lily problems

Question: I have a large peace lily. The flowers have stopped opening and they turn black and ugly. What am I doing wrong? _ Mrs. J. E. Perkins, Spring Hill

Answer: Peace lily (Spathiphyllum) is generally a trouble-free houseplant, but if growing conditions aren't right, the plant won't flower properly. Peace lilies require a warm location and moderate light, so place yours about 3 to 6 feet from an east- or west-facing window. Water when it shows a slight wilt and fertilize with a houseplant food as directed.

If your plant is fairly new it's probably still adjusting to its environment, a factor that can temporarily result in flowers not opening. Flowering is also influenced by the amount of light your plant receives. If it's in direct sun for any part of the day, it may be getting too hot. If it's in a dark corner, it probably isn't receiving enough light.

Joe Freeman is chief horticulturist at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven. He was Polk County's agricultural extension agent for 15 years and has a master's degree in horticulture science. You can send questions to him at P.O. Box 1, Cypress Gardens, FL 33884. His column appears monthly.

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