Q: We have a sunny corner area filled with shrubs, with a beautiful bird of paradise as the centerpiece. The problem is that the plant has never produced a bloom. Could it be a varietal problem? -- S.W., Tarzana A: It takes anywhere from three to five years for a nursery-grown bird of paradise to reach blooming size. However, if yours was grown from a divided, large, mature clump, only a year or two must go by. Flowers also seem to come more readily if the plant is grown in a container where its roots are restricted. Although a bird of paradise can tolerate temperatures in the low 20s, colder weather reduces its bloom. The notion that birds of paradise thrive and bloom more profusely when neglected is untrue. Unless well cared for, a bird of paradise may bloom in an irregular manner. Summer applications of a good commercial fertilizer and plenty of water will increase the number of flowers from fall to spring.
Q: I use a lot of sugar peas and snow peas in cooking. Can they be grown year-round?--L.A., Montrose A: In most areas, snow peas do best when planted in late summer and early fall; in cooler, coastal areas, they can be planted almost any time. You can plant peas with edible pods as seed or as transplants, but planting seed directly is usually satisfactory. Sow them in raised beds for better drainage and to protect against seed rot. Mildew is common with sugar peas. Avoid overwatering, and dust the pea vines with a recommended fungicide if the disease becomes serious. Harvest sugar peas when they are two to three inches long, before the pods become rounded, or they will be tough. Mature sugar peas, of course, may be shelled and eaten.