Ask the gardening expert

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I've noticed that after flowering, the peony plant produces pods containing seeds at the ends of its stems. They usually disappear, but sometimes I can find them at the end of the season. The pods have dried up. I'm wondering if these seeds can be planted to produce a peony plant?

Yes, you may plant them, but the chances that a healthy happy peony is produced are not good. Peonies are usually propagated by division in the fall. This assures that the new plants will be identical to the parent plant. Your seedlings would probably vary and they would take a number of years to reach blooming size. In any case, most gardeners deadhead (remove the spent blooms) in the spring so that the plants will devote their energy to renewing their strength for best blooming the following year. For this reason, there aren't usually any seeds. If you do find some, go ahead, give it a try.

I've been so proud of my vegetable garden's production. It's my first garden, and everything is growing so well. This last week or so, I have noticed the cucumbers are just awful tasting. They were so good at first. What could be happening to them? I'm afraid they may be poison.

According to what I've read, they could be if you continued to eat the bitter vegetable. My guess is they are too awful to eat, so I think there is no real danger, but a lot of disappointment regarding the inedible cukes. Here is an excerpt from a garden article I found years ago in a newspaper.

Most cucumber plants contain a bitter compound called cucurbitacin, which can be present in the fruit, as well as the foliage. Bitterness in cucumbers tends to be more prominent when plants are under stress from low moisture, high temperatures or poor nutrition. Another complaint we hear about cucumbers is folks commenting on burping after eating cucumbers.

Some of the newer cultivars of cucumbers do not have the bitter compound and, thus, are not bitter and do not produce a burp. So, some seed companies called their non-bitter cukes "burpless.

My azalea bushes have not been blooming fully for the last two years. They have a few white and pink flowers but never the entire bush. I looked online, and one site said to prune it in fall, another said to move it, then add azalea food and some lime during the early fall as well. I did all of these things, but it did not solve my problem. What else can I do?

One of the first things that comes to mind is that by pruning it in early fall, you've cut off next spring's blooms. Some sun is also important; too much shade and it won't bloom.

We all know by now that most shade shrubs need some sunshine to bloom well. Most appreciate a few hours of morning sun and protection from hot afternoon sunshine. Rhododendrons, azaleas and hydrangeas all need to see at least several hours of sun to bloom. Another thought is the plant may be planted too deep. What you might check is whether the plant was installed deeper than the original planting. Most plants need to be re-planted at that same depth as it was grown at the nursery.

I'm also wondering about your comment of adding lime to the fertilizer, A large amount shade lovers enjoy acid soil. It would be hard to know if you are adding too much or even too little Lime neutralizes the natural acid. A rule of thumb: don't add lime to any soil without a soil test. Master Gardeners can provide you with a free soil kit that contains all you need to collect the sample. You fill a container from the kit in accordance with the enclosed directions. It then is sent off to a commercial lab for analysis., The instructions ask what you want to plant. The analysis report will tell you what your soil needs for that plant to perform well. After the sample is ready, you then select the appropriate cost. Send your sample and a check to cover the test plus the postage.

Getting back to pruning, it needs to be done quite soon after the blooms fade, as next years flower buds develop over the summer, and early fall months.

Given the proper exposure to sun and planting depth, plus an acidic soil, they should bloom for you the following spring.

Celeste Lindsay is a WSU-certified master gardener. Send questions to mslindsay8@gmail.com