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Corn plant surprises reader with rare bloom

Corn plant is a member of the Dracaena houseplant group, and they reportedly rarely flower indoors. Special to Forum News Service

Q: Our corn plant recently produced the flower stalk in the photo. It's a sappy mess, but oddly attractive and fragrant. I had no idea they could flower. Does this mean it's root bound and needs to be repotted? — Carol Cwiak, West Fargo

A: I've never seen the flowers of corn plant, which is a member of the Dracaena houseplant group, and they reportedly rarely flower indoors, so thanks for sharing this. When plants flower, there are often two reasons. First, it can mean they're happily receiving the care and light they need, as when African violets or Christmas cactus flower. Or secondly, it can be a sign the plant is under stress and it's flowering in an instinctive attempt to reproduce itself in case it dies. Spruce trees in failing health sometimes do this with heavy loads of cones.

I think your corn plant is flowering because it's happy. As you mentioned, some plants that are root-bound are more likely to flower. For example, geraniums bloom better indoors if slightly pot-bound. Although I can't see the total size of your plant, a pot 10 to 12 inches in diameter should be about right. Most foliage-type houseplants do flower in their native jungles where they're growing as shrubs and trees, but not often indoors where they're confined to less ideal conditions.

Q: Deer are rubbing the bark off our young fruit trees. They've done this before and the trees died. There are trees all around us, but they pick the very young trees — especially those we value. Is there something we can put on the trees so they'll leave them alone? — Linda Stone, Walcott, N.D.

A: We've experienced the same thing with deer — they'll use very young trees for rubbing, which usually scrapes the bark down to the white wood enough to kill it. Applying tree wraps is probably the best deterrent, like the white cylinders sold at garden centers for tree protection. Black corrugated drain tile from home improvement stores also works well. Slice one side to allow placement around the trunk. Tree wraps should extend from ground level up to the lower branches. Scent-type deer repellents can also be applied to the trunk, but success varies greatly.

Q: I've got partially used packets of vegetable seeds from this past season's garden. Sometimes there are too many seeds for my space. Can these leftover seeds be used next spring? What's their shelf life? — B. Sullivan, Alexandria, Minn.

A: Although seed viability depends somewhat on vegetable type, the most important factor is cool-dry storage. If stored in a refrigerator in a tightly closed container, seeds will be fine for next year. Most seeds store well for two to five years or longer. It's important to refrigerate the leftovers immediately after the packet's first use. Many of us don't properly store leftover seeds quickly enough, and summer's heat and humidity diminish their value, if packets are left sitting on the garage shelf.

Large seeds like corn, beans and peas especially lose vigor if not stored properly immediately. Dry rice added to the storage container is a good desiccant for seed packets.