Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 25 years experience in radio, television, print
DEAR JESSICA: I just purchased some primroses in 4-inch pots. What is the best way to keep them until I can plant them outside?-- John Coughlin, Bellmore
DEAR JOHN: Let me guess: You were visiting a local nursery or garden center on a cold, unforgiving winter day. You saw some bright, cheerful primroses -- like beacons in the night -- and just couldn't resist their blooms. So you brought them home with hopes of enjoying them indoors and planting them in the garden as soon as the weather allows. I probably would have done the same thing. And Shakespeare likely would have, too, as he coined the phrase "primrose path" in "Hamlet."
The problem, however, is that their flowers probably will be gone by then, so you'll have to wait a year for that spring garden show you were hoping for.
Primroses sold during winter usually are considered short-term houseplants. You're meant to set them out on your table, countertop or mantle, enjoy their flowers and then discard them like you will this column after you read it. It's not that they would die, necessarily, if kept indoors. But it's very difficult to get primrose houseplants to rebloom.
Because you want to move them outdoors, you'll have to keep them alive until it's safe to do so. Primroses growing indoors require sufficient humidity and Goldilocks-type moisture levels -- not too moist, not too dry. They're susceptible to root rot, so water only when the soil surface feels dry. But don't let it remain dry or plants will wilt and die quickly. They also need sunlight -- but not strong afternoon, direct sunlight. And they thrive best in temperatures of 55-65 degrees.
Outdoors, they typically can handle temperatures down to about 20 degrees, but first they need to be hardened off to prevent death from shock: Set them out in a protected spot, like an unheated enclosed porch or garage, for a few hours and then bring them back indoors. Then set them out again for a longer stretch on the second day. On the third day, leave them there overnight. Repeat on day four, and then plant in the garden in the morning. Choose a shady spot with slightly acidic soil, and water very well.
DEAR JESSICA: I read with great dismay of your suggestion of using clay, non-clumping cat litter for traction on ice. It is fine if there is no melting snow or rain on top of it. I used it two weeks ago and wish I could rewind time. It is caked on my new suede snowboots. And when it gets tracked into the house -- oh my gosh! I have a small house with an entrance directly into the living room. Even with outdoor mats, it is tracked in. I must wait until it dries to vacuum, and even then it leaves marks. -- Sandy, via email
DEAR SANDY: You have a point.
DEAR JESSICA: Please advise your readers not to use salts to melt ice. Using cat litter for traction is safer. It's not harmful to animals and plants. It doesn't crack sidewalks, either. -- Frank,via email
DEAR FRANK: You have a point.