Question:

I have a geranium that spent the summer outdoors at the Shore and now has been brought inside in Philadelphia. It's by a window, but the lower leaves are falling off. What should we do? In the summer, we do nothing but water it and keep it in the sun.

Answer:

Loss of lower leaves is normal in these circumstances. For now, place the geranium in a bright spot, though preferably not on the sill of a south-facing window - the light is too strong. Rotate the pot periodically to keep it from becoming one-sided. Water less than when it's outdoors; it should be allowed to dry out between waterings.

To keep it from getting leggy, pinch the growing tips to induce branching; after the new growth has several leaves, you may pinch again.

You may also cut the plant back by about half, which will induce branching. As above, pinch the tips when the new growth is long enough to have several leaves.

If by late spring you are utterly dissatisfied with your geranium, get rid of it. Unless there is a particular sentimental attachment to this specimen, the fact is it can be replaced for very little money at a big-box home center.

(Some have heard of the old hang-geraniums-in-the-basement tactic. Old is right; it works only in damp, cool cellars - more like a root cellar than a modern dry basement.)

Q:

Wild animals die in the woods and decompose. Why can't we put meat in the compost pile?

A:

If you're in a built-up area (e.g., city or denser suburbs) the biggest reason is rats. They'll discover the meat - as well as other cooked food scraps - and take up residence. And get into nasty food fights with the raccoons. In exurbia and beyond, it could be raccoons versus bears or coyotes (whose territorial expansion has reached the Main Line).

A close second is stench. Think rotting meat, for that is what it is.

In terms of decomposition, while nature does indeed return animal carcasses to the elements, it is a much slower process than the decomposition of plant matter. (The reason you don't see dead animals littering the woods is not a matter of decomposition but of scavenging by birds, mammals and insects.) The fat of meat and dairy products significantly slows the breakdown.

To successfully compost meat for garden use, it must be in relatively small pieces, which should be mixed well with and covered by a thick layer of a substantially larger quantity of properly balanced green and brown plant matter. This sort of mix produces an active compost pile, which can be quite hot at its center. Do not put meat scraps in a passive compost pile, such as a mound of oak leaves and nothing else.

In other words, the only home composters who should attempt to compost meat scraps are those who are already in the top echelon of composting.

Send questions to Michael Martin Mills, The Inquirer, Box 41705, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101 or gardenqanda@earthlink.net. Please include locale. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/michaelmartinmills.