I’ve Been Had!

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Remember this amaryllis photo from Monday? Good. Notice it, and then I will go on to discuss the topic of this post.

I give a very popular lecture called “Trade Secrets: A Gardener’s Guide to Getting the Best Plants. ” In the lecture, I basically talk about 3 things–how plants are developed and marketed; why new and crazy cultivars aren’t necessarily always the best plants for the garden (particularly in the first year or two of release); and what to look for when selecting plants at the garden center.

One of my pieces of advice on that third topic is never–unless you need a plant in immediate bloom for a party or some event–buy a plant in full bloom.

I do suggest that you look for a hint of color so that you can be sure you’re getting the proper color you want because tags do get shuffled about, particularly in the craziness of spring buying.

But then there’s THIS problem:bulbs. This year I decided that I would buy only 1 amaryllis–a white one.

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As you can see from the flower, this isn’t white amaryllis. At best, if I am lucky, it will be red and white. Sigh. Right now, it seems to be coral and white. This isn’t a cultivar that I am familiar with. Perhaps somehow I got a new cross.

This isn’t the first bulb issue I have ever had in my life, and it’s even more disappointing when you plant the bulbs in the fall and wait 6-8 months, only to have something completely different come up in the spring.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, this is no problem at all. All flowers are beautiful. And of course there are much bigger things to worry about in the country and the world.

So I will enjoy my amaryllis surprise and try for white again next year.

Winter Bulbs

Technically this post isn’t about true winter bulbs, which in my climate would be things like winter aconite and snowdrops. Rather, it’s about the indoor bulbs, both tender and hardy, that I force into bloom to get me through winter!

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You already saw these on New Year’s. These are paperwhite narcissus, often just called paperwhites. They are ridiculously easy to force:set the bulbs on some rocks or gravel and wait 4-6 weeks depending on your house temperature.

The thing about paperwhites is that they are very fragrant. You like them or you don’t. So if you have not had them before, don’t buy dozens until you know if you like the scent.

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The next typical indoor winter bulb is the amaryllis. These are often sold loose, or as kits, with soil, pots and bulbs together. I have even seen them sold just as a bulb with a waxy coating: no soil or pot needed. For me, who keeps hers from year to year, that’s not sustainable, because of course you can’t do that with the coated bulb.

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Finally here are some less traditional choices. In my case, these are hyacinth. I find they are really the only ones worth forcing all winter. I started these around Thanksgiving. And I have more coming behind them so that I should have hyacinths for the rest of the winter.

Why do I say these are the only ones worth forcing? Personal preference is part of it. But once they bloom, there is often a second bud as well so there’s an exceptional bloom time. And they’re fragrant. So it’s all good.

All of that adds up to a win for me!

What’s Wrong with My Fiddle Leaf Fig?

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When I first came upon my ficus lyrata–the botanical name for the fiddle leaf fig–looking like this, I thought that I had underwatered it and my own neglect was responsible for this ugliness.

But after I watered it–and leaves started falling off–I thought “uh-oh. Something else is going on here.” I actually had to get a hand lens to see the spider mites on it–and they didn’t pass my usual test of “shake the plant over a white piece of paper and study the moving dots.” Nothing was moving but there were clearly mites all over it.

So I took it to the shower for a quick bath of insecticidal soap.

What’s interesting–if you remember my post about the web building spider mites covering the mums in my office–last week this plant was fine. And it’s about 3′ tall–you can see that these are not the leaves of a small plant.

Oh well. It will recover or it won’t. I will just have to watch the other plants around it. I am not sure if snake plants get affected. I suspect not, but you never know.

Shamrock Plant

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Do you grow the shamrock plant? They are usually readily available, although not often at this time of year. You will find them most often being sold in March, in cute green containers, for St. Patrick’s day.

That’s not how or why I acquired this one. I had used it as a quasi-spiller in a container planting (of indoor plants) about 3 years ago. This autumn when I finally divided up the container, I potted this separately and it took off.

Shamrock plants are actually bulbs (oxalis is their botanical name) so you don’t want to let them dry out completely. If bulbs dry out completely, it often triggers them to go dormant–not what you want.

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Since I potted this up, it has not stopped blooming–even in my cold gray winter–with these little white flowers. They’re charming.

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A caution though: if you tend to be neat and not to like messy plants, skip this one. I am forever sweeping the little white flowers up (for me, that’s a happy problem, but I know it would make some people crazy). And every couple of weeks, I have to go around the plant pulling out dead leaves. Again, I don’t care but this is a tendency of this plant–the older leaves die very quickly.

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But any plant that blooms for me from September into January–and shows no sign of stopping–and has such pretty leaf coloring as well is fine with me. This is the back of the leaf.

There are purple leafed varieties as well but I think the green with this reverse is almost more interesting.

Next time you see one of these plants–most likely in March–give it a try.

A Lazarus Plant?

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This, supposedly, is a yellow clivia miniata. It’s definitely a clivia. It’s the “yellow ” part that I am questioning. I just acquired the plant last year and while it is very healthy, it hasn’t yet bloomed for me.

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Here’s my orange clivia. It’s probably 5 years old and it probably blooms every other year. Clivia questions are one of my biggest house plant questions–to the extent folks know what they are. But with house plants coming back into “fashion,” it’s only a matter of time before this long lived, attractive plant becomes popular.

Why is my post called the Lazarus Plant? Because I haven’t watered either of these plants since mid-October. That, supposedly, is the protocol for blooming.

The actual instructions are to stop watering in mid October. Chill the plant to 40 degrees and hold it there (now I have really cold places in my house, but none are that cold!). Resume watering January 21, after bringing the plant to a warmer (and by warmer, they mean low 60s, which is about where I have it now) place.

If you can manage to achieve that, bloom should follow in February. Since even I can’t, I will often get blooms in May or so. That’s fine. Blooming is blooming, so far as I am concerned.

And the plants did look pretty with the Christmas wreaths around them. I finally have a good use for those!