Amaryllis, Queen of the Forced Bulbs

This time of year, you can buy amaryllis just about anywhere. They’re in grocery stores, box stores, hardware stores, gift catalogs–you name it and you’ve probably seen an amaryllis there.

Last year, the trendy thing was to dip the whole darn bulb in wax and to sell it that way–no pot, no soil, nothing needed but the waxed bulb. That’s great for the instant gratification types, but if you’re like me and would like to keep your bulbs for more than one year, that won’t work. You have to discard that waxed bulb once it’s done blooming.


In fact, here are my amaryllis from past years just waiting for dormancy and next years’ blooms. Again, this is my “potting room,” (aka, a small space off my finished basement). It gets closed in with folding doors so it actually gets quite cool–about 55-60–so it’s perfect for storing things like bulbs and other things that need dormancy (but not optimal when I actually want to pot things up in those chilly temperatures!)

Over the years, as tempted as I am, I don’t buy those “boxed” amaryllis that I see in the stores anymore. There are a couple of reasons for that.

First, I can get better colors if I either get them at garden centers or order them online.


Next, the bulbs are bigger if I buy them from garden center or online garden retailers. Bigger bulbs mean bigger and more blooms. I have gotten 3 stalks of blooms from some of my bulb retailer bulbs. I’ve never gotten that from a “boxed” bulb.

There’s also “waste” in those boxed bulbs. I don’t need the plastic pot, the plastic outer pot or the coir (which is not the best growing medium and attracts fungus gnats) that comes with those bulbs. While those bulbs look like a “bargain,” it’s no bargain if you don’t need what they offer.

So next year (it’s too late for this year) order your amaryllis when you order your other bulbs for planting. You won’t be sorry that you did!

More Bulb Forcing

I talked on Monday about forcing smaller bulbs like crocus and snowdrops, and hyacinths.


Today I am going to talk about narcissus. If you think about winter bulb forcing, you most often think about these, paperwhite narcissus, and more specificaly this variety, which is called ‘Ziva.’

You either love these or hate these. They have a distinct and strong odor. Just search the internet for “paperwhite narcissus smell” and you’ll find all kinds of unpleasant descriptions like “pee pee,” “urine,” and “smelly socks.” Why on earth would anyone want to grow a flower like that?!

In fact, read the small print on this package. It says “uniquely fragrant flowers.” Don’t say they didn’t try to warn you!

Maybe it’s my ice cold house, but I don’t find that the paperwhites smell bad (and I do have a sensitive nose). However, I have had visitors come over and wrinkle their noses in disgust, so perhaps I just don’t object to that particular scent the way others do.


This year, in addition to the traditional white bulb for forcing, I am trying a different variety that I have heard is both lovely and fragrant (in a “good” way). If nothing else, this bulb is pale yellow and double so it will be a very pretty change–a little ray of sunshine. I have already started some of these in soil because I understand they need some chilling time. The rest are chilling in my cool potting room.

I will post the results when they bloom. Until then, stay tuned!

How Does A Gardener Get Through Winter?

If you are a gardener living in a tropical paradise, you “don’t” get through winter–you just keep on gardening.

And while I have always said that I welcome the break from “true” outdoor gardening that 4 seasons bring, I find myself doing certain things to “get through” the cold and dark days up here in the frozen north of New England.

One of the most important things that I do is force bulbs. And I don’t just force the tender bulbs like amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus (although I do that too–I’ll have separate posts on those!)

I force bulbs that the rest of us grow outside in the ground here in New England. In fact, this year, I bought so many that I did plant my extras outside so I got the best of both worlds. I have bulbs for forcing inside and I’ll have bulbs coming up outside in my landscape in the spring. That’s what’s known as a bonus!


Specifically, I always force hyacinth. I’ve been doing this so long I have a nice collection of these forcing jars (or forcing vases, they’re sometimes called). You can often buy them with a bulb already started but I don’t think that’s how I got them. I seem to recall getting these–or most of them–from gardening catalogs. They don’t seem to sell just the vases online too readily anymore.

My preferred colors are purple and white and that’s an easy mix to find.


Last year, when I was cleaning up my potting room, I also found these great little forcing vases. I have snowdrops in them.


And this year, again when I was cleaning up, I found these little forcing vases. I am forcing crocuses here. I also planted some crocuses in a small flower pot. Because they’re corms, they have these odd little protrusions on them. Originally, I had tried them in the same jars with the snowdrops but they were too big. So finding these other vases was great. My crocus mix is also purple and white.

I have about 20 of each of the bulbs so I have lots to force when these finish. I am keeping them in a cool place so they’ll be ready when these finish up. As the season wears on, it will take less and less time for each of these bulbs to be “forced,” (because I am keeping them cool so they will already be chilled).

As it is now, the smaller bulbs will want 8-10 weeks and the hyacinths will want 10-12. That means they’ll be ready for me in the true dead of winter–when I want them most!

Don’t Panic, This is Perfectly Normal

And now a break from our house plant discussion, to mention something else.

Last Friday, when I showed the photo of the Fiddle-leaf Fig, sharp eyed viewers may have noticed something from the window behind the fig. There was something that looked like straw out that window.


Here it is for those of you that were too busy looking at the fig. Yes, this is my back lawn–under a bed of pine needles.


Here are some shrubs, under the same bed of those same needles.

What on earth is happening? Are all my pine trees dying?

Well, thankfully not, although you wouldn’t know it from the needle drop. This happens to evergreens, more or less (this year it’s more) every autumn. I suspect the needle drop is heavier because we had a very wet spring, summer and fall; therefore there are more needles to drop.

All evergreens, both broadleaf (hollies, rhododedrons, mahonias and the like) and needled drop a portion of their foliage every autumn. It’s just that in some years, that “drop” is much more pronounced than in others. And if the “drop” is particularly heavy–or if you are new to gardening or new to a particular type of evergreen, this may be new to you. Don’t panic–it’s okay.

If you are concerned that something is NOT normal, by all means, take a branch or small piece (in a sealed plastic bag) in to your nearest garden center or cooperative extension service. They should be able to tell you whether what’s going on is normal for your plant, or if you have an issue that needs addressing.


But if you have a tree that looks like this, don’t worry–’tis the season!