More Seasonal Color

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Was anyone surprised to see my post listing this plant as a “bulb?” If you’re an outdoor gardener in a cooler climate, you might have planted its smaller cousins in a shady spot.

With my heavy clay soil, cyclamen corms just rot away and don’t even come up in the spring, nevermind naturalize in the lovely drifts that I have seen in other gardens.

For that matter, this plant doesn’t do particularly well in my home. I am not entirely sure why. It’s certainly cool enough.

It may be my watering practices and the fact that it is a corm (which is a bulb-like structure. Crocuses are corms if that helps you visualize).

All “house plants” that grow from bulbs–calla lilies and caladiums are just 2 more examples I can think of–need to be kept evenly moist. Once bulbs dry out, it tells them to initiate dormancy.

In my house, I am not so good with “evenly moist.” So I suspect that’s why I fail with these. But they are lovely to look at for the season.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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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!

Fall is for Planting

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Most of the summer, I looked at this dead tree. It was a star magnolia. It went into last winter without a problem, but it didn’t form its buds, as magnolias do. Perhaps that should have been my first clue that there would be a problem this spring.

Sure enough, this spring, when all the other trees began to flush leaves or blooms, this magnolia did nothing. The Spoiler, ever the optomist, kept saying, let’s just see what happens. By mid-July, it was obvious even to him nothing was going to happem

So we finally cut it down. It is in morning sun, so that gives me some nice options.

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I left the self-sown goldenrod on one end of the bed.

In the rest of the bed, I put my “test” plants that had been accumulating all summer. There are 6 veronica (3 blue and 3 white), 2 pink perennial pelargoniums, and 2 smaller hydrangeas.

I also put a dwarf joe pye weed in, and I left some self-sown asters as well. I need some pollinator plants, after all (although the bees loved the veronica all summer, even in pots!)

Generally planting in fall is much better for plants because the soil is still warm. For those of you who live near any type of water, you know how long the water takes to warm in the spring–soil is similar.

Likewise, in the fall, water stays warmer longer than the air–that’s why maritime communities get frost a little later. Again, soil cools more slowly than the air so planting into the fall actually aids the plants by settling them into warm soil.

I will want to watch these–& perhaps mulch them once the ground freezes–so that they don’t “heave up” out of the soil. But otherwise, no other special care is needed.

I still have some bulbs to add here, but nature hasn’t been my friend on the timing–as usual, the rain on the weekend isn’t conducive to bulb planting.

What a Difference A Little Warmth Makes!

April in Connecticut was nasty! It was the 5th or 6th coldest April on record (and our records go back into the late 1800s, so that’s a good bit of weather to compare with!)

We got almost 2″ of rain above average–you won’t ever hear me complaining too much about rain, but when it’s so cold, extra rain is extra ugly.

And we had over 6″ of snow above average. That I will complain about!

But so far the beginning of May is making up for it–or as I always say, we only have two seasons here in this state, winter and July.  We haven’t had much temperate weather–it’s either been below average (or much below) or much above. I presume that’s how averages are made.

Still, when I got back from Oklahoma, I found all this in bloom!

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Azaleas were everywhere ( as were forsythia, but I don’t have those)

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Magnolias similarly were everywhere. I have a star magnolia, but I am a bit concerned that it somehow died over the winter. I see no signs of life–either blossoms or leaves. This is a 30 year old tree. I hate when that happens!

My yellow magnolia is doing fine and will be in bloom shortly.

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Bulbs are popping up in places where I planted them–and where I didn’t. More about that in another post.

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My weeping cherry–which is always later than the magnolia–is spectacular.

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And this funny plant–petasites japonica–is doing quite well because of all the moisture. It will do well as long as it’s moist. If it becomes hot and dry, it will get ratty and I cut it back.

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So I was very pleased to see spring at last on my return.