Bulbs for Winter

So even though I have a lot of house plants, I still like to get the sense that I am actively doing some sort of gardening over the winter months. Since that’s a decent amount of time for me here in the frozen north, I do a lot with bulbs.

The bulbs above are the traditional paperwhite narcissus. This variety is ‘Ziva’ and that’s the one that most people seem to object to if they object to the scent. There are other varieties that are less strongly scented, and some that are pale yellow as well. Since I don’t object to the traditional scent, I just buy ‘Ziva.’

I love amaryllis too. These are 3 that I started at the same time Thanksgiving weekend. Despite being started at the same time they are not on the same blooming schedule clearly. And that’s fine with me. I will be happier if they bloom at different times.

Finally here is a tray of white and purple hyacinths that I am forcing. They will take somewhere between 10-14 weeks so they will be ready around the end of February.

I am not sure what I was thinking: I bought 50 bulbs! So I need to pot up more of them so that they can get ready to bloom. Since they are in a relatively cool place, I suspect that they will be ready shortly after these forced ones.

It’s going to be a colorful–and fragrant–winter!

House Plant Maintenance in the Frozen North

It’s December, a dreary, cold, dark month here in the frozen north and if forecasts are right by the time you read this we will have some plowable snow on the ground. All of that makes for some very unhappy tropical plants.

This is my “sunniest” and warmest window so this is where all the plants that need the most sun go. Regardless, I am still getting a decent amount of leaf drop from most of the plants here.

The croton hold their foliage well. For everything else, (tropical hibiscus, variegated lemon and that very sad oxalis in the first photo), I might as well get a leaf blower in here.

In early morning, when it’s quiet, I can actually hear the falling leaves. It’s almost funny.

Fortunately most of these plants have enough leaves to survive the winter. And the oxalis are bulb-like, so they can go dormant and revive in the spring.

But when I talk about houseplant maintenance–or say that my plants emphatically do not grow here in the frozen north in the winter–perhaps this gives you a better idea of what I mean.

Out of Touch

It’s been a couple of weeks since I have posted about anything–even just a photo. So sorry. So just a quick post to let everyone know that things are fine.

A bad combination of circumstances of extraordinary “busy-ness”–and not just with things related to the holiday season–has caused this momentary lapse. Ideally it should be resolved shortly.

And if not, WordPress has notified us that “Bloganuary” is coming up. That’s always an adventure at a much slower time of year–but not of course if I don’t get my work situation resolved.

Time will tell about that. In the meantime, just know that everything is okay on my end and I hope to be resuming my plant posting very soon!

Common Christmas Cactus Myths

A friend stopped by to see me on Wednesday and as we were talking he happened to mention that his wife’s Christmas cactus was in bloom. He then commented something like “it must b be awfully confused.”

So I thought I would do this post because I know that there is a lot of confusion about these plants.

This plant is botanically a schlumbergera. There are 6 different varieties of Schlumberger, technically, and only one is the true Christmas cactus that blooms at Christmas. It is not the one generally sold, but if you have a “hand me down ” plant from a relative, you may have one. Its bracts are more rounded than any you see here.

These commercially sold varieties, also known as zygocactus, are really NOT cactus in any way. So don’t be fooled by the name. While they don’t need a lot of water, they need more water than a cactus. Think of them more like a succulent–but they will still want more water (depending on the temperature of your home) while in bloom.

Now about that bloom time: the blooming is initiated by temperature and daylight. As light falls in autumn and weather cools (at least here in the frozen north) the plants bud and bloom.

But each does it in its own sweet time. I have 17 plants. Generally they begin blooming about mid-October. They will continue through mid-February, with sporadic rebloom on a few plants.

This year the plants began bloom a little later, in early November. With luck, it means I will have blooms into March. I have never had quite so many in bloom at once though, so perhaps not.

But, isn’t that part of the fun of gardening? Every year is a new surprise!

Here in the Frozen North, Winter Doesn’t Mean the End of Gardening

A couple of things have come together to make me think about this topic.

First, I spoke to a wonderful group of gardeners in Essex, CT last week about house plants (you saw the house plants all packed up and ready to travel for last week’s Wordless Wednesday).

Then I got an email newsletter with the title “Winter is for Gardening too.” The newsletter featured winter interest plants, which is not what I am thinking about, but it just furthered my thought process.

Finally I am working on my holiday article for We-Ha magazine which is about–no surprise, I am sure, celebrating the holidays with house plants.

So. Do any gardeners really take winter off? Even if, as I do, you live in a cold climate, and you don’t choose to turn your home into a modified greenhouse, I have already received seed catalogs.

Plant catalogs won’t be far behind. It used to be that the plant and seed catalogs would arrive just after the new year. Then they backed up to around Thanksgiving. Now it’s even earlier.

And I suspect many of you, like I do, keep some form of records and you use this “quieter” time to evaluate what went wrong, what went well, and what you want change.

I am not sure how those who garden in year round climates keep up without a seasonal pause. They must be far better organized than I am. Or maybe it’s easier if you don’t have to worry about planting for “winter interest,” too!

The First of the “Holiday” Cacti

My so-called “Christmas” cactus are blooming late this year.

I am not sure that they are even called “Christmas” cactus anymore. As a general rule, I refer to them as zygo cactus or cacti, not because I want to avoid the whole Christmas/Holiday issue, but because their bloom time is so variable that even the word “holiday” doesn’t seem to capture it correctly.

Most years, I have these plants in bloom from mid-October until at least mid-February, with a second bloom (yes, you did read that right, a SECOND bloom) following.

The second bloom isn’t nearly as numerous as the first, but there is a distinct second bloom on many of the plants. Why do I even bother to mention it like that, in all caps?

Well, last year, it seemed as if there was a huge hullabaloo over on some of the trendier plant sites about this second bloom. People seemed to think it was so unusual. It really isn’t–just as it’s not unusual for these plants to begin blooming in October and to be blooming in February.

Keep in mind, it’s not all the same plant doing this. You can see that I have just a few of these lovely plants and they are on different bud and bloom schedules despite being in exactly the same place.

So what is it that makes them bloom? Well, roughly a few things but it’s not an exact science. In general, they are triggered to begin their bloom cycle by length of daylight and temperature. If I had to say it was one thing more than the other, I would suggest that it is temperature because this year seemed to be a bit warmer than last and they are blooming a bit later. After all, the daylight cycle stays the same from year to year.

Then again, I rarely put them in the same place in my home from year to year (with the exception of a few of the larger ones) so I don’t know that this is a scientific way to study it.

And the larger ones–that are always in the same place–are blooming earlier this year–so go figure! See what I mean about no real science to any of this?

In any event, you don’t need to believe the nonsense about putting these plants in the dark like poinsettias to make them bloom–I have certainly never had to do anything like that at all. The one that is currently in bloom is in one of the most well-lit rooms of the house, in fact.

One thing that you don’t want to do is to treat them like cactus, however. They are not cactus. They are more like a succulent,and should be watered sparingly. Because there are a few different types of zygocacti, their full range of care is beyond the range of this post.