Amaryllis for Winter Color


If paperwhites are the “winter quick fix” bulb, amaryllis are more of a legacy bulb.

When I lecture on house plants, I have a handout that says that none of our “Christmas” or holiday gift plants have to toss aways after the holiday is over.  Most people toss the poinsettia because they can’t bear to look at the plant–or because it really hasn’t been properly cared for in the home and has lost its leaves and colorful bracts and is nothing but twigs by this time of year.

But in Mexico, where it is a handsome shrub, it is clearly a perennial and it clearly blooms each year on its own without anyone resorting to uprooting it an putting it in a closet (can you imagine? What nonsense!) We just need to get over our idea of what the “bloom” looks like.

The same with amaryllis. These plants can live for years provided that no disease or insects infest them. If that happens, because I am an organic gardener, I always practice triage–depending on the severity of the disease or insect, I will generally compost the bulb rather than have it infest the rest of my collection. I probably have 16 amaryllis and I don’t want anything damaging the rest of healthy collection!

I am a bit “un-traditional” about when I ask mine to bloom as well. I don’t try to force them into bloom for the holidays. There’s just too much going on at that time of year. I don’t appreciate their beauty then. Now is when I want to see amaryllis blooming and so I have one in bloom and several coming along behind it. It makes a long winter bearable.

For a great idea about care from how to select a bulb all the way through to care after blooming, several of the extension services have nice fact sheets. This one from the University of Minnesota (where, with their long winters they are no doubt as starved for color as I am!) is exceptionally good!

Finally, because choosing a bulb is so important, try to choose one from a garden center where you can pick it up and touch it yourself, or order it from a reputable bulb grower.

While there’s nothing wrong with those “bulb kits in a box,” the bulbs tend to be smaller, and I have gotten bulbs with red blotch fungus. The only time this happens to me is from those kits in the box. You get what you pay for!

In fact, if you notice in the above photo, the bulb in bloom is from a “kit in a box.” First, notice how it is significantly smaller than the other two, both of which were purchased from reputable growers.

Next, notice the red line all the way up the stem–that’s not a good sign. Finally notice the distortion on the flowers–again, not good.

Don’t be alarmed by the “pale” color of the foliage on the other two bulbs. In this photo, they had just come up from my basement forcing room, which had no natural light. They are now a healthy green.

So I will repeat–you get what you pay for–be careful of the bulbs in the box!

The “Other” Winter Bulbs


On Monday I talked about forcing hyacinths. That’s not something a lot of people think about, necessarily.

Amaryllis and paperwhites (which are a form of non-hardy narcissus, a type of daffodil) are the bulbs people think of forcing in the winter. I do both of those too–because of course, why wouldn’t I? With all the plants in my house, what’s a few more?

We’ll talk paperwhites first, because those are definite “grow and then compost” bulbs. That is, if you grow them at all. They are highly scented and some people just can’t stand the smell.

If you “google” paperwhite smell, you’ll find that their chemical fragrance is actually related to gardenias, jasmine and citrus (all of which are also very strong smelling florals!).

You will also find that there are other varieties of paperwhites–and they are usually yellow, sold in bulb catalogs and quickly sold out–that do not have a strong fragrance as the white one pictured above. That one is known as ‘Ziva,’ and it is the most commonly known and sold (and perhaps the one most commonly associated with the smell that some find so offensive).

Personally, I don’t mind the smell–and I have a house with plenty of spaces where I can grow them and not be on top of them. I think, perhaps, it also helps that my house is cold and I don’t think the fragrance is a strong in the cold.


So how do you grow paperwhites? It’s simple. You set 3 or 4 or more in a bowl with some stones (you can see that I have used marbles to make it slightly more decorative), add water (just like in the hyacinth example I gave Monday, try to only add water up to the base of the bulbs so you are not rotting them) and wait. These bulbs are quick. In 2-3 weeks you’ll have flowers.

I have seen all sorts of articles about adding alcohol to the water to keep the plants from getting too tall and keeling over. It’s not much of a problem for me. Perhaps it’s my cooler house. If they tend to get a little leggy, a get a pretty ribbon to tie around the clump. Problem solved.

Once all the bulbs have bloomed, they go in the compost heap, if I can get there, or the trash if it’s too snowy. They cannot be re-bloomed. This is entirely different for amaryllis, which I will discuss on Monday.



Winter Respite


Do you force bulbs?

I don’t mean amaryllis and paperwhites. Those are great winter treats. But there’s no reason to limit yourself to those and there’s no reason to buy bulbs in stores (unless you choose to–I will generally add a few more hyacinth to what I am forcing every year because just can’t get enough! )


These glass jars are for hyacinth forcing ( although if you had large enough tulips they would work too). I just got these because the 3 I have aren’t enough.

At the end of ” bulb season” I buy a bag of hyacinth, usually half price. Then I am set for winter. I  start 2 at a time. They have a relatively long forcing period so as I get anxious,  I might plant some in soil as well.


I just found these when I was getting out my ornaments this year. I had forgotten about them. They are for smaller bulbs.  I will put a note in my garden journal for the fall to get some muscari, perhaps.  Something with fragrance is always good. Snowdrops could be interesting too.


The trick,  as you are starting them especially,  is to make sure that the water level is only just to the bottom of the bulbs.

The one on the left has been started awhile so the roots reach down into the water and it’s not an issue.

But you don’t want to rot the bulb where the neck of the “vase” meets the bulb. My green one probably has a little too much water.  I was having issues getting it right.

Let’s see if the Spoiler throws a fit about these, as he did when the overwintering figs were here.


And here’s how these bulbs look in bloom. You can save them to plant in the ground in the spring, although,  because they have been forced in water in may be a year or two before they bloom. They will not rebloom this year for sure!

But whatever happens,  I especially enjoy the fragrance at this bleak time of year.

This is Seriously Not Okay


On Friday I had a photo of my tropical hibiscus,  looking a little sad but otherwise healthy.

This cyclamen, however,  has an issue. What’s interesting is that I can’t see any visible problem.  That’s even worse.

Last summer it had aphids quite severely (the summer of 2016.) It hasn’t bloomed since then, although its leaves have been generally healthy.

Now this first flower in well over a year appears and it looks like this. Hmm.

I know that cyclamen are prone to mites but I would think that the leaves would be similarly stunted.

I will just have to watch the plant for more clues before I treat it.

Fall Flowers


I get more strange looks about these flowers–which are right by the road–than almost anything else in my garden. They are blooming right now.


Here are more of them, peeking out from beneath some roses.


And more yet, some fully open and other just coming up. These are colchicum, a bulb that should be planted now. Some people call them autumn crocus, but there is a true autumn crocus so I don’t like to confuse the 2 species.

They are incredibly hardy for me, come up reliably without fail, even in drought, aren’t bothered by any sort of critter, and increase in clump size, even in my clay soil. The only one that I have failed with is the double variety, ‘Waterlily’.

Something to be aware of though: like other bulbs, you will have foliage to deal with. It comes up in the spring and persists for a few months. Usually I don’t care. At that point, I am looking at roses here!


Then there is this–the hardy begonia you see above the little bowl of succulents. This is really a fall star. Its botanical name is begonia grandis and this variety (the white one) is called ‘alba.’

It too is very easy but it’s very late to come back. Just about the point at which I think I’ve lost it, it finally appears. So if you find it and plant it, don’t give up on it early in the season.

Also ignore the jagged tears in the leaves. That’s from a rare hail storm that we had earlier this year. It doesn’t usually look like that.

Flowers in the garden this late in the season are a joy to behold–and true perennials are even better.

Wordless Wednesday–The Spoiler at Midnight


Oh heck, I’ll bet we can make this an all “Spoiler” week if we tried.

The next “Spoiler” question was about these pots. The fact that it came at 1 in the morning (okay, technically not midnight) was what I found objectionable, particularly since I get up between 5 and 5:30 for work.

So I explained that I was drying the pots out so that I could bring them in and take them to our basement for storage. (Obviously, these are my amaryllis bulbs that I am letting go dormant).

“Why?”  he asked.

So then I had to explain what an amaryllis was and the life cycle of the bulb–in the middle of the night. And he still asked, “Are they pretty?”

I told him that I had pictures that I could show him–because obviously he doesn’t remember when I would call his attention to the blooming bulbs. Then I also said that I didn’t want to discuss this in the middle of the night and we’d talk about tomorrow.

The Spoiler strikes again!


What’s Wrong With This Picture?


Lovely leaf, not so lovely result, right?

When I first saw this, I thought I knew immediately what was happening.  Several years ago, when I was in North Carolina, I heard about a beetle that was ravaging canna lilies there. I thought that this beetle had somehow made its way north (as all noxious things somehow eventually do) and gotten to Connecticut.


It turns out that there is a simpler explanation for all of this.

Yes, it still has to do with a noxious invader. But this time the “invader” is quite well known to us here in Connecticut and has been for some time.

What’s turning these Canna leaves into lace (and it really is pretty, unless these are your plants, in which case, you probably want to scream! I think I might do a little judicious trimming if they were mine) is the all too common Japanese beetle.

As a doctor once told me, sometimes even if you have an unusual presentation, we still look for a common explanation, and not for something rare.  That’s probably good advice in gardening too.