Archive for the ‘Flowers’ Category

Poinsettia Care

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Every year around Christmas time I get asked by at least two or three people, “what is the best way to keep my Poinsettia alive and looking well once I get it home? ”

Poinsettias don’t really need a whole lot of special treatment but they do need just a little bit more care than a typical house plant.

To keep your poinsettia going for as long as possible you need to follow just a few simple guidelines.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that most poinsettias die from over-watering.

Your home probably has different growing conditions than the greenhouse in which your plant was grown so it will be less actively growing and therefore needs less water. That being the case, let the surface soil dry out just a bit before watering. Then water the plant thoroughly until water flows out of the bottom of the pot.

Any water remaining in the foil wrapper has to be emptied out otherwise the roots will become water-logged and eventually die. With fewer roots the plant will not be able to sustain itself and will prematurely die. That is the main reason why many people cannot keep their Poinsettia alive more that a couple of weeks.

If you have a choice, pick a spot that has bright light but not in direct sunlight. Keep your Poinsettia away from cold drafts or heating registers where hot air will blow directly on it.

Don’t worry too much about fertilizer for your plant, it won’t really need much until spring. A half-strength dose of water soluble houseplant fertilizer once in a while should be adequate.

Also, keep in mind that poinsettias weren’t meant to last too much longer than the Christmas season. Poinsettias are selected for color, not for hardiness as a house plant.

By following these guidelines you should be able to enjoy your Poinsettia as a reminder of wonderful Christmas memories for many weeks to come.

Bob

Time to Plant Spring Flowering Bulbs

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Even though things are slowing down to a crawl in the garden after the frost, fall can still be a very busy time of the year for the die-hard gardener. In addition to all of the garden and yard clean-up there’s still plenty of planting to do especially if you look forward to flowers in the early spring.

The only way to get Tulips and other spring flowering bulbs to bloom in your garden is to plant them right now. Although the choice may be more limited than earlier in the fall, plenty of bulbs are still available in garden centers.

Back when I was gardening professionally I needed to get my bulb order in by July first each year. A lot of planning went into deciding just how many of each variety would be planted and into which garden. So in July, during the busiest time of the regular growing season, I was compelled to come up with a plan about how the garden would look in April.

Since I would plant between 15,000 and 20,000 bulbs a year, my order would be placed with other large orders of bulbs in the summer. Bulb growers in Holland needed to know ahead of time how many bulbs they would have to harvest and ship to the USA. Your local garden center probably placed their order at that time as well.

The bulb planting season actually starts earlier in October. The idea is to get the bulbs into the ground so that they will have time to develop a good root system before winter. You can imagine that with 20,000 bulbs to plant I often was planting well into November and even sometimes into early December. Most gardeners don’t have that excuse and should get their planting done soon.

Bulbs look best planted in clusters rather than in straight lines or as single plants. If you can afford it, large drifts of single varieties make an impressive sight in the spring. You don’t need to plant thousands of bulbs to make an impression, even a small planting near the house can be a real joy after a long winter.

Eye-catching Drift of Grape Hyacinths.

Crocus, Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinths are the most common spring bulbs that are planted therefore are the most commonly available. Others you might find include Muscari, Anenomes, Snowdrops, Scilla, Allium and others. When buying your bulbs look for ones that are free from mold, discoloration or other signs of rot. Also a healthy bulb will feel heavier in your hand than one that has started to deteriorate.

Larger sized bulbs such as Daffodils and Tulips are planted deeper into the ground than the small bulbs such as Crocus and Muscari. The small bulbs are planted into a hole that is about three inches deep, while the larger bulbs are planted twice that depth. Usually detailed planting information is available for each variety when you purchase your bulbs. Any fertile garden bed will support the growth and development of spring bulbs.

If you never have planted bulbs before, to get you started I have scanned a leaflet from the US Department of Agriculture that describes how to plant bulbs. It contains more detail than I can present here in this blog. Take the time to plant some bulbs this fall then when spring rolls around you’ll be glad you did.

Bob

Forced Bulbs, A Cure For The Inevitable Late Winter Blahs

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Our autumn has been quite pleasant so far but before you know it we’ll be  into the winter season.  Christmas and New Year’s are always festive but by the time February rolls around, most of us begin to tire of  the seemingly endless gray days.

By starting a fun project right now, you can head off some of those late winter doldrums in a small way.  Tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus and others can be coaxed into blooming several weeks before their normal flowering season by a process known as “forcing”.  Forcing done by large commercial growers is a complex affair following certain standard procedures to ensure maximum profitability. Home gardeners can use  similar but much simpler techniques to accomplish the same thing.

The first thing to do is get all of your materials together. You’ll need pots or some kind of container (I like six inch pots), potting mix and of course bulbs. I advise gardeners who have never forced bulbs before to start out using tulips.

Fill your pot with enough soil so that the top of the bulb is nearly level with the top of the pot. Do not compact the soil, leave it loose to encourage quick root formation. Then gently place the tulip bulb onto the soil, again don’t press them down. Finally cover the bulbs with more soil leaving  at least 1/4 inch watering space.  If you look at a tulip bulb you will see that it has a pointed top, a bottom and one side that is flat. Place the flat side facing outward. By orienting the bulbs this way you will get the best arrangement of leaves and flowers as the plants bloom.  Keep the soil moist and do not use any fertilizer.

Your planted bulbs will look something like this. Here I have seven small hyacinths planted into a six inch pot. Usually you can fit five or six tulip bulbs into a pot this size.

Spring flowering bulbs need a cold period of at least 13 weeks in order to bloom properly.  So you must find a cold spot to store your pots during that time. The ideal temperature for this cold period is somewhere around 35 to 48 degrees F.  Older homes may have an unheated root-cellar, sometimes known as a Michigan Basement, that will provide the needed conditions. Otherwise, a spot in the garage might fit the bill. I have seen gardeners keep their forcing pots in the window-wells next to the outside walls of their house.

If you decide to store your pots outside, you may want to cover them with screen in order to keep out mice and voles that will feed on the bulbs. Keep the soil moist during this period so that you maximize root growth which will in turn maximize blooming.

After the 13 week cold period is over, you can begin bring the pots into the house. Don’t put them in direct sunlight. As they warm up, they will start to grow leaves and begin to flower.

You can utilize the same techniques that were employed to create this indoor winter display at the Matthaei Botantical Gardens.

There is nothing like your own home-grown forced tulips to brighten up those gray days in February and they make great gifts too.

Bob

You Can Divide Daylilies Now

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Daylilies are one of the most versatile flowering plants available to gardeners. You can depend on them to produce an abundance of showy flowers and the foliage makes a good ground cover. They are not attacked by insects and are susceptible to only a couple of mild disease organisms that don’t seem to hurt the plant very much at all. There are varieties available that will flower at different times during the growing season so that you can have Daylilies flowering most of the  summer. In addition to all of that, they are perennials meaning you don’t have to plant them over again each spring. In general, Daylilies don’t require as much maintenance as many other flowers.

If you noticed this year that your Daylilies didn’t  produce as many blooms as in the past, it is possible that they are starting to become over-crowded. After four or five years of growing in the same spot Daylilies tend to form a heavy mat of roots in the middle and the plant loses its vitality. To prevent this problem, divide your Daylilies frequently. Late summer and early fall is the ideal time of the year to do this.

These Daylilies are still doing fine and will not need to be divided for a couple of years.

Dividing Daylilies is very easy, all you need really need to do is dig the plants up and split them apart. With Daylilies it is easy to tell where the division should be made because they tend to form clumps of roots with a fan of leaves attached. Break these clumps apart and re-plant them into their bed or into a new spot. Place the clumps at the same depth as they were originally growing.

A clump of Daylilies separated from the main plant.

Many years ago I was asked to divide a relatively large bed of Daylilies. If I remember right my helper and I ended up transplanting somewhere around 2000 divisions.  We ended up constructing three more beds to hold all of them.  It did make a striking display.

If you have had no flowers at all from your Daylilies in the past, it is most likely there is a problem with the site. They do best in partial shade but will grow fine in a sunny spot if the soil is kept moist and has adequate fertility. Keep in mind however that they will not flower if they are planted in too shady of a spot.

Don’t be too concerned if you are unable to work on your Daylilies this fall, they can also be divided early next spring.

Bob

Transplant Poppies Now

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Oriental Poppies, once established reliably bloom year after year, sometimes for decades. They don’t like to be disturbed or moved unlike some other perennials that need to be divided every couple of years or so. Those other perennials can be handled more easily for moving.

There are times when plants need to be relocated for one reason or another, maybe you’re moving to a new home and want to bring your plants with you. If you have ever tried to move poppies in the conventional manner, that is in the spring or fall, you probably have been disappointed in the results.

The secrete to moving Oriental Poppies is to dig them after blooming rather than in the fall or spring as you would most other perennials. Once Poppies have finished blooming they enter into their dormant period which starts at this time of the summer and usually lasts until the middle of August.

Carefully dig the roots and divide them if needed and place them into their new spot about 18 inches apart with the buds about two inches below the soil. Poppies need plenty of sunlight to thrive so be sure their new location gets full sun. Other that that, they are quite happy under ordinary garden conditions.

You have plenty of time to move your Poppies so you don’t have to be in a big hurry to do so. Keep in mind that it may take a year or two before the plants bloom again after moving.

Bob

Halloween Trick

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Have you ever seen a flower with two colors on one blossom? Yes, of course you have.

Have you ever seen a flower with two colors on one blossom where the colors are divided exactly down the middle? Now that’s a little more rare.

How this occurs is an interesting process.

Let’s briefly review how a flower is formed.  Think back to your high school biology. Plants are made up of small, microscopic structures called cells.  The cells grow and divide over and over again until you have a fully formed plant.

Inside of the growing tip of a bud (called a meristem) there are many many cells dividing like crazy in order to get a flower to form and blossom in one growing season. Each time they divide, they pass on a blueprint of how the flower is to be built. This is called genetics.

All of those millions of cells start out as just one cell. That one cell divides into two cells.  At this very early stage, something happened to one of those two cells.  The genetic blueprint didn’t get copied exactly right, the blueprint says it is supposed to be a Mum blossom but instead of painting it yellow, it specifies pink as the color.

All of the descendants  from that one pink cell “thinks” the flower should be pink, while all the descendants from the yellow cell know it is supposed to be yellow because it is a yellow Mum.

Those darn pink cells are stubborn and continue with their pink idea until the flower is completely built.  And guess what? Exactly half of the flower is pink and the other half is the color it is supposed to be…yellow.

In the horticulture trade this is called a chimera.  This is one way how different varieties are begun.

An observant grower will notice something unusual happening with a single plant, often just a single stem on a plant. If it looks promising, he will reproduce it and hopefully turn it into a new variety.  If he has a crew of farm hands helping and he doesn’t go to check his crop, this small detail will more than likely go unnoticed and the opportunity to create something new will be lost.

Chimeras don’t always reproduce themselves very well. They are unstable, which is how they became chimeras in the first place.

A couple examples of chimeras include thornless raspberries and different colors of Poinsettias.

So, will I make a million dollars producing pink and yellow Mums?….probably not.

Bob

Knobby Roots in the Garden

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Now that we are at the end of the summer gardening season, at lot of us will begin pulling out  old and worn out plants and tossing them in the compost pile.

I found this root attached to a sweet potato plant:

Notice the knobby, bumpy nodules.  This is not normal for a sweet potato root. The abnormal growth is caused by a nearly microscopic worm-like creature called a nematode.

Nematodes are the bane  of sweet potato farmers in the southern states where sweet potatoes or other vegetables are grown year after year in the same spot.  In addition to gnarled roots, nematodes also cause reduced yields.  Often the damage shows up as black spots under the skin of the tuber that are not seen until the root is peeled leaving an unusable potato.

This nematode damage can occur on almost any common vegetable plant.  If you find a root that resembles the one in the photo, destroy it and don’t attempt to compost it, otherwise you risk spreading the pests to other parts of your garden.

There is no method of control for nematodes in the garden except rotating your crops.  You must rotate to a grass-related crop such as sweet corn in order to break the life cycle of the nematodes. “Regular” garden crops will support nematodes in the soil.

Knobby roots on legume plants such as peas and beans are  normal and not caused by nematodes, so don’t dispose of  them.  Beans and peas have nodules on their roots that harbor beneficial bacteria. In this case the bacteria  are beneficial to the plant and actually produce fertilizer in the form of nitrogen that the beans use to grow.

Chances are you won’t see these symptoms in a new garden because the nematodes have not had enough time to multiply.

Happy Composting,

Bob

Planting Idea for Next Year

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Here’s a nice flower combination that was quite successful for us this year.

The purple flowers are  Gomphrena ‘Purple’.  The orange flowers are Zinnia ‘Profusion Orange’.

Both Orange Profusion and Purple Gomphrena are about 14″-16″ in height. I used them here all by themselves in a sloping bed which really showed them off.

The two colors go well together and the blossom shapes compliment one another as well.  Also, the blooms  held up nicely  all season. You can see  that they are still going strong.

Make a note of it in your garden notebook to look for these varieties next spring.

Bob

Dakota Gold!

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Thar’s gold in them thar hills!!

Not the precious metal type of gold, but the horticultural kind you can find in Helenium ‘Dakota Gold’.

Helenium is the genus name for a grouping of plants that includes Sneezeweed. Many of these species and varieties are tall, often growing over four feet in height and having large orangish flowers.

Dakota Gold grows only about a foot tall and about a foot and a half  in width.  It’s growth habit makes it ideal for planting in the front of a bed.

It also produces an abundance of dainty, bright golden yellow flowers.

I used it in a spot where I wanted a swath of yellow but didn’t want to use something over-powering like Marigolds. A single plant of Dakota Gold, or a planting of just a few, would not be very impressive,  but plant a good sized drift of them and they suddenly become something special.

As far as I know, last year was the first year Dakota Gold seed was widely available. We should be seeing more and more Helenium Dakota Gold being made available in garden centers in the future as more gardeners discover this wonderful little plant.

…and that’s nothing to sneeze at!

Bob

Eremurus-Foxtail Lily

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

This time of the year it is always a treat to see the Eremurus blooming. Because we have them planted in an area under the walnut trees where not much else is growing, they seem to shoot up  out of nowhere.

Foxtail Lilies in bloom

Foxtail Lilies in bloom

As you may or may not know, it is nearly impossible to grow most plants under Black Walnut trees, but the Eremurus seems to live there just fine.

These plants are native to Tibet where the summers are hot and dry but have good fall and spring rainfall. This often describes the weather in this part of the country as well.  It’s no wonder that Foxtail Lilies do well here.

Our Eremurus are the yellow variety (bungei) and range from 3 to 4 feet tall.

From a distance, the hundreds of tiny flowers on the stalk merge together to give them their unique look.

Eremurus Flowers

Eremurus Flowers

It’s when you get closer that the individual flowers become apparent.

Foxtail Lilies are grown from tuberous roots that in themselves have a unique shape, they sort of remind me of star fish.

Fall is the time when the roots are planted, so you have some time to track some down and get them ordered.  We got ours from K. van Bourgondien and Sons  (dutchbulbs.com).

There is one thing I would recommend when planting your Foxtail Lily this fall, and that is to mulch them well. They are a little weak getting started the first fall.  However, after that, they thrive here in southern Michigan.

So, put Eremurus  on your fall ” must-buy list”.

Bob