Forced Bulbs, A Cure For The Inevitable Late Winter Blahs

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

Longer Lasting Lilac Blossoms

It seems that the Lilacs are producing many more blooms than normal this year. Apparently the long, cold winter didn’t bother them at all.

This means there are so many more blossoms to cut for inside the house. Inside you can enjoy a close-up look at the flowers and smell their wonderful scent!

We have three varieties of Lilacs on the property to choose from; white, dark purple and traditional Lilac color. Each one has a slightly different smell. Placing all three together in a vase like this gives you a really complex aroma to enjoy.

Now, Lilacs differ from many other cut flowers in that they  flower on woody branches. This changes how they are handled after cutting.

The more water a flower stem takes in, the fresher and longer lasting it stays. To accomplish this, gardeners have discovered a little trick for cut Lilacs.

Start by snipping the stem to its final length, one that fits the size of vase. Then take a pair of pliers and crush the cut end of the stem and place the stem immediately into the water. This helps water to move up into the stem where it is most needed.

Cut Lilacs are not the longest lasting cut flower by any means, but by using this simple trick, you can enjoy them for a bit longer.

Bob

Easter Lily Care and Re-bloom

 

I have found that there are two different groups of people when it comes to caring for an Easter lily after Easter.

One group of  simply let their Lily “run its  course” and then toss it away after it starts to fade. Most of these folks probably water the plant once or twice and then let it go.

On the other side of the equation is a group of people who would like to keep their Lily blooming as long as possible and maybe even save it for next year. Since you are reading this post, I’ll assume you belong to the second group and are interested in getting the most out of your Lily.

Easter Lilies like to be in a cool bright spot when they are inside a house. So, if you have a choice where to place it, choose the cooler spot away from any heating vents jut as long as it gets light from the window. Don’t worry too much about it though.

More important than location is watering. Since most Easter Lilies come with a pot wrapper, it is easy to kill a Lily with too much water.  The wrapper will trap water and not allow it to drain away, this will cause the roots to become water-logged and eventually die. This is the most common mistake people make in caring for their Lily. Be sure to dump out the excess water that drains into the wrapper after watering.

Cut off the blossoms as they fade. Once all the blossoms have come and gone, just care for it like a house plant. Feel the soil with your finger to get an idea how dry it is. The top of the soil should look and feel dry before watering again. 

I also like to pick up the pot and feel how much it weighs, a dry pot will feel quite a bit lighter than a wet or damp pot.

Sometime around Memorial Day, plant the Lily into a flower bed or other area with good soil and sunlight.

Sometimes the existing stalk will die back. When this happens, the Lily bulb will send up a new shoot and continue growing through the summer.

Then in the following year your Lily will surprise you with blossoms in July. They always surprise me because I usually forget that I planted them there until they bloom.

They don’t naturally bloom during Easter, we have to give them special conditions in a greenhouse to force them to do that. Forcing Easter Lilies is a complicated procedure. We force over 200 Lilies every year. It’s fun but also a challenge because Easter Sunday changes from year to year!

There’s no Federal law saying you have to save your Lily (at least not yet ;))  but it is easy to do and a lot of fun.

Bob