Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bring in your Tropical Plants

Last Thursday we had a frost warning, though I don’t think it actually did drop below 32 . Just to be on the safe side I dragged my patio plants inside and now that I’ve done that I’m beginning to wonder what else I’ve brought inside. I had a customer once who left her plants outside until well into fall and when she did bring them inside discovered she also brought in a hibernating frog!
Well, the whole point here is that you never know what else you bring in with your plants and, really, I am thinking of bugs. Before you bring your plants inside you may want to give them a good hosing with water to knock off any insects that may be lurking in the foliage. Check the undersides of the leaves for insect eggs. Ann Larson, who is currently recuperating from ankle surgery, recommends using a mild solution of True Value cleaner (we sell it at Countryside) to remove insect eggs and kill smaller insects. You can also use a systemic insecticide or yellow sticky traps, that work like fly paper. The yellow color of the trap attracts whiteflys, aphids, thrips, leafhoppers and aphids. The systemic takes a few weeks to work its way up the plant and into the leaves so a combination of all of the above is probably best.
It is usually a bit of a shock to the plant to go from a sunny, cool outdoor spot to a now warmer, drier, less sunny inside location. Some plants to not make this transition very well. Keep the plants in as sunny and cool a location as possible and keep them away from the heating vents. You may want to provide additional humidity by putting a pan of water next to the plant. Often, plants react to a drastic change in environment by going into shock and dropping their leaves. Do not just assume that the plant needs water and water it. Check the soil first. If the soil moisture is adequate, just let the plant be. It will begin to set new leaves that will be acclimatized to the new location and should be fine. Remember, in lower light conditions plants do not grow as much so they don’t take up as much water. Over watering will do as much to kill a plant as under watering.

My hibiscus plant has really grown and I am always worried when I either put it outside or bring it in that the change is going to shock it. Hibiscus are pretty tough plants, but they do have a tendency to loose their leaves when brought indoors. It won't kill the plant and if you strip the leaves off the plant before you bring it in, you will leave all those insects outside.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Forcing Bulbs

Forcing bulbs is a fun project for the fall, though you won't see the fruits of your labor until spring. Forcing bulbs means to trick them into blooming sooner than they would when planted outside. Some bulbs do not need to be forced, like paper whites or amaryllis. Others, such as daffodils, tulips, crocus or hyacinths need to be cooled before they will bloom. It is a little too late to force bulbs for blooming by Christmas but you can still get a jump on spring by doing it now. The Van Bloem web site has a page that explains how to do it and gives the weeks of cooling needed for each bulb type.

Most bulbs need 12-15 weeks of cool temperatures before they will bloom. After this period it generally takes another month for the blooms to actually set and open. I prefer to time my bulbs to bloom sometime in late January or February. There is usually plenty of color in the house in December, what with Christmas decorating and poinsettias. After that the house looks a little drab so it is nice to perk it up with some forced bulbs.

In this example I am using daffodils and crocus. You can use any type of container. If it is going in the house you would want to use a more decorative container. I am planning to put this out on the front porch so the container doesn’t have to look too nice. I think using a galvanized container would look nice, also.

Fill the container with potting mix, not garden soil, and place the bulbs pointy side up. In a 6" container Van Bloem recommends 6 tulip bulbs, 3-6 daffodil bulbs, 3 hyacinth and 12 crocus or muscari bulbs. In my container, which is more like a 10" container, I am using 4 daffodil bulbs and 5 crocus bulbs. Once the bulbs are in place, partially cover the bulbs with soil, water in and place in a paper bag.
Find a cool place to store the bulbs. Right now the coolest place is going to be in your refrigerator. I am having to evict the wine from the bottom shelf of the frig at least for a few weeks. Once the outside temperature has dropped sufficiently find a place that stays cool but does not freeze. My garden club friend Kathy, puts hers in the covered window wells in her basement. In 12-15 weeks bring the container into a warm sunny room. There should be green shoots about 1-2" tall emerging from the soil. They will continue to grow and form buds and finally open. This process will take about a month. Be sure to turn the container so that the stems don’t grow to one side, toward the light.

Bulbs do not have to be fertilized since they stored the energy for next year’s blooms last spring. I have had some people tell me that bulbs that are forced do not ever bloom again and they should be thrown out after the blooms are spent. This is not true. Once the bulbs have blossomed, you can fertilize them with a well balanced, all purpose fertilizer. If you want you can plant them outside in the ground at this point or allow them to grow in the container until later in the spring and then allow them to go dormant, remove them from the soil, dry them and replant them in the fall in the ground. The key is allowing them to continue the process of photo-synthesis and sending energy to the bulb to enable the plant to store up enough energy to bloom again the following spring.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Time for Bulbs

I apologize for the lack of blogs recently. In early September I took the youngest daughter back to school in Boston, then got busy at work– but now I seem to have my muse back so here we go.

I have been in my house a full year and have seen the full range of seasons. I am beginning to see what is lacking in the landscape. One thing that I missed last spring was spring bulbs. At my old house I had planted hundreds of bulbs and this spring at this house there were like three. Now that the weather has cooled (I cracked up reading my last blog about the lack of rain!) we can think about planting bulbs. If you plant them too early in the season, we can get a cool down and then a warm up and the bulbs are fooled into thinking they have been through the cool down period. You really can fool Mother Nature sometimes.

I love driving down Woodstock Street in Crystal Lake in the early spring to see the scilla in bloom in the lawns of the houses near the intersection of Oak and Woodstock. Yesterday I planted a bag of scilla bulbs in the middle of the front lawn. I also planted daffodils in the planters on either side of the front door and in the lawn in front of the planters. I think this will create an interesting transition between the lawn and the planters as well as soften the hard edges of the brick paver planters.

I think, too, the blue of the scilla and the yellow daffodils will be a nice combination in case they end up blooming at the same time. Both bloom early, but the scilla is the earlier bloomer. So much of when plants bloom depends on the weather but again, as a general rule, crocus and snow drops bloom early, usually in March, followed by daffodils, and then tulips. For summer blooms you can plant alliums for dramatic impact and fall crocuses and colchicums for blooms in September and October. In fact, you can have more than 100 days of blooms with bulbs alone and in a small space if you plant them at different heights. Bulbs are really very versatile and, because the blooms usually last a long time, a great investment.

One bulb variety that may be of interest to those plagued with deer and rabbits is fritillary, sometimes called snakes head. This bulb blooms later in the spring and has lovely bobbing heads and the best thing is it is deer and rabbit resistant. Also deer and rabbit resistent are daffodils.
We get asked a lot of questions about planting bulbs and two of the most common are "What side goes up?" and "How deep do you plant them?" Bulbs usually have a pointy end and a flatter end. The pointy end is the top and the flat side is where the roots grow but don’t worry if you plant them upside down. Bulbs are "geo-tropic," which means they know which way to grow and can "right" themselves to the correct orientation. How deep you plant the bulb depends on how big the bulb is. A general rule is to plant the bulb 3x the depth of the bulb, so a 1" bulb will be planted 3 inches deep. Don’t get too worried about measuring from the top or the bottom of the bulb, close enough is good enough. You can bury bulbs too deep and if you do you will notice little or no flowering, but an inch one way or the other will not make a difference.
For more information on fall bulbs, stop by Countryside and talk to any of the green house staff. There are several web sites that also have good information as well. The International Flower Bulb Centre, run by the Netherlands bulb growers at is full of excellent information as is the site run by Van Bloem Gardens (where all my pictures came from)