» Archive for November, 2008

Holiday Amaryllis

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Primroses and pansies will add instant color to pots and flower beds. Combine them with bulbs for an extended season of bloom
    • Sasanqua camellias have lovely, delicate flowers that bloom through the winter months. Find a place for one of these hardy shrubs in the landscape.
    • There’s still time to plant bulbs. Consider putting some in containers so you can enjoy the flowers on your patio or by the front door.
    • Rake and destroy leaves from fruit trees that were diseased this year.
    • Dress up your interior landscape with some new houseplants for the holidays ahead.

Holiday Stars: Giant Amaryllis

One of the most spectacular bulb flowers that can be grown indoors is the majestic Dutch amaryllis. Standing as high as two feet, with bright green foliage at its base, the trumpet-shaped, brilliantly colored, six-inch blooms come in clusters and are truly magnificent. Usually a second flower stalk appears after the first is through blooming, extending the blooming season.

The amaryllis is not forced indoors as other bulbs are, but flowers naturally in the winter as they do in their own tropical environment. It has become associated with the holiday season because many varieties are bright red and its blooming cycle begins in December.

Amaryllis also come in pink, white, salmon and striped red on white. ‘Red Lion’ is a deep, rich, velvet red that is a holiday classic, and ‘Vera’ is a lovely warm salmon-pink with a white throat. ‘Appleblossom’ has a white flower brushed with soft pink, ‘Minerva’ is red with a white star center and ‘White Christmas’ is pure white.

Dutch amaryllis can bloom anytime from December to April and they are planted between November and February. Each bulb will produce 2-3 stems and 4-6 flowers per stem and grows to an average of 20 inches in height. They will flower in 6-8 weeks after planting.

Amaryllis grow best in soil. The gift boxes come with a pot and “growing medium”, which is a coir disk made from coconut fibers. The coir disk is first placed in four cups of warm water until it completely absorbs the water. Then it can be loosened and the bulb nestled into the soil.

Set the bulb so that its widest part is at the soil line. Firm the soil around the bulb and water with lukewarm water. Water just enough to keep the soil barely moist until growth begins, then water more frequently as the leaves and flower stalk grow. The bulb will rot if kept too wet. Place the pot in a warm, sunny spot with good air circulation. Turn the pot a little each day to keep the stalk growing straight. When buds begin to open, move the plant out of direct sun to a cooler but bright location. They will bloom longer away from direct sunlight.

As the flowers begin to open, the plant will become top heavy. If it is in a light, plastic pot, you can place the plastic pot inside a ceramic pot to keep it steady.

After blooms fade, cut off the flower stalk and give the amaryllis plant the same care you do your other house plants, but avoid heavy watering. You can move the pots outdoors for the summer but bring them in before frost. Unlike many forced bulbs, amaryllis can be brought back to bloom for years and years.

To do this, feed it with houseplant fertilizer monthly through the summer. In the fall, usually around the middle of October, cut back all the foliage. For about a month to six weeks, put it in the dark and withhold water. On Thanksgiving, put it back in a sunny window and resume watering to initiate another wonderful season of bloom.

Fall Gardening

Friday, November 14th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Japanese maples and snowball bushes are some of the most colorful shrubs in the fall. Plant them now and give them a head start on spring.
    • Check houseplants for insects. Spray leaves with insecticidal soap and wipe them off to leave them clean and insect-free.
    • Empty birdbaths and fountains and cover them for the winter, to prevent water freezing and cracking the bowls.
    • Transplant shrubs that need to be moved this month. It’s also a good time to transplant natives.
    • ‘Tete a Tete’ Narcissus are the cute little yellow daffodils that are popular in pots. Plant some now for fragrant blooms next spring.

Wood Ashes in the Garden

Cool fall mornings call for building a fire in many homes. And at some point that means there will be a bucket of wood ashes to dispose of. Should these ashes be dug into the garden or the compost pile? That’s a question with a complex answer.

Wood ashes contain nutrients, specifically calcium, potassium, magnesium and other trace elements. Hardwoods produce three times as much ash per cord as do softwoods and five times as many nutrients, although the amount of major nutrients is small in either case. Wood ash has a very fine particle size, so it reacts rapidly in the soil.

But more importantly, wood ashes are very alkaline. They contain about 25 percent calcium carbonate, a common liming material, and have a pH of 10.4. So a little goes a long way, and adding large amounts can do more harm than good.

The pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of soil measured on a scale of 1 (acid) through 7 (neutral) to 14 (alkaline). Nutrients are most readily available to plants when the soil is slightly acidic, with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. As soil alkalinity increases and the pH rises above 7.0, nutrients such as phosphorus, iron, boron, manganese, copper, zinc and potassium become chemically tied to the soil and less available for plant use.

The majority of food crops prefer a neutral or slightly acidic soil. Some plants, like potatoes, blueberries and strawberries, prefer more acidic soil and plants in the broccoli and cabbage family prefer alkaline conditions. Wood ash should never be used on acid-loving plants, or in areas where potatoes will be planted since wood ash can promote potato scab.

Specific recommendations for the use of wood ash in the garden are difficult to make because soil composition varies from garden to garden. Acidic soils (pH less than 5.5) will likely be improved by wood ash addition, and soils that are slightly acidic (pH 5.8 to 6.5) should not be harmed by them. You can apply up to 20 pounds per 1000 square feet annually, working it into the top 6 inches of soil.

However, if your soil is neutral or alkaline (pH 7.0 or greater), find another way to dispose of wood ash. If you don’t know your soil’s acidity or alkalinity level, you can test it or have it tested for pH.

The best time to apply wood ash is in the spring when the soil is dry and before tilling. Wood ash that has been exposed to the weather, particularly rainfall, has lost a lot of its potency, including nutrients.

In compost piles wood ash can be used to maintain a neutral condition, ideal for microorganisms activity. Sprinkle ash on each layer as you build the compost pile. This is especially good if you have oak leaves or pine needles in your compost heap.

Use wood ashes with care, or bury them where you don’t plan to grow anything.

Trees for Fall Planting

Friday, November 7th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Fragrant hyacinths make a colorful display in a garden bed, or can be grown in pots. They come in red, pink, blue and white and can be planted now.
    • Clean up the garden by raking leaves and old flower blossoms out from under your shrubs. Roses and camellias especially appreciate this.
    • Spray citrus and other tender plants with Cloud Cover to give them some protection from frosts.
    • Enjoy birds in your garden by hanging bird feeders around the yard. You’ll see many different kinds as they migrate through this fall.
    • Clean up water lilies by cutting off dead leaves. Leave hardy lilies in the pond and sink them down to the bottom of the pond for the winter.

Trees of Hope

When you plant a tree, you do so with a vision. A vision of a large spreading shade tree that will someday shade you from the hot summer sun, or a vision of bushels of fruit to fill the jars in your pantry. You may envision the beautiful blossoms in the springtime in a row along your driveway, or flaming accents of colorful leaves set against the green landscape.

Fall is a wonderful time to plant trees.  It gives them a chance to sink their roots deep into the soil over the winter so they are ready to make the most of the spring growth spurt. 

There are many beautiful maple trees, from small Japanese Maples, to October Glory Maple (Acer rubrum), a beautiful, round-headed tree growing 40 feet tall.  Trident Maple grows to only 20 feet tall and wide with glossy green leaves that turn bright red in the fall.

Other medium-sized maples include Pacific Sunset, Norwegian Sunset, and Queen Elizabeth, which is more upright and can make a dense, tall screen for a background planting.

Tall maples include Autumn Fantasy maple, which is a beautiful, fast-growing tree to 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide. The large leaves consistently show very good fall color, turning a bright rose-red as the weather cools.

Sycamores are hard to beat when it comes to shade. These giant trees grow 40 to 80 feet tall. They can take harsh conditions, drought and tough soils. The bark is attractive as it flakes off leaving light-colored patches behind.

Ginkgo, or Maidenhair trees, are a stunning sight in the fall. Their fan-shaped leaves turn golden yellow and drop all at once, creating a golden carpet beneath. They are tolerant of drought, heat, and poor soils.

Chinese Pistache is one of the best trees for filtered shade. It grows 30 to 40 feet tall with a round crown. The leaves turn brilliant orange and red in the fall. It takes heat, tolerates most soils, and can be grown as a lawn tree or where it gets little summer water.

Trees are such an important part of any landscape that one must give plenty of thought to finding just the right one.  Fall gives you the opportunity to become acquainted with some new and interesting specimens that may prove to be that special one you’ve been looking for.

Trees take years to grow and when you plant one, you’re not only planting it for yourself, you’re planting it for those who will come after you and share the land that you now call home. Planting a tree is an affirmation, an act of hope, an investment in the future.