» Archive for October, 2011

Enchanting Amaryllis

Saturday, October 29th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Bulbs, bulbs, bulbs! It’s time to plant tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus and many other flower bulbs for beautiful blooms next spring.
    • Choose shade trees for fall color now and plant them while the soil is still warm.
    • Divide artichoke plants which have been in the ground for three or four years. Mulch established plants with steer manure.
    • Plant cover crops in the garden where summer plants have finished. Fava beans and crimson clover will grow through the winter and improve your soil for spring planting.
    • Seed slopes with annual ryegrass to prevent erosion and improve the soil for later plantings.

Enchanting Amaryllis

Amaryllis belladonna, known as Naked Ladies, are a wonderful fall flower that is truly easy to grow. A native of South Africa, it is well adapted to our dry summer, Mediterranean climate.

Each September the large flower bulbs send up one or two tall bare flower stems about two feet tall. Then each flower stem bursts into bloom with a cluster of large, bright pink, fragrant, trumpet-shaped flowers. Up to twelve flowers are produced from the flowering stem and they tend to face southward toward the sun. The bare stems with no leaves give rise to the common name, Naked Lady.

After flowering, the large strap-shaped leaves appear. The leaves remain green throughout the winter and die down in the summer when the bulb becomes dormant. After they are finished blooming is the time to plant them. Plant the large bulbs about twelve inches apart with just their necks showing and divide them in the fall when they get too crowded.

The bulbs are almost indestructible and multiply readily. In fact, about the only way to kill them is with kindness, by watering during the summer, applying fertilizer or burying them in mulch.

They grow in full sun or partial shade. They like well-drained soil and can take dry soil all summer. The deer generally leave them alone so you can plant them along driveways and in exposed areas. They can be used for naturalizing on a bank, along a fence line, or in a vacant corner.

There are other, similar bulbs that go by the common name of amaryllis. The so-called Christmas amaryllis actually belongs to the genus Hippeastrum. They bear giant red trumpet-shaped flowers at Christmas time, rather than in the summer.

Beautiful amaryllis hybrids come from Holland, and are available as named varieties in many separate colors. These hybrid strains have impressively large flowers, 8 to 9 inches across and 4 to 6 flowers to a stem, often with two stems growing from each bulb. The color range includes bright reds, salmon, soft pink, coral pink, white and red-and-white.

They are easily grown in 6-inch pots. Plant them so at least 2/3 of the bulb is above soil level. Keep the potted bulbs in a cool light place at about 50° until the roots are well developed. When leaves start to appear, move them into a warmer room. Bulbs bloom in about six weeks from planting.

The bulbs are tender and must be keep indoors or on a frost-free porch until summer. Then they should be brought back inside in late September when they go dormant.

Enjoy beautiful amaryllis in both fall and winter by planting them now, indoors and out.

Fragrant Narcissus

Saturday, October 29th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Naked lady amaryllis have lovely, fragrant pink flowers that bloom in late summer with little or no care. Plant the bulbs, available at local nurseries, now.
    • Protect the pond from the worst of the leaf fall with a fine-mesh net over the surface of the pond.
    • Plant pansies, snapdragons, stock, calendulas and primroses now to replace summer annuals.
    • Look for rich, bright colors in the foliage of deciduous trees and shrubs. Burning bush, fothergilla, snowball bush and maple trees are beautiful right now.
    • Garlic sets can be planted now for an easy crop that you can harvest next spring. Choose from hard-neck, soft-neck or Elephant garlic varieties now available.

Enjoy the Sweet Fragrance of Paperwhites

Paperwhites are miniature Narcissus that produce bunches of fragrant, white or yellow flowers. They are the easiest winter bulbs to bring into flowering indoors. In fact, doing so is a tradition for many people. Their bright flowers and sweet fragrance can brighten up even the dreariest winter day.

A point of confusion often arises over the use of the name Narcissus. Narcissus is the botanical name for the genus that includes many similar spring-flowering bulbs. The larger, trumpet flowers are commonly called Daffodils while the small flowered Paperwhites and China Lilies are commonly called Narcissus.

Paperwhites are quite easy to force into early bloom, as they are native to the Mediterranean region and don’t require cold temperatures to blossom. The first step is buying the bulbs. Bigger is better in this case, as these bulbs will produce more and larger flowers. Bulbs are sold by circumference: the distance around the bulb, like a belt. Narcissus which are 16-17 cm. (or 6-1/2 inches) around will be about 2-1/4 inches in diameter, and are a good size for forcing.

Narcissus can be grown in bowls with pebbles in water, or in pots with potting soil. To grow in water, select a bowl 4 to 6 inches deep; fill it with pebbles; nestle the bulbs into the pebbles about half way. The bulbs should almost be touching each other.

Add only enough water to just touch the base of the bulbs. Check the level twice a week and add a little water as needed to keep the level fairly constant. As the roots emerge, they will work their way down into the water.

To grow them in pots, select a shallow pot with drainage holes, and plant the bulbs so that just their tips are showing. Water the pot and keep it just barely moist until the bulbs sprout. Then keep the soil evenly moist.

Put the containers in a cool, shaded room until the leaves reach 3 inches tall. Then bring the plants gradually into the light over a period of about a week and watch them bloom.

They will bloom in 4 to 6 weeks from the time you plant them. Paperwhites are the fastest bloomers. You can plan ahead for lovely, fragrant table decorations for the holiday season by timing your planting correctly.

You might make two plantings a week apart to be sure of having flowers at the perfect stage for your holiday table.

Narcissus can also be grown outdoors in the ground. Plant them 5 inches deep and 6 inches apart in a sunny location. They will be some of the first bulbs to bloom in the spring, and will delight you with their fragrant blossoms every year.

Colorful Climbing Vines

Saturday, October 29th, 2011 by Jenny Watts
    • Garlic cloves can be planted now. Keep them watered and weeded through the winter and you will harvest healthy large bulbs next June.
    • Crimson clover, fava beans and rye grass will fortify your garden soil over the winter. Seed these crops as you compost your summer vegetables.
    • Fragrant Paperwhite narcissus will bloom indoors by Thanksgiving if planted now in rocks and water.
    • Wildflower seed broadcasted with the first rains will take root over the winter and burst into flower next spring.
    • Watch out for Jack Frost! On cold nights, cover summer vegetable plants that are still producing to extend the harvest.

Brilliant Fall Color from Climbing Vines

When it comes to fiery fall foliage, Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) puts on a spectacular show that’s unsurpassed by other deciduous vines.

This is one of the toughest vines around, thriving in poor soils, sun or shade, in both cold and hot climates and either dry or damp soils. This vigorous vine can be used as a groundcover, can shade an arbor or climb a stone or brick wall. This plant provides great cover for small animals because of is thick foliage.

But be careful where you use it, as Virginia Creeper does more than creep: it grows as much as 10 feet a year, and its tendrils will attach themselves to trees or shrubs as easily as fences and walls. It is an excellent covering for walls, trellises, arbors or fences. It may also be grown on the ground to cover old stumps, rock piles and other “eyesores”. As a ground cover it grows about 12 inches high.
Its leaves are made up of 5 leaflets and are up to 6 inches across. While its summer flowers are insignificant, Virginia Creeper produces small, blue-black berries that attract wildlife.

Virginia Creeper is sometimes confused with its close relative, Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), which has three leaflets, as opposed to Virginia Creeper’s five.

Boston Ivy covers the exterior walls of a number of prestigious northeastern universities and is probably responsible for the term “Ivy League.”

It is a deciduous, self-clinging vine with large glossy leaves 4 to 8 inches across. The color of the leaves changes with the season starting with light green in spring, dark green in summer, and peach to scarlet crimson in fall.

It is also an excellent climber. It can grow and spread 30-60 feet and is one of the fastest growing vines. On buildings a north or east wall works the best, but it will also climb tree trunks, arbors, trellises or retaining walls. It is a tough vine that tolerates urban settings and easily handles most conditions including shade and drought. It will make a thick ground cover about 9 inches high.

Boston Ivy flowers are small, green, and difficult to locate. They develop into blue-black berries on red stalks, which become apparent after the leaves fall. Birds typically consume the berries before winter arrives.

The foliage of Boston Ivy looks similar to maple leaves, especially when it turns deep red in autumn. This ivy makes an excellent backdrop for summer flowers, especially reds, yellows, oranges, and whites.

Fall is an excellent time to plant vines, which will get established over the winter and be ready to take off next spring. So if you need a vigorous vine for a difficult situation, or just want to enjoy the beauty of their fall foliage, consider planting Virginia Creeper or Boston Ivy.