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January 11th, 2013

After-Bloom Care of Amaryllis

I received an amaryllis as a gift and it was spectacular. Now what? If I keep the bulb, will it bloom again?

blog-dougAn amaryllis is a rewarding winter houseplant because, like paperwhite narcissus, it can go from dormant bulb to full bloom in a matter of weeks. But unlike paperwhites, which aren’t worth saving once they are done blooming, an amaryllis bulb is a long-term investment that will bloom every winter—if you know how to keep it happy.

It’s a common mistake to trim off the long, strappy leaves that emerge with the flower stalk. Those leaves are absolutely necessary; through photosynthesis, they capture the solar energy that goes toward next year’s flowers. After it’s done blooming, put the potted amaryllis in a sunny, warm window and water it regularly to encourage more leafy growth. Give it a bit of fish emulsion or other water-soluble fertilizer every other week. When the weather warms and nights remain consistently above 50°F, move the pot outdoors, letting the leaves acclimate to direct sunlight gradually. Continue feeding and watering to encourage lush growth; the leafier the better.

Around Labor Day, stop watering and feeding your amaryllis and let the bulb go dormant. Some gardeners turn the pot on its side to make sure the soil dries thoroughly. Once the leaves have shriveled, move the pot indoors and keep it dry for at least 10 weeks, or whenever you’re ready to awaken the bulb and begin the flowering cycle again. Top the soil with a half-inch or so of compost or fresh potting mix, water well, and stand back!  —Doug Hall

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April 24th, 2012

Daffodils Unbraided

After her daffodils were done blooming, my neighbor spent hours braiding their leaves into tidy bundles. I don’t have time for that. Am I hurting the bulbs by not braiding the leaves?

blog-dougJust the opposite. This is another example of the benefit of standing aside and letting nature do its job.

Think of leaves as solar collectors. Every bit of sunlight that falls on the leaves is transformed through the process of photosynthesis into carbohydrate reserves that are stored in the bulbs. The more photosynthesis, the more energy the bulbs stockpile, which results in a bigger floral display next year.

Anything that reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the bulb foliage will decrease next year’s flowering. This is true of all spring-flowering bulbs, not just daffodils. Your neighbor’s braiding technique, as well as the practice of bundling bulb foliage with rubber bands, won’t prevent the bulbs from returning but it certainly reduces the number and size of next year’s flowers. Even intermingling the bulbs with perennials, such as hostas and daylilies, so the bulb foliage disappears among the emerging perennials, will slightly reduce the bulbs’ future performance.

Allow the leaves to mature fully, until they’ve lost their green color, before clipping them off. Admittedly, tattered daffodil foliage that lingers into June is less than glamorous. In my garden, I operate under the theory that if there are dazzling flowers in another part of the garden in late spring—I recommend peonies, roses, bearded irises, clematis, and poppies—no one will notice the fading bulb foliage.  —Doug Hall

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November 15th, 2011

Winter Storage for Dahlias and Cannas

How can I keep my dahlia roots for next year? Frost killed the tops last week. I spent good money on the roots and I’m not willing to let them become expensive compost.

blog-dougI’m with you. It takes just a few minutes to dig and store dahlia tubers, so why not keep them for a repeat performance next summer? Dahlias survive the winter outdoors in Zone 9 and warmer; everywhere else, you can dig up the tuberous roots and overwinter them indoors. The same technique works for cannas and other tender summer bulbs.

After frost, cut the stems to stubs. The sweet-potato-like dahlia tubers extend outward from the stem about 6 inches, so be careful not to slice into them while digging. Shake the soil off the roots and let them dry in the garage for a few days. If you have more than one variety, write their names on the tubers with a felt-tip marker.

Some gardeners divide their dahlias at this point, leaving one growth bud or “eye” per division and dusting the cut surfaces with garden sulfur as a fungicide. I prefer to store dahlia and canna clumps intact, waiting until spring to divide them, because I’ve had better success that way.

Pack the roots in paper bags or cardboard boxes with dry sphagnum peat moss, sawdust, or vermiculite surrounding them. Store them at a steady temperature between 35°F and 45°F. Back in the days of unheated, damp basements and root cellars, it was easier to store tender roots without their shriveling. Nowadays drier basements prevail, and it’s wise to check on the stored roots monthly. If they start to shrivel, lightly moisten the sawdust or peat.  —Doug Hall

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