Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Annual Geraniums

Geranium, also known as cranesbill, can be annual, biennial and perennial. (I always believed they were all annuals until recently.) My mother was kind of funny when it came to geraniums. She didn’t particularly like them, but would buy a couple of plants (always the annuals) every year because it was her mother’s favorite. I never paid much attention because, to me, it was a plant to put on graves. I don’t know whether most people do that or if it was only because that’s what my mother did.

Martha Washington Regal Geranium
"Elegance Purple Majesty" purchased 07/17
A geranium was the last plant my mother ever bought me. I remember the day she brought it home. A friend had taken her out for the day as she didn’t drive or go out on her own any more. She was so proud to bring me home a gift, a beautiful Martha Washington geranium. I was as excited to receive it as she was to give. She so wanted to please me – and she did. I planted it in the little garden near the garage.

A friend told me I could dig it up and bring it inside for the winter. I did and it survived, so for the next couple of years, I’d plant it outside in the spring and in the fall, dig it up and put it in a pot to winter inside. It lasted a few years but somehow went missing when I moved from Bradford. 

A Sarista Sunstar Red purchased in 2016 and wintered inside

Geranium facts: There are 422 species in the geranium genus. The leaves are palmate and broadly circular in form. The flowers have five petals and a few clumps will grow tight on a single stem. The colors range from white, pink, purple, blues and shades of red. Some will be a single color while others may have veining or be two-colored. 

Geraniums are nice because they will grow almost anywhere and, unlike other flowering plants, they don’t have a dormant period. They look great wherever they are planted whether in pots, in garden beds or hanging baskets. They prefer six to eight hours of sunlight, though. I had a friend who kept her geranium inside and it eventually got so big that the pot couldn’t be moved.

Care is easy – deadhead regularly and water deeply when the soil feels dry. (I sometimes wait until the leaves droop.) However, they don’t like to be water logged. A water-soluble houseplant fertilizer or 5-10-5 fertilizer can be added once a month during the active growing season. A potted geranium will wilt when it needs re-potting.

Now for the fun part, and something with which I am not familiar – propagating. I’ve always had trouble cutting plants back or dividing them when they get big. I was afraid of hurting them even though I know they do better with attention. Propagation of geraniums is easy. You can take cuttings in summer, gather seeds or divide a larger plant in autumn or spring.

I bought three geranium plants last year to honor my mother. I planted them in flower boxes in the yard and dug them up and brought them inside for the winter. Two of last year’s plants were in an oblong flower box in the living room window. They grew taller and taller. I didn’t want to cut them back because there was always a bud. The orange bi-color reached 40 inches tall and the pinto red, 36 inches. Both were in bloom and the weight of the blossoms finally caused both stalks to bend. 

Geranium cuttings root well without the need of any additives. I cut off the flowers and then cut the stems near a node (place above a leaf or a swollen part of the stem). Cutting here also encourages new growth on the mother plant. I pulled off the bottom-most leaves and just stuck the stems in the soil and gave them a generous amount of water. I watered often in the next few days whenever the leaves started to wilt.

Blossom from a cutting -- it grew!
I researched more on geraniums. Some websites said to dip the root end into a rooting hormone such as Miracle Gro FastRoot while others say it’s not necessary. The sites also say propagating is a great way to keep the geraniums as they often only live about a couple of years.

Weeks went by. The leaves stayed green and the plants grew. I was amazed. Three weeks later, one blossomed. The dilemma now is going to be what to do with too many geraniums. I hate the thought of just throwing excess away. Free geranium cuttings, I guess. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Haphazard Gardening

I’ve been meaning to write, but as usual, I’ve been incredibly busy. How is it possible to get busier? And now that I’m writing, I have a lot to say. I thought I went overboard last year when I got into gardening. I thought that a smaller property would be easier to design and maintain. Perhaps that would be true for a professional landscaper. However, I’m not a professional and I do things my way. 

These daisies attract bees.
Yes, I overspent on flowers last year. A smaller yard doesn’t necessarily mean small gardens. I created new gardens besides those already here, and this year I’ve gone even further (in money, the size of gardens, and the amount of new plants). Still, it’s not exactly where I want it to be … nor do I know exactly where I want it to go.

So, where am I going wrong? No, it’s not that I’m going wrong (well, maybe that depends on who you talk to, ha ha), it’s that I’m jumping in without a prepared plan. Wow, I haven’t actually admitted that before. That’s exactly what I do, though. I stop at the nursery, fall in love with too many plants, and purchase more than I can handle at one time. I get them home and I ask myself, “Now what do I do?”  

I created a lily bed just for hybrid day lilies
But, flowers make me happy. I love the colors, shapes, textures, patterns. The way one plant might grow different from another is fascinating. Why does this plant not do as well and one right beside looks great? I can’t help myself. Maybe I’m making up for all those years I wasn’t interested in gardening. 

It’s not easy. I face challenges every day when out in the yard. It takes three to four days to get the new purchases planted. Sometimes where I thought I’d put a plant isn’t where it ends up. Sometimes where I put it means I have to extend the garden which means more edging and when there are a lot of roots the digging is extremely difficult. Then there are times when a new plant doesn’t like where I put it and I’ll have to find a new spot. 

Hens and Chicks - Red Beauty
There are lists to make so I can add new pages to the garden reference manual I’m putting together of plants in my yard. I look up three or four websites to gather information on each plant and then work the information into one cohesive piece for the manual. I photograph the plants and if the plant isn’t flowering yet, I add a photo later.

The soil here is mostly sand, so that creates yet another issue. I want to keep it simple. I don’t want to deal with PH testing and amending the soil, although I do add potting soil. Then there are sun issues. The main part of the yard gets a lot of afternoon sun and even sun-loving plants are not happy with too much heat in the afternoon. (I’ve learned that if a plant tag says, “Sun/part shade,” I’m better off leaning towards part shade.) 

Last weekend I went on a garden tour in New London and Elkins and saw some amazing gardens. Then today, there was a posting on Facebook of 23 amazing gardens. Absolutely stunning, with professionally designed and manicured plants. At first, I thought, “How could I do this?” I realized these gardens are beautiful, but not me. I’m not perfectly manicured. I don’t follow the norm. I make my own way … even when it comes to gardening.

Other colorful elements bring other aspect to a garden. This
is a work in process re-purposing plant trays.
The light bulb lit up as it dawned on me that I’m a haphazard gardener. Sasha Wolfe, the haphazard gardener. That’s me. It’s how I work and create. I am spontaneous. I do things against the grain. I buy plants not knowing where to put them, then build a garden around them. I put some like colors together and others are mixed.

I’m learning all the time and I love to hear what others say. One of the ladies I met on the garden tour said her garden has been a 30-plus year love-affair and she changes it all the time. My gardens are coming along, but now that the heat of summer has arrived (and bugs), I’m less prone to want to be outside. I’m usually outside around 7 a.m. which has totally upset my normal morning routine (one thing I’ve always been in a rut about), but that’s another issue.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Daisies - Osteospermum and Gerbera

It’s funny how I can sometimes be blind even when things are right in front of me. I discovered bright-colored daisies when I moved to Bradford in 2006 and I’ve bought some each spring since. I believed these annuals, even though some had larger flowers, were all gerbera daisies, that some were just a smaller version. However, I was recently told when making purchases for this year’s flower boxes that the small-flowered ones I chose were not gerbera. 

If you look closely at the tips of the petals, Gerbera daisies
have "two lips."
Gerbera have much bigger blossoms. The little tags on the pots of the smaller flowers said osteospermum. Duh, how could I have not realized they were not the same with the two types of plants right in front of me! I guess in this case, a rose isn’t a rose – or colored daisies aren’t all gerbera. (Am I showing my ignorance of the plant kingdom?) 

I got the plants home and began research. I compared the Wikipedia websites (among others) for both varieties. Osteospermum and gerbera are both known as African daisies. Osteospermum also goes by cape daisy, blue-eyed daisy or daisybush, and gerbera, Transvaal daisy or Barberton daisy. Both are of the plantae kingdom, both in the order of asterales and family of Asteraceae. However, the subfamilies, tribe and genus are different. 

Osteospermum are in the subfamily of Asteroideae, one of the smaller tribes of calenduleae and genus of osterpermum (perennials) and dimorphotheca (annuals). They are annuals in this area (zone 3).  Gerbera, also annuals around here, are in the subfamily of mutisioideae, the tribe of mutisieae, and the genus of gerbera. This is all Greek to me, oops, I mean, Latin. And this isn’t even getting into cultivars.

But enough of the technical jargon. Let me talk about the physical aspects of these plants. 

Osterspermum 4D Violet Ice
Osteospermum (cultivars around here) grow 15 to 24 inches tall and can reach 1-2 feet in width. Osteospermum prefer cool weather and will bloom often until the summer gets hot. (In 2016, I had them in containers and when they started to wilt and not bloom as much, I moved the containers to a less sunny spot and they did much better.) Cultivars flower well when watered and fertilized consistently. They don’t need deadheading because they don’t set seed easily. However, the plants look nicer when the spent flowers are removed.  

A Gerbera daisy plant prefers sun and can grow 18 inches tall and 18 inches wide. A single flower grows on top of one stem rising up from a mound of slightly fuzzy leaves. Multiple rows of two-lipped petals tightly surround the head. The blossoms can be 2 to 5 inches in diameter. Wikipedia said it’s the fifth-most cut flower in the world after rose, carnation, chrysanthemum and tulip. 

What’s interesting is that both plants’ centers or capitulum are composed of hundreds of individual flowers. They both attract butterflies and are deer and rabbit resistant. These are some of my favorite flowers and I’m happy to now have better understanding of the differences. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Daffodils, a symbol of friendship

I’ve always loved daffodils. Maybe because yellow is one of my favorite colors. Maybe it’s because that gorgeous brightness after the dreariness of late winter/early spring convinces me spring has finally arrived. Whatever the reason, daffodils are stunning! 

Daffodils and narcissus are the same family, amaryllicaceae. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. I always thought of daffodils as the bigger, yellow, trumpet-shaped flower and that narcissus was the flatter-looking white-petaled flower with the yellow trumpet (that’s what my mother had said). They are all narcissus and I found out that those flatter-looking narcissus are paperwhites. Jonquil is another popular type with the difference being smaller, clustered blossoms with the leaves are more cylindrical. 

Interesting facts:
The bulb has contractile roots and pulls itself deeper into the ground after blooming. The plants are dormant throughout the summer to late winter. Next year’s flower stem and leaves form in the bulb to be ready for sprouting in the spring. 

All parts of the daffodil contain lycorine, a toxic chemical. The bulbs have been mistaken for onions. However, they do not have the onion odor nor do they cause tearing. Eating any part of the plant can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. 

The front garden here last spring had narcissus. They bloomed before I caught the gardening bug so I didn’t research them at the time and I’m not sure exactly what type they are. Currently there are sprouts, but I’ll have to wait until they blossom before making the identification

I purchased a pot of bulbs the end of February which have already bloomed. Normal planting time for spring-flowering bulbs is in the fall, but I planted these last week. The hardest part was deciding where to plant. I was thinking about putting them under the little crabapple tree because they will bloom (next spring) by the time the leaves come out on the tree. Then I read that it’s good to plant bulbs with others to create a square or circle, so I put them in front of a mushroom garden sculpture. 

One more chapter in beautifying my yard.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Cleaning Up and Expanding

Small stints of gardening continue as I spend about 20-30 minutes outside in two or three intervals during the day. I’m making an art of working in short timespans. I work until my body gets achy and says it’s had enough, then go inside and work on another project.

You can still see remnants of the gray driveway stone
that got plowed into the driveway this winter.

I began edging the main lily garden last Friday and it continued through the weekend. This section is on the north side of the driveway and is lower than the house. The ground here is harder. I want a better definition to the garden and perhaps create a shape. It’s not working out as I would like and it looks messy … but it will eventually come together.

This is the tiered lily section near the garage on the north side.
The green is the hyacinths.
I also started an area begun last summer -- better clearing of what I’m calling the coneflower bed. (I eventually want to come up with nicer individual names for all my little gardens.) The Echinacea plants were discovered last summer in front of a few big rocks that were placed when building up the land to put the house back in 2003. The slope changed a bit with the addition of the garage last summer and later in season, another lily garden was planted in two tiers on the side of the walkway going down towards the edge of the property. I had also extended the coneflower bed to the east in front of a couple more rocks and planted rudbeckia. Now it’s time to pretty it up more.

This oldest section in front of the rocks, the coneflower bed,
has now become the lower tier. I'm still trying to remove grass.
Now, there is still an older section of ground between the lilies and the coneflowers, and it’s this section I’m trying to clean up and the grass clumps here are horribly tough. It’s not even nice grass! I worked it a little last summer when I discovered the Echinacea, but gave up. I removed a lot of the briars (blackberries). There is also one tulip leaf and a couple inches away, a daffodil (neither bloomed last spring nor this). 

I love rocks and it is my intention to have the flowers and rocks accentuate each other. At this point, I’m wondering if I’m going to have to ask for help. Today I’ll take another go at it.

This last photo is looking down from the top tier
(the walkway along side of the garage). 

This last photo is looking down from the top tier (the walkway along side of the garage). 

It's all guesswork as to the design. I'm just trying to make everything look better.

With another year of water issues (between the drought and the old dilapidated water system in the district), I'm not sure how far I can take this. All I know is that flowers make me happy and are one way to pretty my yard and home.

Hopefully the rain barrels will help again. This year I may attempt pumping water from the brook as long as it doesn't dry up.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Gardening April 12 through 21

What a busy week this has been. I’ve gone out every day to do yard work. The most exciting thing is seeing what plants are coming up and sometimes, there are changes between morning and afternoon. It’s amazing what warm sun will do to spring plants. They almost grow before my eyes.

I finished raking out all the flower beds and as much of the road dirt off the lawn as I could get. I still have a raked pile of driveway stone on the other side of the lily bed that I need to get back to the driveway. Plowing took its toll this year, but the snow had to go somewhere.

All the lilies I planted last year are putting in an appearance in various levels of growth. They don’t all bloom at the same time, so it will be interesting to see what happens. Most everything else is also looking fine, although some later blooming perennials have yet to show.

The right side of the house facing west.
Four white crocuses bloomed on the front right side of the house. There are leaves on the other side of the porch, but no signs of blossoms yet. The bleeding heart has poked a couple of red nubs out of the ground and some iris are also showing. I’m surprised that the day lilies that line the length of the front edge of the slab are also growing under the porch. The rose bush stems are turning green.

Three of the four crocuses

The left front side with the new walkway and two of the rain
barrels in front of the garage.

The left side of the front garden was extended into a curve when the new walkway was installed last fall. There’s a clump of green leaves near the edge of the walkway and I’m not sure what that is. Guess I’ll have to wait for it to grow bigger. Something is telling me it’s a week, but I’ll wait to make sure. 

There are some things here that are growing, but the coreopsis is the looking the best so far. The viola I transplanted in the fall from the flower boxes out back to the front garden near the driveway looked great and even had a couple of blossoms while there was still some snow, but the few days of hot sun seems to have burnt them up. I’ll wait to see if they recover.

The middle garden -- I want to come up with better names
for each of the gardens. I want to extend this one.

The big middle garden, made just last year, has lots of life in it. The cornflower looks the best with its gray-green leaves looking bushy. The lavender, which I brought from Bradford, looks like it’s struggling a little, but that may be because it’s early. All the columbines are coming up, as is the clematis. The hibiscus isn’t showing anything. They are a late summer plant, so I’m not worried. 

It is in this garden that I planted the daffodils and tulips. I planted them closer to some middle rocks near the crabapple with the idea that they will be first up in the spring, then, because you need to leave the leaves after the flowers die, other later blooming plants will hide the early ones when they are not so pretty. I admit I have difficulty deciding exactly where to plant and how to make a design. I usually end up picking a spot and putting the plant in the ground. Maybe in time I’ll figure out how to actually arrange plants.

The hybrid daylily garden. I'm happy to say all I planted last
year are coming up. Next step is to put an edge around here.
The hybrid daylily garden on the other side of the driveway shows every plant I put in the ground last year survived. I’m very excited about that. Late last season I planted perennials that had been in flower boxes on the deck along the retaining wall and below it towards the back of the house, down over the embankment. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what survived or will survive due to the installation of the generator. There’s some green showing on the level of the gennie, but I’m beginning to think most of those plants got trampled and disturbed too much with the equipment and gas lines.  

Unfortunately, the water ban is still on in the district which means no outside watering. I’m bummed, but put out my three rain barrels. If need be, I’ll get some jugs (I threw away the ones I had last year not believing we’d be in a water ban this year) and make trips to the brook or lake for water.

This section is at the side of the garage. I put extra lilies up here
and made tiers down the embankment. You can't tell in the photo
but every plant is showing signs of life.

The mulched area holds two more lilies.
Behind in front of the rocks are echinacea
and rudbeckia.

Below the retaining wall I had a bunch of various plants. They
put the generator on top of half of them (not where we had
originally discussed), 

Top of the retaining wall where violas
and other flowers were planted.
I think these got beat up with the
generator install.

Sempervivum hybrid
Sempervivum tectorum -- Red Beauty
On April 19, I stopped at Agway to get a new plant to celebrate my mum’s birthday, April 18. They had some beautiful hens and chicks which are succulents and require little water. Perfect! And my mum would have loved them. I bought three different ones and later that day, got them in the ground. I started a new garden with two of the plants placing them far enough apart to give them room to spread. 

Semper tectorum -- Piloseum.

I want to better design this new garden, give it some kind of shape. This might become my rock garden with pretty stones. Like with my paintings, I start a project, then need to let it stew for a few days or a week before I know what to really do with it. Each task takes on a life of its own. I just have to wait for it to tell me what it wants.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Gardening for the Season Begins

OK, I know it’s early and I can’t plant anything new, but I can start cleaning up as the snow melts. That’s what I’ve been doing the past few days. I’m calling it all gardening because it’s about cleaning up the yard to get ready for actual flower gardening.

Driveway stone got plowed over the lily garden. I'm raking it
back to the driveway.
First up was raking the driveway stone that got plowed from the driveway onto the lawn and flower gardens. Most of this was the lily bed. This type of driveway is new to me and during the nicer seasons, it looks nice and it doesn’t get muddy in the rain, but snow plowing scraped off where the driveway was curved for water run-off. 

I’m picking at this project a little at a time to get the bulk of it back to the driveway. The smaller particles will be mixed in with mulch in the garden beds. 

I love this time of year because it’s exciting to see what the melting snow reveals. Sometimes it’s not so good, but I love finding new growth. I’m amazed to see what plants have been greening under the snow.

This week I found the first green of a few daylilies poking out of the mulch and I was totally surprised how much green is on the Jacob’s ladder. There is even a few green leaves on daisies that were over taking the garden last fall. On the other side of the front porch, the coreopsis, fully revealed yesterday, has green leaves amid the dark winter-soaked leftover fall leaves. I’ll have to get the pruners and trim that up. 

I don’t want to do too much yet. There’s still the potential of below freezing nights and possible snow. But it feels so good to get out there.

This year’s plans (at least right now) is to do some work in the back yard. The house was built on a manmade rise and slopes down in the back to the brook. The outer deck edge is a good 10 feet from the ground. The area was left to be totally natural although I did have someone come in last year to do some basic clean-up of scrub and bushes. 

This year I want to do more clean-up starting with deadfall and broken limbs. I’d also like to take out a few other trees and saplings. There’s a mix of beech, oak, pine, and hemlock. Ground cover, besides previous years’ leaves includes clubmoss (which I knew as princess pine as kids growing up) and something that grows low to the ground like a holly or winterberry, but I’m not sure exactly what it is.

I’ve ordered hostas to plant around some old stumps I like. Other than that, I just want the area cleaned up and looking nice. I don’t know how much I will actually do because all I need is to see one tick on me and that will do me in.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Houseplants and Winter Humidity

This was written on March31 as the snow was falling and a thick blanket already covers the deck. I won’t be planting outside any time soon, so let’s talk about indoor plants.

I’ve been around plants all my life but never really learned their proper care. I’d keep them watered until they died. Many times, they’d go from looking good to not-so-good to just hanging on to dead. I certainly never thought about humidity except for summer. However, the other side to humidity is air that is too dry, especially in the winter when the furnace or a wood stove is running. It makes sense when you consider most plants are grown in greenhouses where there is a lot of humidity. What a shock it must be for the plant when you get it home and the air is dry; and when the plants begin to dry out, it’s easy to over water. 

You don’t need to measure your home humidity levels. The plants will tell you when they are not happy. They will begin to wilt, leaves will get brown edges, buds won’t develop, fall from the plant before opening or shrivel soon after opening. My plants are in colorful pots with a hole in the bottom with a small lip creating a place to hold a little water. Still, they dry out quickly and I can’t tell if I’ve given them enough. 

Research showed me many tips to keep indoor plants healthy:

Place them in groups – they help each other by creating pockets of humidity, plus they look good together.

I used gem stones and minerals collected over the years
for my pebble trays.
Use water-filled pebble trays – this can be a fun design feature to create if you have the room. I use a pretty tray (purple, of course). I’ve been collecting stones for years from gem stones to interesting ones found in the yard or out walking. Put enough water in the tray to almost cover the stones, then set the pots on top so the roots don’t get waterlogged. The evaporating water provides moisture for the plants.

If you don’t have room or if you don’t want to put water in the tray, place a dish or cup of water near the plants. I keep pretty glasses near the plants where a tray won’t fit, and because I didn’t want to put water in the pebble tray, I put a glass of water in the middle surrounded by the stones and plants.

Misting plants is also very popular – however, it’s a more temporary measure as the water dries up quickly. Just remember not to mist plants with hairy leaves like African violets.

A humidifier also works.

The other side of low humidity is high humidity on plants kept in places like a kitchen, bathroom or laundry room. Again, let the plant tell you what it needs. You may just need to move it into another room if it’s not looking healthy.
Something else to remember about houseplant care is that dust forms on the leaves. The plants’ leaves draw in light which is crucial for its survival. Dust blocks the pores needed for that light. It’s important to either gently wash them with room temperature water or use a soft brush (like an artist’s brush) on plants with hairy leaves. (The hairy leaves of my African violet are a magnet for cat fur.)

Primrose (perennial/annual)

My education in gardening continues. I’m always surprised at the information I find. There’s a fine line between purchasing plants, throwing them in the ground and hoping for a beautiful flower garden, and actually learning to take good care of them.

I'm doing more exploring on the ins and outs of spring flowers purchased at the end of the winter season. These are force-bloomed to bring a spot of color during the dreary season. Some people use them for a one-time blossoming while others hold onto them to plant outside when weather permits. Most of mine are past their indoor-winter bloom time. There's still another month or so before it’ll be safe to do outdoor gardening. So how do I keep my new babies safe until then?

I purchased one small primrose plant on Feb. 10. I know these plants have been around for a long time but, for some reason, I’ve never had any. This is a cute little plant with a spherical umbel (a blossom that grows on a short flower stalk). The flowers can be in a variety of colors and most have a bright yellow center. It’s one of the first flowers to bloom after winter and many varieties can grow in containers. They grow best in zones 5-9 and prefer cooler temperatures. The flowers and leaves are edible, tasting like a bitter lettuce. The leaves can also be used for tea.

The few blossoms remaining when I made my purchase soon faded. I cut the stem back as directed. Soon, however, the leaves died off and I cut it back to about an inch above the crown. A friend told me this is normal and it will come back next year. I hope so as I feel bad when plants die on me. It’s hard to trust this process of winter dormancy – when to stop watering and put the plant in a dark place for six to eight weeks or so.

When safe planting time arrives, primrose can be moved outdoors. (They can also be transplanted while in bloom). Primrose like to be in a cool, partly shady area in the garden or on a balcony with light morning sun (avoid afternoon sun). Place them 4-6 inches deep with the crown even with the soil. The soil should be well-draining and slightly acidic. Position multiple plants six inches apart.

Keep the soil moist but don’t over water. Prune dead leaves and blossoms; fertilize once a month while blooming – do not fertilize during winter dormancy. If needed propagate after blooming (late spring) by division.

A little extra care is needed to grow primrose indoors. Daytime temperatures must remain below 80 degrees with filtered sun and moist soil. Nighttime temps should be 50-60 degrees. It’s also a good idea to place the pot on a pebble tray because in the winter with the furnace running, the air will dry out quickly and affect the health of indoor plants. 

However, after they finish blooming in the house, it’s best to plant them outside for the summer. They can stay in their pots and come back in the house in the fall.


My education in gardening is never-ending. I am amazed how much there is to it. When I was young, my mother used to have beautiful flower gardens but I realize now that she was lucky … and had a green thumb. I know she didn’t have any of this professional gardening knowledge. I guess, maybe, she learned by trial and error and sharing info between neighbors or she was very intuitive about flowers.

Hyacinths are often associated with spring and rebirth so this is good timing to mention them. I bought two potted plants last month (two different shades of purple) and will plant them when the ground is ready. I had grape hyacinths in Bradford. Every year they would spread farther across the lawn and I want their early-season blooms here.

My research taught me that grape hyacinths and the hyacinths I recently purchased are not the same. The common grape hyacinth (muscari) flowers are blue-ish, tight, urn-shaped and resemble bunches of grapes. The hyacinths I now have are in the Asparagaceae family. The blossoms come in a variety of colors and are bell-shaped resembling little starfishes.

Hyacinths bulbs, light purple or cream in color, are covered with dry, papery, skin-like layers and are usually planted in the fall for spring blooming. The bulbs are poisonous, containing oxalic acid. Handling hyacinth bulbs can cause mild skin irritation. I’ll have to wear protective gloves when transplanting them outside. 

This is the third hyacinth purchase. The first two were purple.
A compact spike of flowers grows six to 12 inches from the bulbs with long, narrow leaves folded lengthwise. I found the highly fragrant blossoms a little too potent inside but outside they will be wonderful. Once the blossoms fade, cut the entire spike off. Do not cut back the leaves; let them die back naturally. The bulbs store energy received from the leaves to prepare them for blooming next spring. 

My plants, which were blooming when I bought them, means there are going into their dormant time. Here is another learning experience: Just like outdoor plants and nature winters, indoor plants also need their dormant time. And to keep indoor plants healthy and vibrant, there are times to allow them to die back (they’re not dead) and go into sleep mode. Some do well in a dark closet, a basement or covered with a paper bag for a few weeks. Then they can be brought out, watered and fertilized and they’re ready for another round of blooming.

I’m still getting my head around that. Logically, it makes sense but to hold onto a plant that looks dead …
My hyacinths, though, will go into the ground with compost, good soil, and a layer of mulch sometime in May. There I will let nature take its course. I’ll leave the leaves intact until they totally die off. Yes, they will not look very good during this period but annuals or other perennials can be planted around them to keep the garden space looking nice. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Late Winter-Garden Blahs

How bright and happy is a host of daffodils
Last month I bought crocus, tulips, and more hyacinths to go with the other hyacinths and daffodils. They were in bloom and brought color and brightness to the house. Now all the blossoms are spent and these spring-blooming bulbs and tubers are slipping into their dormant period.

After buying two purple hyacinths, I bought a pink one.

Normally these plants are bought as bulbs and planted in the fall for blooming in the spring. Nurseries will plant some in pots and force them to bloom early in greenhouses to sell during the dreary winter months. The plants I purchased were past their prime and on sale (can’t turn down a bargain!) and now I’m worried about getting them through the next month or so until I can plant them outside. 

Tulip in bloom
I’m struggling with the indoor gardening aspect of this. The air is very dry and I need to water often. I’ve read a number of websites and there’s just enough differences to cause doubt as to the best for the plants in my house and conditions. 

I read that it’s important with these plants to cut off the stem and spent blossoms, but allow the leaves to remain until they turn yellow and brown. The green leaves will gather nutrients needed to store in the bulbs for next year’s blooms. Some sites say to stop watering and let them go dormant for a few weeks to a couple of months. Some say to water once a month. And, even though these bulbs are normally planted in the fall, I will plant them as soon as I see similar plants popping up in the garden.

Pele hasn’t bothered the plants much lately. I put most in the studio and close the door at night because she wouldn’t leave them alone when I first brought them home. I started leaving the geranium out. I’ll occasionally find a bite in a leaf, but other than that, the plant is growing beautifully and now has some buds. I started leaving the tulips out, then the mini roses and hyacinth. 

The crocus begins blooming
I’d put the crocus pot on the window sill during the day and she didn’t touch it, however, not that it’s stopped blooming and the leaves are turning brown, I took it out of the bright light. Now Pele won’t leave it alone. She doesn’t actually eat the leaves, she just bites them off. What a silly kitty. 

Pele won't leave the crocus alone. The daffodil, tulip, and crocus
are done blooming and going into their dormant stage. I want to
get them planted in the garden as soon as I can.
Oh, just let me get my plant babies through April and the beginning of May. I read one website that said when these types of bulbs start poking up in the outside gardens, it’s OK to plant others. 

Yesterday in my walk-about-the-yard, I noticed daylily shoots just barely poking up along the slab of the southwest side of the house. However, there is still a foot of snow three feet wide from that point to the front edge of the garden. I’ll see how these next couple of days of 60-70 degree temperatures do the snow. Still, it will be too early to plant.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Violas - A Late Winter Surprise

One of my favorite things to do in March is to wander the yard checking out places where the snow melts away to see what is happening on the ground. The above average warm temperatures the end beginning of the month gave me an early opportunity.  I was surprised to find one flower and one teeny bud at the edge of the front garden on one of my daily forays. 
This had to have blossomed while still under the snow, so it's
looking a bit beat up. Still, to see the color was exciting.

To see the new-growth green and the flower was exciting, especially as it meant the blooming started while the plant was still buried. It wasn’t a perfect blossom. It looked a little worse from the wear of being under the snow but still, a blossom in early March?

You know spring has arrived when you start seeing violas and violets in nurseries, in the yard and alongside roads. Violas and violets are in the violaceae family and can be annuals or perennials. There are over 525 species. Flower colors range from shades of purple to blue, cream, white and yellow and some are bi-colored. (The large-flowered cultivars developed from violas and used annually for gardens are pansies.) 

Violas and were the first perennials I purchased last spring and I planted them in flower boxes on the back railing. I was attracted to them because they can be planted earlier than many other plants. Young plants are edible and high in oxidants. 

I periodically moved the flower boxes throughout the summer depending on the sun. They like spring and early summer sun but as the season heats up, they struggle. If viola get too much sun, they will get tall and “leggy” and produce less blossoms. It’s all about finding the right levels of sun and shade. They also need to be deadheaded regularly to keep them vibrant and blossoming.

I planted them in the ground at the end of the season when they were looking poor. I would love to see them spread and they may do so out of the boxes. Some people consider violas and violets weeds but I’ve always loved the bits of brightness throughout the lawn. They also look great as borders in the flower garden, and who knows, I may get more for the flower boxes again this year.

As I write this the Saturday before a big storm, I know I can’t get too excited. Winter has not let go yet. Still, writing and thinking about pretty spring flowers brings cheerful thoughts of the warmer weather to come.

Confused About Cyclamen

I purchased this indoor plant last month year they were on sale. This means it is kind of mid- to off-season or getting close. There were two blossoms and once they faded, I cut back the stem as close as I could to the bottom. Now the plant seems to struggle as the leaves are starting to wilt. I looked up cyclamen to see how to take better care of it.

Cyclamen I've had in past homes never seemed to live long, but then, I never made an attempt to find out its proper care. This time I want to be better with my plants because they bring joy to a home.

My little cyclamen seems to struggle. 
Cyclamen are originally from the Mediterranean and can be fussy about temperature and water. They are not bulbs but tubers, a short vertical stem from which roots grow anywhere along the tuber. Leaves and flowers grow from points on the top and will bloom in winter and go dormant in the spring. The size of the tubers, and colors and shapes of the flowers and leaves, vary depending on species.

The information I gathered from three or four websites turned out to be more time consuming than usual. I ran into some issues in the attempt at one cohesive write-up because there are contradictions as to when the plant goes dormant and how long to let it be in that state. Most sites said to not let the leaves or stems get wet while watering while a couple other sites said to periodically spray water on the leaves. There are also differences in when and how long to fertilize. Some even say to throw the plant out once it stops blooming.

Maybe this means that people who fall in love with the exquisite flowers have to learn for themselves how to best care for their plant. 
Below is what I have gathered to be basic care. Feel free to contact me with stories of your cyclamen.

Cyclamen basic care:
Cyclamen should be in pots with holes in the bottom which means the pot needs to have a bottom watering section or set in a bowl or dish. Water when the plant is dry to the touch and water from the bottom. The roots will gather up the water keeping the leaves and stems dry. 

Fertilize once every other week in the fall/early winter until blooms appear, then every three to four weeks while blooming with a houseplant fertilizer. Clip the stems of faded blossoms close to the top of the crown to keep the plant flowering.

The cyclamen goes dormant in the spring and the leaves fall off and the plant looks dead. Stop watering and fertilizing once the leaves start dying and allow it to go to sleep. Remove any dead foliage and put the plant in a cool, somewhat dark place for a couple months. 
Bring it out of storage in the fall. Remove the tuber and wash it off. Check for damage, soft spots, or discoloration, and if it seems crowded in the pot, replant it in a bigger pot to half the tuber’s length in fresh potting soil and completely soak. Set the pot in a cool, indirectly lit area. 

Once leaves start to grow, resume normal care throughout the late fall and winter.

Perhaps it's all about learning how the plants react in their environment. Maybe it will just take a season or so for it to acclimate to this house.

Learning about Amaryllis

If I can’t garden outside, I may as well learn to have flowers inside.

Here is an update about the two waxed amaryllis I purchased in February at Agway in Hillsborough. I never did get to see it in bloom. I was a little shocked when I went online to read about this plant. The marketing scheme, very popular in Europe, is to make the amaryllis sound like the perfect gift for the holidays – no watering and easy care. However, no watering and easy care means the plant won’t live past a couple of blooms because they cut off the roots and encase it in wax holding just enough nutrients to have it bloom a couple of times. Then the plant is thrown away. 

I researched how I can salvage the two plants I purchased. (If I’d known about this ahead of time, I wouldn’t have spent the money. If I wanted throw-away flowers, I’d buy cut bouquets.) One person told me to pull all the wax off, plant it in good potting soil and hope the it will live. Someone else told me she pulled off all the wax and a layer of the onion-like skin and set the bulb in water hoping the roots will grow. Then she will plant it in potting soil. Yet another person said putting the bulb in water will cause the bulb to rot.

You can see how the bottom of the bulb was cut flat by the grower,
but here, after I scraped off all the wax and soaked the bottom in
water, there are roots sticking out.
But what are the alternatives? This beautiful plant might as well be dead as it is, so I’m trying the water method and after soaking the bottom all day and overnight, I turned the bulbs over this morning to see roots starting to poke down. Yes! I am so excited!

One bulb with its little roots poking out was planted in a pot with good potting soil. The other bulb I left in the water for two more days. Eventually, there was a hint of root sticking out of the side of the bottom. I planted it. Both plants are still looking good a couple weeks later with the leaves green and vibrant.

I learned a lot in the research. For instance, the bigger the bulb, the bigger the blossom and the more times it will bloom. The flowering period is usually winter and spring. Leaves will still grow and be vibrant into summer as the plant will continue to gather nutrients. Stop watering and feeding in mid-August. Cut the leaves back to two inches from the bulb after the leaves turn yellow and remove it from the soil. Clean it and store it in a cool 40-50 degree, dark place for a minimum of six weeks. (Do not store near apples. Apples will cause amaryllis to go sterile.) After six weeks, replant the bulb in fresh potting soil, begin regular watering and get ready for another winter of pretty blossoms.

Monday, February 20, 2017

I felt like gardening, but as it's only February, I resolved my gardening needs by making a trip to Agway in Hillsborough. I love the people there; they are friendly, helpful, and knowledgable. A couple of friends had been posting pictures of their amaryllis plants and I wanted one and recently bought two “waxed” amaryllis plants. Melissa told me when the wax crumbles away, I can put the bulb in soil. 
A few days later I looked up amaryllis on the internet. I am building my own gardening manual. I usually read three or four websites and pull together information that pertains to this area. I make notes on planting, watering, and care, and I take photos of "my" plants to put on the page.
I was saddened by the reading of what the growers do to the amaryllis plant to make it a pretty holiday gift. Their marketing makes it an easy, no-care purchase which makes it even more attractive. However, there's a downside.
The roots are cut off at the bulb and a metal piece inserted into the bottom so the plant can sit upright. Then wax is poured around the bulb sealing in whatever moisture is necessary to get the plant through a couple of flowerings (notice I’m saying a couple). The plants sold this way are advertised as needing no water. 
Two things happen from the wax. One is that it keeps roots from growing -- plants get nutrients through their roots. Two, whatever water is sealed within the wax to keep the amaryllis blooming a couple of times, will also rot the bulb. Eventually the plant dies whether from lack of nutrients or bulb rot.
Amaryllis is a beautiful living plant and needs water and a root system to survive. After reading this, I knew I needed a couple of bigger pots, so back to Agway I went as they were having a sale on brightly colored ceramic pots. (I couldn’t resist buying another purple hyacinth which will eventually go out in the garden.) 

My next goal will be to make sure all the wax is off the amaryllis. I will also carefully peel off the outer onion-like layer of skin on the bulb to make sure there is no rot. Once it’s cleaned up, I’ll carefully plant the bulb in good potting soil with plenty of room for the roots to grow (hopefully) and water as needed.