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.