Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year!!!

As we sink in to the post-holiday, winter doldrums, I'd thought I'd post a nice picture representing warmer days. This 'Highlight' zinnia (Zinnia hybrida 'Highlight') has a wonderful glow (like a Highlighter pen) and gives continuous bloom thru the summer. Zinnias aside, our Holiday Lights Show is almost over and unfortunately didn't get the attendance we had hoped for or needed. The weather certainly did not cooperate and we had to cancel three of the eighteen nights due to poor weather conditions. We'll start taking down the show next Monday but will leave some of the lights up around our visitors center for various rentals that have requested them. Kudos to a great group of staff and volunteers that set this event up, ran it well and ultimately, will take it down and pack it away over the next 2 months.

I'll get back to the daily blog on Jan. 5th but all gardeners should keep their sanity by reading gardening books and catalogs. Consider growing heirloom vegetables next year! Some great catalogs to acquire include Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Fedco Seeds, Territorial Seed Company and of course, get involved with the Seed Savers Exchange (Decorah, IA). I think we should all commit to sharing our gardening passion with a child. Let them plant seeds, grow vegetables, tend the garden, etc. Let's try to drag some of these kids outside in to the light!!! Nice shot below of a monarch on a surefire butterfly attracting annual; Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Farmers Almanac Was Right!

My daughter and her friend Hunter from the neighborhood have been enjoying the snow but it's affected our lights show in many ways. Attendance has been down from past years as a result of snow (travel conditions) as well as subzero temperatures for three of the nights. The deer are getting hungry too and are starting early on our conifers. We've kept the paths clear but the snow is starting to pile up. I think this is a "normal" winter as opposed to those wimpy winters that we've had in the past. Unfortunately, we only have 7 days of the lights show left and really need more attendees. It's snowing as I type actually!!! Snow cover is a nice "garden blanket" although it can also harbor little critters that like to nibble under the snowline during tough winters. No use complaining, we'll get thru it and spring will be even more welcome. The Farmers Almanac predicted lots of snow (which isn't a bad bet anyway!) and here it is! A neat feature of our lights show is that the Janesville Area Herb Society has a booth with all sorts of neat and affordable gifts; all herb related. The image below is of the seed pods of the "hairy balls" plant (Gomphocarpus) that I've shown in some summer postings. This milkweed species gets over 6' tall and has these neat structures that dry well. They used them in wreaths and other crafts as well. Their hot pepper jelly is also delightful. What a neat and creative group. We're happy to have them involved here at the gardens as they also maintain our herb garden.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter Activities

The lights show ran well last night but the 2 degrees F didn't bring in a lot of people. As people complain about winter, I'm reminded of the quote "To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring". I'm not sure that everyone agrees with that during a tough winter!!! This is the first year we've had the lights show run throughout the week. The bulk of our attendance is on the weekends so I'm not sure how worthwhile this will be while school is in session and people have other weeknight activities. Regardless, more bad weather looming for tonite with freezing rain followed by 8-10" of snow. Ugh. The picture above is from part of our reference library. Winter is a great time to research plants and gardening ideas/techniques. There are some wonderful references out there and many libraries have extensive gardening sections. Consider doing some reading this winter and there is no doubt that the beautiful pictures can keep you sane until spring. As you go thru gardening catalogs, you might see some things you'd like to order. As always, see if there is a local source but if mail order needs to be accomplished, there are some concerns. See the article below on 'Armchair Gardening' for some things to consider.

Although the frigid temperatures have kept most of us inside these past couple of weeks, gardening opportunities abound. It is a great time to look at the garden from your window and decide on spaces for future evergreens and ornamental grasses. As the temperatures allow more outside activity, pruning of many trees and shrubs can be accomplished during the winter (dormant) season. Creativity has no limitations as you daydream about your garden and some of the stimuli for your planning will involve the annual deluge of plant and seed catalogs in the mail.

Garden catalogs arrive by the dozens over the winter months and tempt you with the new and unusual as well as the time-tested favorites. Trees, shrubs, vines, bulbs, perennials, annuals, water plants, garden equipment, etc. can all be ordered over the phone and frequently the internet. Wonderful pictures and alluring descriptions whet your appetite for spring and cause you to start marking your favorites with post-it-notes. Before long you may realize that you desire more plants than your landscape can accomodate and the bill for these plants has added up quickly.

Mail order catalogs have the advantage of advertising their products to you in winter although it is important to note that many of the same items will be available locally in the spring (without the delivery charge). Mail ordering can be an exciting and convenient way of acquiring desirable seeds and plants. However, there are both advantages and disadvantages when ordering plants and seeds through the mail.

One advantage of mail ordering is securing/reserving plant materials early in the year before the “rush” of spring. If you are looking for a specific seed variety, mail order sources may be a good start as you can obtain them before supply dwindles in the spring. Seeds can be obtained early for starting at home or saving until they can be sown. Ordering plants early through the mail assures availability but also allows you access to an enormous palette of plant material from around the country. There are mail order sources in every state and around the world (although shipping restrictions from overseas sources may be prohibitive). The convenience of ordering plants and seeds from home and having them delivered to your door is quite apparent. You can select delivery times and essentially “shop from home” for the garden.

Remember that opening a package of mail order plants is an adventure. The time between when you order an item and when it arrives at your door can involve many complications. This is the primary disadvantage over the more interactive process of hand-selecting and purchasing plants from a nursery, garden center or other source. Other individuals are involved the physical selection and processing of your selected plants. Plant costs can be quite high, particularly for those plants that are new on the market. Seeds typically ship well, however, plants that arrive in a box can be subject to many stresses during packing, delivery and unpacking. There are some basic rules of thumb to consider when purchasing mail-order plants and seeds.

Do more research on the individual plants that you are interested in because pictures in catalogs typically display the ideal specimen of a certain plant (and may be photo-enhanced).
*Examine pricing intensely and review delivery costs as well. There are frequently price breaks for quantities and early ordering.
* Determine if there is a customer guarantee for plant materials and if so, what are the terms of that guarantee?
* Decide if you will accept substitutions for your order. There is almost always a way of specifying whether you will accept substitutions or not. If you want something specific, make sure and decline substitutions or you will never be sure of what you will end up with.
* Always verify what you have ordered by requesting a verbal or written confirmation (preferably written). Confirm the total bill as well. Orders with code numbers and varying plant names can get confusing so it is important to confirm the details of your order.
* Determine how you will be charged/billed for the plant materials so you are not surprised. Understand all fees at the time of ordering. Most companies will send a bill with the plant material or after plants have been received. However, some companies will bill you at the time of ordering.
* Be aware where these plants are grown. Understand that some of these plant species, while hardy in the area, have been grown in warmer climates and may have problems adjusting to both our winters and our summers. Research on your part prior to planting will maximize the success of your new plants and seeds.
* Most plants are shipped based on appropriate planting times for the region, however, you may wish to request specific shipping dates if it helps accommodate your schedule.
* Remember that larger items such as small trees may not travel well although state-of-the-art packing systems and quick delivery have minimized problems with larger plant shipping and delivery.
* The most important thing to do with a new delivery of plants or seeds is to unpack them immediately upon arrival. Inventory the contents based on the packing slip and your original order. Packing materials vary but with few exceptions, plants do not respond well to being packaged for long periods of time. Read instructions on how to acclimate your plant to light and moisture prior to planting. If there is any damage to plant materials or they look unhealthy (or dead), call the nursery immediately.

Understanding both the advantages and disadvantages of mail-ordering plants and seeds will help you make educated decisions on what you will obtain. Reputable mail-order nurseries have expanded the plant palette for gardeners and understandably, winter is their prime advertising time. Rotary Gardens orders from over sixty mail order nurseries located in over twenty-five states and some foreign countries. We obtain seed from all over the world. The sheer diversity of plants and seeds available through the mail is mind numbing but don’t forget to support the local economy and patronize local sources for a wonderful range of plant materials as well.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More Snow and Cold

I don't have any recent images to put on today's post but just imagine snow and that's what's happening right now. Our lights show had a great start on Saturday with a good turnout. However, Sunday was rainy and last night was FRIGID cold. Our overall attendance numbers aren't real high yet but the bulk of our "traffic" occurs closer to Christmas. In past years, we've added some dates between Christmas and New Years, to include New Year's eve. This has worked well as many visitors are from out of town and we like to turn on the lights as often as we can for a potential crowd. Immediately after New Years, we start taking down, sorting and putting away the show. My posts will be sporadic until after New Years as I'll be using up vacation time and my schedule is dependent on the lights show and snow removal. I'll be ordering seeds right after New Years day and look forward to figuring out our "schemes" for next year. Scary image below that will keep kids from every gardening again. I'm not sure where I took this but the humor would be lost on younger children as they enter years of therapy. Enjoy those gardening catalogs by the fire!!!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Lights Show Begins!

The lights show will officially open to the public tomorrow night. The shot above is from the 2007 train display although it looks very similar this year. The outside lights show is neat although the trains certainly get their share of attention. The WI Garden Railway Society sets up, runs and takes down this set-up every year. Different members bring their own trains on the nights that they work. Some kids have to be dragged away kicking and screaming from this set-up. As always, the weather will be a huge factor that affects the show but obviously attendance as well. It was a ghost town around here today with just Dr. Gredler coming in to stain benches. I'm continuing to go thru seed catalogs and am planning next years designs and plantings.
Just about everyone is familiar with CHIA pets and I just saw an add for CHIA herb gardens that seemed to be very little maintenance to grow and maintain. I was a bit concerned with how easy it all seemed. Herbs grown indoors over the winter have challenges of not so much heat, but adequate light and humidity. Attached below is an article I wrote years ago about windowsill herb gardens.

Aside from some of our final garden chores this warm November, the impending winter months will bring us inside soon. We will then appreciate our houseplants and become “armchair gardeners” with colorful catalogs and thoughts of a distant spring. Consider growing herbs in your home to provide ingredients that add fresh flavor to your meals and wonderful aromas. With adequate light, warm temperatures, judicious watering and occasional fertilizing, you can have “herbal success” in your home as you observe a snowy landscape right outside your windows.

Tender herbs will not survive our Wisconsin winters and perennial herbs are dormant (and unavailable) until early June. There are many kits available that promote windowsill herb gardening. Pots, soil, seeds and directions are typically provided. Whether you choose a kit or customize your own growing arrangements, many herbs can be considered candidates for interior efforts. Some of the more common herbs include basils, coriander, chives, mints, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley and lemon balm. You may start these from seed or perhaps dig up a portion from your garden to continue growth inside. Herbs such as rosemary can be brought in every winter and replanted out in the garden when the weather warms up again.

The location selected for growing these herbs is the most important factor related to their growing success. These herbs will need 4-6 hours of light each day and should not be placed in an area with cool drafts. Also avoid locations near a heating event but provide gentle air circulation if possible. A sunny windowsill can be a prime location if the other requirements are met. Consider artificial lighting if your plants are becoming “leggy”. These lighting systems should be placed close to the plants so they remain compact and don’t stretch for the light. Adjust artificial lighting heights as the plants continue to grow. Interestingly enough, the concentration of the oils that provide herbs with their distinctive flavor and/or scent is partially dependent upon the amount of sunlight the plants receive. Again, it’s location, location and location.

For potting soil, use what is termed a “soil-less”mix. This material, composed of peat moss and other additives, provides a loose structured soil that drains well and promotes vigorous root growth. Herbs need adequate drainage, particularly in this interior situation (in the garden too!). Over-watering will create “soggy feet” and will result in dead herbs. Water the soil only when it feels completely dry or you see the very first signs of the plant wilting. Fertilize lightly every other week and obviously avoid pesticides when possible. Whiteflies, aphids, scale, spider mites, etc. will visit your herbs as they do other houseplants. Consider an organic alternative when combating these critters.

Rotate plants occasionally and make a point to observe your plants daily if possible. Snip and use the plants often to encourage fresh new growth and a compact stature. However, never remove more than a third of the foliage at one time as over-harvesting may stress that particular herb. Some herbs such as coriander may require re-seeding as they are utilized but basils, parsley and many other herbs will regenerate quickly as they are harvested. More research regarding the growing requirements, harvesting and uses of windowsill herbs may be warranted.

Consider the merit of fresh herbs in your winter recipes, perhaps a nice garnish or even scented leaves for potpourris and realize that herb gardening can be a twelve months of the year hobby (and a healthy winter addiction!).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No Meltdown Please!

We're focusing on snow removal today although the bottom layer (as expected) is solid ice. We only received 4-5" of light stuff so it will be easy to throw that around. The big concern now is a weekend "meltdown" with temperatures in the upper 30s. Slushy snow is as bad as rain for our lights, many of which are on GFI outlets that will "pop out" if there is excess moisture or dampness along the lines and/or connections. Oh well, there is only so much we can do. Unfortunately, the stress of this event takes up 25% of my year (from set-up to takedown). We've never had perfect conditions (25 degrees, 2" of fresh fluff, "the perfect winter wonderland") for this event but most visitors will come closer to Christmas anyway. December can be such a goofy weather month! Nice shot above of some of our eggplants from 2007. I'm going thru catalogs now with a focus on heirloom vegetables (mainly tomatoes and peppers). As you go thru your catalogs, why not try growing some veggies at home next year? Vegetables don't have to be in there own relegated garden but can be mixed in our borders, grown in containers or otherwise "shoe-horned in" to openings in our landscapes. Nice shot of 'Holiday Cheer' hot pepper (Capsicum annuum) below. See continued text below picture.
For some indoor color and fragrance, consider "forcing" paperwhites (Narcissus) in the home. Many garden centers carry kits and/or the bulbs which are easy to grow indoors for that little touch of spring. See my article below for more information.
As the winter landscape establishes itself outside, we look to our indoor plants for color and a connection to nature. We’ve already planted our spring-blooming bulbs outside in the garden and as we wait for their announcement of spring, why not try to “force” some bulbs inside the home. Forcing bulbs such as hyacinths and tulips requires a chilling period but there are a select few bulbs that do not require a period of chilling and are among the easiest to grow in the home. Among the most popular forcing bulbs of this nature are paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) which are tender members of the daffodil family. These bulbs, known for their scent, produce small blooms that appear in clusters. It is important to note that the scent of paperwhites is musky and not universally enjoyed. Some popular varieties of paperwhites include the common ‘Ziva’, ‘Chinese Sacred Lily’, ‘Grand Soleil D’Or’ and ‘Constantinople’, all of which have subtle differences in coloration and scent. Paperwhites can typically be purchased at local garden centers and by mail-order.

Paperwhites can be forced to bloom in 4-6 weeks from planting and their musky fragrance can be a welcome addition to our homes. Easy to start, the staggered planting of paperwhites in multiple containers can provide delicate indoor blooms from Thanksgiving until late March. The best way to start paperwhites is by planting them in either clean gravel, rocks or marbles. The bulb itself contains all of the energy that it needs to bloom. It is important to note that paperwhites are not hardy to our climate (USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11) and forced paperwhites use all of their energy to bloom and will not revive in our gardens. These bulbs should be composted when they are done blooming.

Ideally use 3-4” deep pots with no drainage holes to start your paperwhites. Don’t use lightweight containers as paperwhite displays can become quite top-heavy and require a solid container for lower support. A 6” diameter container will typically accommodate three paperwhite bulbs. Fill your containers with 2” of gravel or marbles, then place in as many bulbs as you can per container without the bulbs touching. Gently press the bulbs into the gravel (pointed side up) and then add more gravel around the sides of the bulbs so that the top half (or “nose”) of the paperwhites are above the final gravel level. Add water until it is just below the bases of the bulbs, not touching! Maintain this water level. Paperwhites can be planted in potting soil in a similar manner but in this case, make sure there are drainage holes in the container. Remember that staggering your paperwhite planting in two week intervals will prolong your display time further into the winter.

Once the bulbs are potted up and watered, move the container into the coolest dark place in your home for two weeks. This will promote root growth because initial warm temperatures will stimulate quick stem growth, thereby creating a top-heavy plant with poor rooting. After two weeks of the “cool and dark treatment”, gently wiggle the bulbs to see if they feel “rooted” in the gravel. If so, the next step is to move them into a sunny location at room temperature. Rotate the container 180 degrees every day to keep your paperwhites from leaning too heavily in one direction. Add water as needed throughout this entire process keeping in mind that the water level should never actually touch the bulbs.

When the flower buds begin to swell on these plants, lightly tie a wide ribbon halfway up the stems to help keep the plant upright. This ribbon could be a colorful bow or other material. Once the paperwhites begin to bloom, move them to cooler locations that receive more indirect light. Temperatures around 65 degrees F will keep them blooming longer (usually 2-3 weeks).

If you are interested in including color and fragrance into your home this winter, paperwhites are an affordable, easy way to do it. Sometimes offered in a kit that includes all necessary materials, paperwhites are also great holiday gifts and an easy planting project to do with children. Daffodils in winter are easily within your reach!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Furious Flurries

The weather turned sour last night with freezing drizzle coming down most of the evening. The roads were slushy this morning but now we've had flurries for a couple hours with 3" of accumulation. If we didn't have a lights show, I wouldn't get so worked up about winter weather. We'll clear the paths tomorrow and hopefully the lights show will have time to "dry out" before this Saturday evening. The picture above shows some of our indoor activities this time of year. We have many custom cedar and teak benches around the gardens that are brought in every winter for cleaning, light sanding and restaining/sealing. We're really trying to extend the longevity of these benches and we have a loyal band of winter volunteers that comes in to work inside on projects like this as needed. We'll also be producing more carpentry items. Our talented carpenters have built items not only for the grounds (all the benches in the picture above were custom made by our volunteers) but also as sale items to bring in revenue. We've sold the vining obelisks in the past and they've also made some neat potting benches as well (see picture to the right). Considering the donated professional labor on these items isn't a factor, we can make a nice profit on these affordably priced items. All proceeds benefit the continued operation and improvent of Rotary Gardens. Nice winter shot below from a couple years ago (taken by Ed Lyon). Our winter landscape is nice here although we don't keep all the paths clear of snow, only the primary paths.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Welcome Weather?

We haven't minded the snow too much this year but we now have some freezing drizzle coming down. Our concern is regarding moisture and how it adversely affects our Holiday Lights Show. Oh well, we'll wait it out but it looks like a nasty system is coming in that will dump snow on top of the freezing rain. Ugh! Light day today with the Grumpies working inside on resealing/staining benches and working on various carpentry projects. Larry continues to fine tune the lights show but left early to beat the potentially hazardous roads that are getting worse by the minute. Marv, Marianne, Janice and Terry all stopped in and we've all decided that it's finally winter despite the official start of winter in 13 days! Look at the little hint of color below of the golden juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Saybrook Gold') peeping out! I'm really sinking my teeth in to the "ever-arriving" seed catalogs and remembered an article (see below) that I wrote about catalogs years ago. These catalogs offer plenty of "eye candy" but what is appropriate and applicable in our gardens is what we need to determine from these pubications.
It’s amazing how early the holiday season is promoted each year. There are continuing efforts by vendors to market and display their product and promote new features or options for the consumer. The same efforts are made by seed companies as catalogs start to arrive in the mail now for plants that you will not be growing until next spring. These catalogs, most of which contain wonderful photographs and other information, are a welcome break from winter and give the hint of promise for a lush garden next year.

Although a wide range of seeds are offered at local garden centers in early spring, seed catalogs offer a wider range of options that will include many new, interesting or otherwise “hard-to-find” vegetable and flower varieties. Colorful pictures and engaging descriptions will seek to promote your use and enjoyment of a wide range of options. These catalogs will also typically offer gardening tools, accessories, books, etc. Considering these seed catalogs will broaden the range of plants available for your garden and early ordering will maximize availability of some of the rarer varieties. However, there are some things to consider when utilizing these catalogs.

Seed catalogs will be variable with what information they provide regarding their product. Some initial information to consider (besides price) includes the package size and variety description. The package size should indicate a measured seed quantity or a volume that corresponds to a rough estimate of seed quantity. Know how many seeds you need and how many you are ordering to minimize surplus seed and related storage issues. The variety description may include information on flower color, plant vigor, size, germination information and other tips. It is important to note that the photos that promote a variety are professional quality and portray a perfect, thriving plant. Also consider that when a variety is promoted as “new”, it may not be new “in cultivation” but simply new to that catalog. The term “new” does not necessarily mean “exclusive” either.

If you make the decision to order from seed catalogs, it will be important to understand the germination information for your selections. Essentially, this involves becoming familiar with whatever steps you need to follow with your seeds to achieve growing success. Various seeds require various techniques for germination and subsequent care. Knowing what to expect from your plant as well as what your plant expects from you is vital.

Place your orders as early as possible. Early orders may receive a discount or will at least secure varieties that are in limited supply. It always a good idea to consider substitutions as well in case availability becomes an issue. Many seed suppliers will ask for substitutions or provide the service of picking out something very similar to a choice that may be sold out. Try to visualize your exact needs for seeds as it is easy to “over do” it and purchase more seeds than you could hope to grow. Rotary Gardens grows over 800 varieties of annuals each year and orders seeds from over 40 seed catalogs from around the world.

Friday, December 5, 2008

One Man Crew

With Larry off today, I've had a lot of time to myself today. I've been alternating between seed orders and preparing for presentations. I have an interesting one on vines that I've gotten in to preparing. I have thousands of digital images and while they are fairly well organized, the trick is picking out good pictures that will work for the presentation. As I take more pictures, the task of "presentation preparation" becomes more arduous but not any less fun. Maury, Bill, Hal and Dr. Gredler all stopped in briefly but otherwise, I've been self-motivated. Larry will turn on the lights tomorrow night and we don't have much concern at this point regarding how well it will stay on.

I see that garden centers are carrying poinsettias already and the assortment of available varieties is amazing. Included below is an article I wrote on poinsettias and their care.

It’s difficult not to notice a poinsettia during December. They are commonly used for decoration in businesses and perhaps in your home with shades of red, white, pink, combined colors and now a multitude of exciting (albeit non-traditional) “color enhancements”. Poinsettias, the best-selling flowering plant in the United States, have become synonymous with the holiday season. There are well over 100 varieties of this classic plant with the bulk of the world’s crop produced annually in California. Over 60 million of these plants are sold every year with a large portion of these being discarded after the New Year. With proper care, the colorful impact of poinsettias can be prolonged and enjoyed. With very special attention, poinsettias can be maintained and encouraged to repeat their holiday “color contribution” the following December.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are native to southern Mexico and parts of Central America. In their native habitat, these plants are large shrubs reaching heights of ten feet. The Aztecs used the sap of this plant to control fevers and the leaves were used to create a purplish-red dye. Note that the sap of this plant may cause an allergic skin reaction for select individuals, particularly those with a latex allergy. Joel Robert Poinsett, the first U.S. Embassador to Mexico, introduced this plant to the United States in 1825 and the plant was later named for him. Incidentally, Mr. Poinsett was also responsible for establishing the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

There are some facts to consider in regards to this popular plant. The showy colored parts of the plants that most people call flowers are in fact modified leaves (or bracts). The flowers are actually the small, yellow-green centers between the colorful bracts. Poinsettias are termed a photoperiodic plant meaning that buds are set and flowers produced as the autumn nights lengthen. The timing to produce blooms for the holiday season can be difficult outside the controlled environment of a greenhouse where moisture and lighting can be very precise. Poinsettias have long been considered a poisonous plant but extensive research has found this to be a myth. However, ingestion of the plant by humans and animals is obviously not recommended.

Once poinsettias are purchased in December, they typically look the most attractive for 2-4 weeks. This duration of color impact (and your enjoyment) can be extended significantly with proper care although most poinsettias are composted or tossed out after the holidays. Following some simple procedures will maximize the health and appearance of your poinsettia and you may consider adding to the ranks of your other houseplants.

Place the plant in a window where it receives bright, but indirect light. Be sure the plant doesn’t touch any cold window panes. Keep the plant at 65-70 degrees F during the day and if possible, a cooler spot at night (55-60 degrees F) but never below 50 degrees F. Keep the plant away from both warm and cold drafts from radiators, air registers, doors and windows. After the plant is done blooming, consider a light fertilizer application every month (never while blooming!).

In regards to watering, first remove any foil or other wrapping that affects surplus water flowing thru the base of the container. Any poinsettia container should have drainage holes. Examine the soil daily and water when the top surface is dry to the touch. Let surplus water run out and discard any additional water that collects in the saucer. Mist leaves occasionally for increased humidity as needed. The key to watering success with poinsettias is to avoid moisture extremes; not too dry or not too wet.

To say that it is a challenge to maintain a poinsettia with the intent of display the following holiday season would be an understatement. However, it can be done although the extensive details can’t be covered in the content of this article. Understand that this process will include repotting, fertilizer applications and replicating complete darkness to incite flowering and coloration of the bracts. For more details on how to maintain your poinsettia thru the year with the intent of “recreating” that classic, colorful look, refer to the following websites or visit your local library.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More Snow

Another snowy day today. It's been a nice light snow for most of the morning although it may pile up to between 3-7" by tonite. We'll worry about snow removal throughout the lights show tomorrow. Snow is good, rain is bad. We'll take the white stuff. Small crew today. Little Jerry and Janice stopped in to do some odd jobs while Del, Dick H., Dr. Gredler and Maury all popped by as well. Del is still working on making reindeer cutouts for the holiday show. I've enjoyed going thru seed catalogs the past couple of days (see below). We probably order seeds from over 50 vendors and like to have all our orders in by early January. The catalogs are rolling in daily. Essentially, our planning for next year starts immediately. In upcoming blogs, I'll recommend some of my favorite seed sources and mail order resources. I always like to emphasize the importance of patronizing your local garden centers first before ordering from other (non-local) vendors. Garden centers are selling amaryllis bulbs and kits this time of year. What a great gift for the young gardener or those that like interior color as our landscapes become more drab! At the bottom of this blog is an article I wrote on amaryllis a couple of years ago. My younger daughter still talks about the ones she's started in the past!
Although winter colors can be striking in the garden, the muted tones of browns, greens and a hopeful dusting of white tends to make us focus on our indoor plants for color as we long for spring. A great gift for adults and children alike are amaryllis. This easy-to-grow bulb can be grown indoors (forced) for a dramatic show of color in the dreary winter months. Garden centers and retailers typically sell individual amaryllis bulbs and amaryllis “kits” that have everything you need to get started.

The amaryllis originated in the Andes Mountains of Chile and Peru although there is a South African counterpart to this bulb. Most amaryllis offered for retail are Dutch or African hybrids selected for flower size, color and ease of forcing. Lily-shaped flowers are borne on a tall stem between 18 and 36 inches. Flower colors include white, lavender, crimson, scarlet, rose, pink, salmon and many bi-colored combinations. Each bulb may only produce one flower cluster of two to four blooms although individual blossoms can reach up to 8 inches in diameter.

Newly purchased bulbs should be kept in a cool, dry location with air circulation until they can be planted. Plant an individual amaryllis bulb in a heavy pot with drainage holes that is twice the height of the bulb (typically 6-8” in depth). The pot should also be just a few inches wider than the width of the bulb as amaryllis roots love to be root bound. Amaryllis kits will include proper containers and soil for planting. Use a sterile, lightweight planting mix that contains peat moss or other organic material. Incorporate a slow-release fertilizer into this mix. Plant the bulb, pointed end up, with one-third of the bulb above the final soil line. Press soil firmly around the sides and water thoroughly with lukewarm water. Avoid pouring water over the top of the bulb. Water the sides of the pot or apply water to a saucer at the base of the pot so water can be drawn upwards by the soil. Water sparingly until the first shoots appear. Keep the soil moist but not too damp. Then place the amaryllis in a sunny windowsill in a cool location (55-65 degrees F). Staggering the planting of multiple bulbs every two weeks from September thru February will allow for continuous color until May as some bulbs peak while others wane.

The amaryllis bulb will send up leaves and a flower stalk very quickly and blooms will appear within six to eight weeks of planting. As the flower bud forms, start applying a light liquid fertilizer every ten days or so until the amaryllis blooms. At this point, you may need to stake the flower stalk, as the amaryllis becomes “top heavy”. Be careful that your stake does not pierce the amaryllis bulb. As the flowers emerge, place the amaryllis in an area with indirect sunlight to prolong the bloom time. A blooming amaryllis does not need direct sunlight or even a bright room. At this point, adequate watering is very crucial. Remove spend blossoms as they fade. This prevents seed formation, which diverts food from the bulb itself.

Many people consider these a seasonal plant and compost them when they are done blooming. However, following certain procedures may allow you to keep these bulbs and promote future flowering. This can be a frustrating endeavor as reblooming is not always assured due to so many cultural factors and it may take years to achieve another colorful show.

If you want to experiment with “reblooming” your amaryllis, cut the spent flower stalk down to 2” and wait for the leaves to yellow and die back. Water and fertilize as you would a houseplant until the leaves have died back. This can take many months. Cut and remove leaves once they have turned brown. Place near a sunny window at about 55 degrees F. At this point, your amaryllis needs a period of cool, dry dormancy. Withhold water for two months until you see new growth emerging. Carefully re-pot the bulb and repeat the steps above. You may need to use a larger pot if your bulb has increased in size significantly.

Amaryllis is named after a shepherdess in Greek mythology. Amaryllis means “sparkling” in Greek and you will certainly understand this meaning when these plants light up the inside of your home with color and relieve the winter doldrums. Consider amaryllis as a holiday gift for gardeners, children or others that will appreciate the simple joy of nurturing a plant.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Truly A Winter Wonderland

There was a light, damp snowfall most of yesterday that ended up including about 4" of fluff over some slush. The trees in the garden looked beautiful this morning. The conifer to the left is the Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii 'Carlson's Red Cone') that looked picturesque this morning with arching branches. The holiday lights show is up and we tested it on November 25th and had very few problems. The lights will be turned on as part of our "Taste of Chocolate" event on December 6th with the official public opening on December 13th. The challenge now is to keep the paths (extensive) clear of snow and ice while periodically testing the lights to make sure everything is going ok. Maury and Dick P. replaced some breakers today and we have some "fine tuning" to finish before this weekend.

The grounds staff, with the exception of Larry and Jerry, finished up last Wednesday. Special thanks to the continued efforts and quality work of Marv, Marianne, Terry and Janice. I'm sure we'll see them periodically thru the winter but not "officially" until April. We have an awesome team of both volunteers and paid staff but I can't say enough about the contributions and sacrifices of the small ground staff (a veritable "skeleton crew"). Little Jerry finishes up in two weeks. We stretch him out a bit to work on more pruning with Larry. The Grumpies worked on carpentry items for the most part today and Dick H. plowed out our parking lot (thank goodness).

When the stress of setting up the light show is done, I can then settle in and start going thru seed catalogs and begin to figure out our plans for next year. I'm often asked what I do in winter and aside from the lights show, I figure out what we're going to do next year, put together seed orders, facilitate our specialty growing operations with greenhouses and prepare for winter presentations. I usually have about 20 talks in February thru April and try to plan them well in advance so I don't have to put anything together last minute. These talks, frequently to audiences outside of the area, are also a great opportunity to encourage new visitors to come visit. Horticultural education is part of our mission and we're willing to go "on the road" to "spread the word". The shot below is a bit dark but note the colorful fruit display of the 'Winter King' hawthorn (Crataegus viridis 'Winter King').