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!

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