Saturday, April 6, 2013

How to Get an Amaryllis to Bloom Again

During the Christmas holiday season, there are many amaryllis bulbs for sale in garden centers, box stores, and catalogs.  These bulbs have been prepared by the supplier so they are ready to bloom and will give stunning displays for your holiday enjoyment.  But what about after they bloom?  Do you throw them out or can you get these bulbs to bloom again another year?  With very little work, you can enjoy your amaryllis bulbs for years to come!
Successfully rebloomed amaryllis bulbs

After the blooms are spent, cut the flower stalk off down to an inch or so from the top of the bulb, but leave the foliage that by now has grown from the bulb.  This foliage is very important and will allow the bulb to produce a bloom for the next year.  Continue to water as you would a house plant during the winter.  After all danger of frost has passed and when you would usually take house plants outside, put the pots containing the bulbs outside.  Some folks will plant the bulbs directly into their flower beds.  I find leaving them in their pots makes bringing them inside in the fall so much easier and doesn’t turn into one of those things that you don’t have time to do before frost.

Throughout the growing season, if the bulbs are in their pots, water every day and fertilize about every two weeks.  Place the pots where they get good morning sun, but some late afternoon shade, so that they won’t dry out too quickly.  In the hottest part of the summer, the soil will be completely dry by the end of each day.

Right before frost (around here most likely sometime in October), bring the pots into the house, basement, or a protected garage.  Stop watering and allow the foliage to wither and dry.  Keep the bulbs in a cool dark spot ; cover them with newspaper, if necessary, to keep them dark.  Remove spent foliage as it dries.  Enjoy the holidays leaving your amaryllis bulbs right where they are.  If you want amaryllis blooming for the holidays, you should purchase new bulbs because your bulbs from last year need a resting period.

After the holidays, when the January days make you long for the outside, it’s time to replant your amaryllis bulbs.  Begin by removing them from their pots.  You will be amazed at how the roots have grown!  Tease the roots to remove the spent potting soil.  A few of the smaller roots will break off, but that’s not a problem.  Squeeze the bulb.  It should be nice and firm; discard it if it feels soft or has a rotten odor.  You may even find that your bulb has produced some small bulbs beside your main bulb.  It will take several years before these are ready to bloom, but you will want to pot them up as well.

Before potting, I suggest hydrating the roots overnight.  Place the bulb in a waterproof container without drainage holes.  Put enough water in the container so that the roots come in contact with the water, but the bulb doesn’t.  The roots will absorb some of the water and be nice and plump when planted the next day.

Many times small plastic pots are provided with the bulb when first purchased.  I suggest using pots that are a bit sturdier and possibly deeper than the ones that came with the bulbs. The pots should be about two inches larger in diameter than the bulbs.  Clay pots are particularly handy because they are heavy.  When the bulb blooms, it may become tall and heavy, and a clay pot will help keep the pot from tipping over.

Use a good quality potting soil when re-planting your bulbs and make sure to push the soil in around the roots, pressing firmly.  Situate the bulb in the pot so that most of the bulb is out of the soil and all of the roots are in contact with the soil.  Water the soil deeply allowing the excess water to drain from the pot.  The soil may settle some.  Don’t allow water to sit in the saucer; water sparingly until growth begins.

Place the pot in a sunny, warm location, about 68 degrees.  After several weeks you will begin to see a bud peaking out of the center of the bulb.  As the first floral stalk lengthens, rotate the pot a half turn every day or so to keep the plant from bending.    If the foliage begins growing first you most likely will not get a bloom with that particular bulb.  Don’t give up, however, just repeat the process for another year, making sure to allow the foliage to grow to its maximum potential to produce the bloom for the following year.

Growing Pansies, Virginia Style

Imagine a northerner’s surprise when she first saw Virginia pansies blooming in January snow!  These cool weather lovers don’t seem to notice frost and can be over wintered, with some success, as far north as zone 6.  Yes, these cool weather plants are perfect for adding color to the garden in early fall and winter and then again in spring. 
Pansy blossoms in spring

Here in zone 7, it’s best to plant pansies in the fall, preferably September, so that they can establish their root systems before winter arrives.  Be sure to:

·         Choose healthy, young plants, preferably without any blooms.   They should be compact, not leggy, and have roots that are still white.

·         Choose hardy varieties.  Generally those with medium size blooms are best for over wintering. 

Pansy decorated with snow and ice
Pansies prefer a slightly acidic, well-drained soil with a steady supply of moisture.  At least partial sun is important.  When planting, be sure to:

·         Dig the soil 6 to 8 inches deep and add compost or well-rotted manure.

·         Tease the roots apart to help them spread out and become established in the soil. 

·         Space plants 6 to 8 inches apart and plant them at the same level that they were in their pots.

·         Pat the soil around them and add several inches of mulch.

While they’re tough, pansies are bothered by a number of pests, including slugs, snails, and aphids. 

When blooms increase in spring, pinch off the dead ones and the seed capsules every few days.  And finally, when the weather gets seriously hot and pansies become leggy and sluggish, it’s time to remove them and replace them with summer annuals. 


Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes

Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomato is a 1940s non-commercial tomato developed by Marshall Cletis Byles of Logan, West Virginia.  As might be expected, he didn't like his given name, so he was known locally as "Radiator Charlie" because he operated a small auto repair shop at the base of a steep hill that was notorious for making trucks overheat.  Radiator Charlie became interested in gardening after he began working with his family, at age 4, in the cotton fields of North Carolina.  He didn’t have any formal education or actual plant breeding experience, yet he would go on to create a most remarkable variety of tomato that would carry his name.
Green tomato
Sometime during the early 1940s, Radiator Charlie decided that he wanted to develop a very large tomato, so he set about trying to locate the largest tomatoes that he could find. He soon located four varieties: German Johnson Pink, Red Beefsteak, an unknown Italian variety, and an unknown English variety. From these, he grew 10 plants which he cultivated in a very unorthodox, unique fashion. He planted 9 of the plants in a circle and then planted a German Johnson Pink in the center of the circle.  Radiator Charlie then cross pollinated the German Johnson's flowers with pollen from each of the 9 plants in the circle and saved seed from the resulting tomatoes. The next year, he planted the seeds and selected the best seedlings. The very best of these again went to the center of a circle, while the remaining ones were planted in a circle around them. Again, the plants in the middle were hand pollinated with pollen from those in the circle. Byles repeated this process for the next 6 years until he had created a stable variety that met his needs. After that, he never grew another type of tomato. The resulting variety became known as the Radiator Charlie's Tomato and soon established itself as being very desirable. Every spring, gardeners from as far away as 200 miles away came to buy tomato seedlings from Radiator Charlie for the rather substantial price of $1.00.

Radiator Charlie sold so many of his new tomato plants over the next few years that the profits paid off the $6000 mortgage on his home! After that, the tomato variety became forever known as Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomato! In 1985, Radiator Charlie shared some of his seed with the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which formally introduced his tomato to the general public.  Ever since then, it has been a very desirable tomato variety. Radiator Charlie" Byles died at the ripe old age of 97.

Wildflowers on the High Bridge State Park Trail

Do you and your garden have the summer blahs? Do you yearn for colorful blooms that don't require much attention? Then let's take a walk on the new High Bridge Trail from the River Road parking lot out to the historic old bridge. Mother Nature's garden along the trail is packed with color -- white, purple, yellow, blue and orange. Many of these plants are beautiful and have interesting stories associated with them.
Passion flower
All along the east-bound side of the trail you'll find lots of creeping vines bearing unique looking round white flowers with purple fringes. These are maypops or passion flowers, which are much loved by hummingbirds, bats, and bumblebees. Early settlers used the fruit to make jam. Spanish missionaries, however, had a more unique use for the plant. They used the various parts of the flower to explain the last days of Christ to converts. They were the first to use the name passion flower.
Field or pasture thistle
On the west-bound side of the trail, there are numerous pasture thistles bearing bright pink or lavender blooms. Because of their spiny leaves, thistles have suffered from bad PR since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and God said “Cursed be the ground because of you. Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you.” Early American settlers, however, found that the down from the dried flowers was excellent for stuffing quilts and that honey made from thistle nectar was especially tasty.
Black-eyes Susans
There are also black-eyed Susans, butterfly weeds, chicory, Queen Anne's lace, pokeweeds, and yarrow on both sides of the trail. With their yellow “petals” and black/brown cone-shaped centers, black-eyed Susans are one of the most widely recognized and beloved wildflowers. Blooming from May until frost, they have one of the longest bloom periods of our native plants. The name comes from a song that was popular in 18th century London: “All in the dawn the fleet was moored, the streamers waving to the wind, when black-eyed Susan came on board.” The black-eyed Susan is a native of the western plains and was accidentally spread to the East through contaminated clover seed.

Butterfly weed
The bright orange-flowered butterfly weed has many names, including pleurisy root and chigger weed. It is most commonly called butterfly weed because of its ability to attract many types of butterflies, such as monarchs, swallowtails, and coppers. In fact, the Delaware Indians called it “the plant where butterflies alight.” Butterfly weed has a deep taproot that enables the plant to withstand long periods of drought. It is a very popular bedding plant in Europe and England.
Chicory, which is a common roadside plant, adds a dash of bright blue to Mother Nature's garden. It is a native of Europe where the tender young leaves are very popular as salad greens and the root is roasted and mixed with coffee or used as a coffee substitute. In Belgium, the plant is still considered a cash crop. Chicory was probably introduced here as a hay crop in the 1700s. Thomas Jefferson grew it at Monticello and wrote to George Washington that it was “one of the greatest acquisitions a farmer can have” to feed cattle and makes “tolerable” salads.

Queen Anne's lace
White blooming Queen Anne's lace, or wild carrot, is another European import that grows in just about any sunny spot from June to October. The plant has feathery leaves and tiny white flowers that form lacy, flat clusters. Each cluster has one tiny reddish-purple floweret in the center. This floweret is sterile and its sole purpose is to attract insects with its color. Scientists have observed a variety of insects on a single Queen Anne's lace plant, including bees, wasps, butterflies, beetles and flies. After the flower heads die, they curl up to form bird's nest shapes that eventually fall off and distribute seeds as they are blown about by the wind. According to legend, Queen Anne's lace was named for the English queen who was an excellent lace maker. When she pricked her finger, a single drop of blood stained the lace, thus the dark floret at the center of the lacy head.

Pokeweed is a tall plant that has reddish-green stalks and tiny, almost insignificant, white flowers with green centers that look like miniature tomatoes. These little flowers, however, are masters at attracting insects. Each flower has striations that appear very prominent to insects' eyes and lead them directly to the pollen. The flowers are followed by bright purple berries. Pokeweed has been much loved as a food source in the South. Early settlers gathered the plant's tender leaves and boiled them with bacon fat to make “poke sallet.” Harlan, Kentucky still hosts an annual Poke Sallet Festival and the governor is charged with protecting the annual crop. During the 1700s, the Portuguese used the juice of the berries to enhance the color of their red wines.

Yarrow adds another touch of white to Mother Nature's garden along the trail. It has very feathery almost fernlike leaves that first appear during the warm days in early March. The shoots are curly and, according to the Chippewas, look like squirrel tails. By July, the plant has become tall, sturdy, and decorated with numerous umbrels or clusters of white flowers, which help ensure the plant's survival by attracting insects. Another survival mechanism is the plant's strong camphor-like scent, which repels Japanese beetles and other chewing insects. In fact, this scent is so strong that it protects nearby plants also.
Wildflowers are nature's decorations - there to remind us to slow down and enjoy what's around us. So - the next time you're stressed or just have the midsummer gardening blahs, head out to the High Bridge Trail and enjoy Mother Nature's spectacular display of yellow, white, blue, orange, and pink flowers.