Easy-to-grow amaryllis offer spectacular flowers!

Gardeners can keep their gardening thumbs green throughout winter months by bringing amaryllis bulbs into bloom. Flamboyant flowers in brilliant shades of red, pink, orange, white and combinations of these brighten even the dreariest, snowy days.

Botanically named Hippeastrum, these plants are native to the Western Cape region of South Africa. Some believe they were introduced to Europe in the 1700’s; others think they were discovered in 1828 by Uduard Frederich Poepping, a German physician, on a plant-hunting expedition. Purportedly, Thomas Jefferson mentions amaryllis in his writings as early as 1811.

Today, most amaryllis bulbs are imported from Holland where hybridizers continue to create new varieties so gardeners have a vast selection from which to choose. They can be purchased at your local garden center, from catalogs or on-line.

Selecting Bulbs

Select bulbs carefully. Inspect bulbs to be sure they are firm and dry without sign of injury. Purchase the largest bulbs you can find because, when it comes to amaryllis bulbs, size does matter. The larger the bulb, the more stems and flowers it will produce.

Purchase the largest bulbs you can afford. Size matters!

If you can’t plant bulbs right away, store them in cool, dark spot – 40 to 50 degrees is best. If you want your amaryllis flowering at a particular time, count back six to eight weeks from the desired blooming time. Or plant a few bulbs every two to three weeks for nonstop blooms all winter long.

Planting Bulbs

Choose a heavy container or add rocks to a lightweight pot – amaryllis flowers are heavy. The container must have drainage, should be deep enough for strong roots to develop, and just an inch or two wider than the bulb. Amaryllis prefer to be snug in their pots. I like to plant five to seven bulbs in a bowl placing them barely an inch apart.

Fill the container with good quality, well-drained potting soil. Plant bulbs so their ‘shoulders’ are just above soil level. Press the soil firmly around the bulb and water thoroughly. Place the pot in a sunny spot and hold off on watering again until you see growth begin.

As the stem emerges, water regularly. It won’t take long for stems to reach one to two feet tall and the magnificent flowers to open. To help blooms last as long as possible, move the pot out of direct sunlight.

Care after Blooming

Proper care after your amaryllis after their blooms have faded will result in a repeat performance next year. Deadhead flowers as they decline. Wait to remove stems until they yellow. When all the flowers have been removed, move the pot back to a sunny location.

After all danger of frost has passed in the spring, you can plant your amaryllis outside, pot and all. Introduce it to its new digs slowly. Start it in a shady spot to acclimate it before moving it to a brighter location. Continue to water and fertilize with a balanced houseplant fertilizer as leaves grow all summer.

Before the first frost in fall, it’s time to bring the amaryllis back inside and put it in a sunny window. Let the soil dry completely. Cut back the foliage after it browns. Move it to a cool, dark place where it can rest for 8 to 12 weeks.

After this respite, begin the process all over again. Because amaryllis enjoy being pot-bound, they won’t require repotting every year. When they do, repot them now.

Few bulbs are as easy to grow. Pick up some for yourself and a few more to give as holiday gifts for gardening friends.

Plant Favorite Fall-Blooming Perennials

Has summer’s heat and humidity taken its toll on the plants in your landscape? Is the color in your garden winding down? Don’t give up and head back into the house – plant some favorite fall-blooming perennials and your garden will bloom its way through October.

Anemones are beautiful flowers that prefer a semi-shaded site. Their showy flowers start blooming in late August to September and continue throughout the fall. The stunning blooms are borne profusely on wiry 2- to 4-foot stems above dark green, maple-like foliage. Give anemones a compost-rich, moist but well-drained site and they will quickly spread to fill a spot in your garden.

Asters are another staple in the fall garden. They are very easy to grow as long as you give them lots of sunshine. Asters are butterfly magnets and bloom in a range of colors from white to blue and purple to red. In the spirit of full disclosure, aster can lose their lower leaves leaving stems exposed. Just plant shorter annuals or perennials around them for cover.

Fall gardens aren’t complete without sedums. They require very little maintenance and easily withstand drought. Their deer-resistant, succulent foliage is attractive all season long. Although they don’t boom until fall, their flower buds form early. And after their flowering has finished, they provide interest all winter. Because sedums are always attractive, they can be used anywhere in the landscape where there is lots of sun and average to dry soil. Use the shortest varieties as edging plants, taller ones in the middle of the border or as specimen plants. They are also excellent choices for container gardens. Combine them with other drought resistant varieties.

Thanks for the memories Mom!

All of my early gardening memories include my parents. On two acres, they had a huge vegetable garden, an orchard, grapevines, raspberry beds, and strawberry patches. They grew enough food to feed our family of four all year long.

While my mom and dad co-star in my food growing, harvesting and preserving memories, it is my Mom who plays the lead role in my flower gardening memories. It was my Mom who gave me a small space in their garden and a packet of seeds. It was my Mom who showed me how to plunge the seeds deep into the soil and how to water them. It was my Mom who encouraged me to keep the faith as I waited for signs of life and celebrated with me as we witnessed the emergence of those first little seedlings. And it was my Mom who displayed my first flowers in a bouquet on the dining room table.

I am the gardener I am today because of my Mom. Mother’s Day is a wonderful opportunity each year for me to remind her how much I appreciate her lessons. Of course, Mother’s Day gifts are always garden related – some years it’s plants; other years it’s whimsical pieces of garden decor.

Begin to create memories with your children or grandchildren so you will have the lead role in their gardening reminiscences. Plant some seeds or transplants together. Care for them as a team. Eat some vegetables right out of the garden. Pick some flowers and make an arrangement. Just get out there and celebrate your time together.

Thanks Mom for giving me the love of growing. Happy Mother’s Day!

Spring has arrived!

What better way to celebrate than to get out in the landscape and get a jump on the gardening season.

Start by checking perennials for frost heaving. Roots forced out of the ground by freezing and thawing soil may be damaged. Lightly press them back into the soil and cover with mulch if necessary.

Remove the mulch from bulb plantings as soon as you see leaves poking through. If you mulched perennial borders last fall, start pulling it away. Remove mulch gradually so plants can adjust to more light and air. Err on the side of caution – it is better to pull back mulch a little later than to remove it too soon.

Clematis vines that don’t bloom until mid-June or after can be pruned now. If your goal is to cover an arbor or trellis, cut the stems back to a healthy bud. If the vine has become a tangled mess or you haven’t pruned your clematis at all for a few years, cut it back to a healthy bud at 12- to 18-inch from the ground. A few examples of commonly-grown varieties that can be pruned now include Ernest Markham, Guernsey Cream, Henryi, Jackmanii, Nelly Moser, and sweet autumn clematis.

To be sure the yellow and red-twig dogwoods are brightly colored next winter, cut back one third of the oldest stems all the way to the ground. While you have pruners in hand, look at the framework of the shrubs while they are devoid of leaves. Prune out any branches growing in odd directions.

Begin cutting back perennials that weren’t cut back last fall. Unless you had problems with disease last year, put plant debris in the compost pile. If you don’t have a compost pile, start one now. Compost improves the structure of the soil so it can better retain nutrients, moisture and air. Compost also attracts and feeds earthworms, and plants grown in compost-enriched soil are more resistant to damage from insects and disease.

A word of caution: do not work in the soil if it’s too wet. As anxious as we all are to start playing in the garden, the structure of the soil can be destroyed if you start while it’s too wet. To determine if your soil is ready, pick up a handful and squeeze it. If the soil stays in a muddy ball when you open your hand, wait several days and try again. If the soil crumbles easily, you’re ready to go.

These are just a few garden chores to get you out in the fresh spring air. Enjoy!

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