Category Archives: Bulbs

Flowers for the 4th

The garden is starting to really bloom and here are some of my favorites.

zin

Magellan Zinnia

Cheyanne Sunset Echinacea

Cheyanne Sunset Echinacea

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Mandeville

Mandeville

Cleome

Cleome

Flowering Thyme

Flowering Thyme

Trumpet Lily

Trumpet Lily

Trumpet Lily

Trumpet Lily

Passion Flower

Passion Flower

Heliotrope

Heliotrope

Tulips in February

Every year in the fall I plant a few hyacinths and tulips in pots. I keep them in a unheated garage and bring them into the house in early February. After a few weeks in a sunny window, I’m rewarded with flowers at the end of winter.

On a cold but sunny February day, it’s nice to see a hint of spring in the house.  These white, double tulips look amazing and they feel like a sign of what’s to come!

tulip4

tulip3

tulip2

tulip5

tulip6

Grecian Windflowers and Other Anemones

A few years ago I ordered some anemone tubers to give this plant a try. The kind of anemone that I planted was Anemone blanda or Grecian windflowers.

The plants have been a nice surprise. The tubers were small brown little blobs that looked like old raisins. There was no way to tell which part of the tuber was the top and what part was the bottom so I simply spread them above a bed of hyacinth bulbs.

Anemone blanda

Anemone blanda

The plants are only a few inches tall but the daisy-like blossoms that emerge early in the spring are a good addition to the garden. This anemone blossoms in shades of pink, blue and white but most of the tubers that I have are blue.

They tend to bloom at the same time as the hyacinths and the two plants make a nice combination.

Since planting them, I’ve learned a few things about anemones. When you plant the tubers in the fall, it’s suggested that you soak them in water for a few hours before planting. I didn’t do this but given the way the tubers looked when I planted them, it probably would be a good idea to do this.

Seeing the small clump of plants that I have, I’ve realized that this flower would look even better if it were grown in mass – i.e., hundreds of tubers in a large area. I could see these growing in a rock garden or planted between daylilies or other perennials. They would blossom early and then be out of the way when the perennials started to bloom.

A pleasant surprise is that every part of the anemone is poisonous so rabbits aren’t interested in eating them. For me, that’s always a plus!

Anemone coronaria (from http://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/)

Anemone coronaria
(from http://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/)

I hadn’t realized how many different varieties of anemones are in cultivation. There are spring blooming anemones that grow from tubers and others kinds of anemones that are fibrous rooted perennial plants that blossom in the fall. The tuberous rooted plants include the kind that I’m growing and also the larger Anemone coronaria which is the kind of anemone that you’ll find in flower arrangements. The fibrous rooted perennial plants blossom in September and October with white or pink poppy-like blossoms. Unlike the low growing Anemone blanda, these plants can grow to three feet tall and provide flowers during a time of the year when the choices of blooming plants is limited.

Fall Blooming Anemone (from http://www.csmonitor.com/)

Fall Blooming Anemone
(from http://www.csmonitor.com/)

I’ve been impressed with the Grecian windflowers and I think I want to try some of the other anemones that are available. They seem to be a sturdy species with a lot of variety. I’m especially interested in the fall blooming plants – it’d be nice to see something other than chrysanthemum blossoming in the fall flower garden!

Drunken Paperwhites

It’s the time of the year for growing paperwhite narcissus. You can find the bulbs in any garden center and after you plant them, within a few weeks you’ll have blossoms that’ll fill the house with their scent.

The one problem with these flowers is that unless you have a very cool and very sunny spot, they tend to get tall and leggy, toppling over and making a mess. You can tie them up or use other tricks to keep the long stems and leaves in control but recently I found a better way and it involves alcohol (for the plants, not for you!).

Alcohol Effects on Paperwhites - Left to Right Increasing Alcohol Percentage in Water

Alcohol Effects on Paperwhites – Left to Right Increasing Alcohol Percentage in Water (from Cornell Horticulture Blog)

My alma mater, Cornell, did a study a few years ago and found that if paperwhite bulbs were grown in a solution of about 7% alcohol, the plants still grow and flower, but the stems and leaves will be shorter and more compact. The exact mechanism behind this effect isn’t know (it probably has something to do with the stress/water imbalance that the alcohol causes in the plant) but what is known is that it works.

I have my way of growing paperwhites. Since these bulbs don’t need soil or nutrients to grow, I grow the bulbs in a pot of perlite and then put that pot into a container with an inch or two of water in the bottom. Like a lot of bulbs, the paperwhite roots can be very stong and push the bulbs right out of the perlite when the begin to grow. To solve this problem, I put a saucer on top of the bulbs and weight it with a can of soup or vegetables. What this does is forces the roots to grow into the perlite instead of pushing the bulbs out of it. I leave the weight on the bulbs for about a week – that’s all it takes to get the roots growing into the perlite.

Once the bulbs have started to grow, that’s the time to add the alcohol. According to the study you can use any kind of spirits with a fairly high-proof – vodka, whiskey, gin, etc. Wine and beer won’t work because their alcohol content is too low and all of the sugars in them will just lead to a moldy mess. You can also use isopropyl alcohol, a.k.a., rubbing alcohol – that’s my alcohol of choice for drunken paperwhites.

As I mentioned earlier, the goal is to have a solution of about 7% alcohol. All you need to do is take your alcohol of choice, find it’s alcohol percentage, divide it by seven and then you have the number of units of liquid that you’ll need, one of which is the alcohol. For example, if you use rubbing alcohol that’s 70% alcohol, divide 70 by 7 and you get 10. That means that to have a 7% solution, add 1 part rubbing alcohol to 9 parts water. If you’re using a 90 proof spirit, that’s 45% alcohol (the proof number is two times the alcohol percentage). 45 divided by 7 is 6.4 so a 7% solution comes from 1 part 90 proof spirit to about 5 parts water. (Don’t get too concerned about having a solution of exactly 7% – anything over 5% and  under 10% works fine; over 10% can start damaging the plants.

Paperwhite Blossom

Paperwhite Blossom

When the shoots of the bulbs have started to grow, I pour out the water that the pot has been growing in and replace it with the alcohol solution. As the plants continue to grow, I keep adding more of the alcohol solution to the pot. The result is that instead of having paperwhite plants that are 18″ tall and falling all over the place, I have nice, tidy plants that are under 12″ and blossom freely.

Whether you grow your paperwhite in perlite, stones or a hyacinth glass, I highly recommend that you get them drunk! You see, unlike humans, a drunken paperwhite is neater, cleaner and more in control. Try it once and you’ll never grow them again without adding the alcohol!

Achimenes Surprise

For the past few years I’ve been growing achimenes (pronounced ah-KIM-uh-neez). This difficult-to-find houseplant is so easy to grow and brings a lot of color to the porch. I don’t understand why it’s not more popular.

Two Different Achimenes Plants

Two Different Achimenes Plants

This year I added a new variety of achimenes to the window garden. I purchased the rhizomes online from Easy to Grow Bulbs, one of the few places that offers achimenes. The rhizomes that came were a little small but most of them grew. As the plants started to mature I saw that there was something different about one of the plants growing in the window box. The leaves had a lot more anthocyanin (purple pigment) in them than the others and the plant seemed stockier than the rest.

Ambrose Verschaffelt Achimenes

Ambrose Verschaffelt Achimenes

This past week the achimenes started to bloom. The variety I’m growing is Ambrose Verschaffelt and it has light lavender flowers with darker veins. All of the plants have this kind of flower except for that one rogue plant. When one of its blossoms opened, it was a large purple bloom. I went to the Easy to Grow Bulbs website and saw that one of the varieties they sell – and one I’d thought of purchasing – is called Purple Prince. The picture on the website is identical to the misfit achimenes that blossoming on the porch.

Purple Prince Achimenes

Purple Prince Achimenes

It appears that when they were bagging the achimenes rhizomes, one of the Purple Prince rhizomes made it into my bag of Ambrose Verschaffelt. I’m really happy that this mix-up occurred! At the end of the growing season I’m going to mark this one plant of Purple Prince so that in the spring, when I take the rhizomes out of the soil, I can keep them separate from the Ambrose Verschaffelt rhizomes. It might take a few years, but one day I’ll have enough Purple Prince rhizomes to plant an entire pot.

I got two achimenes varieties for the price of one – now that’s a nice surprise!

Alstroemeria in the Garden

If there’s one flower that’s a mainstay for many florists, it’s alstoemeria. Sometimes called a “Peruvian Lily,” alstroemeria – known in the biz as “alstro” – is bright and colorful, long-lasting and fairly inexpensive. If you’ve every received a mixed arrangement of flowers, odds are there was some alstroemeria in it.

I learned to like this flower while doing floral design but I was surprised to see it starting to appear in garden centers in the past few years. In 2006, the company Könst Alstroemeria BV in the Netherlands started to market Princess Lilies, a dwarf alstroemeria variety. Early varieties were tall and could become invasive. Princess Lilies solved these problems and made alstroemeria available to the home gardener.

Princess Lilies Alstroemeria "Fabiana"

Princess Lilies Alstroemeria “Fabiana

This year I’m growing an alstroemeria plant to see how it does in the garden. This plant grows from small tubers just below the surface of the soil. According to the instructions on the plant label, alstroemeria can be grown in the garden or in containers. It needs full to partial sun and should blossom throughout the summer. It’s described as a “tough” plant, one that can withstand a variety of cultural conditions.

The Princess Lilies are hardy to zone 7 – zone 6 with heavy winter mulching. Since I’m in zone 6 I decided to grow the plant in a container that can be brought inside over the winter to make sure that it survives the cold. Time will tell how this plant grows and blooms in its container.

There is one small warning when it comes to growing alstroemeria. This plant is a member of the Amaryllidaceae family which includes amaryllis, daffodils, snowdrops, agapanthus and others. This family of plants produces various alkaloids that if ingested can cause intestinal problems. Someone growing alstroemeria just needs to be aware that this plant is not to be eaten! Also some people’s skin is sensitive to these alkaloids and exposure can cause a mild rash. I’ve never had a problem with this but if you get a rash from daffodil sap, you might want to be a little careful when handling an alstroemeria plant.

Right now the Princess Lilies variety Fabiana looks great. I’ll be interested to see how it grows throughout the summer and also how easy it is to overwinter. I’m hopeful that this new plant will become a keeper. It’d be great if a florist flower could become a mainstay in the summer garden here in PA!

Iris – German or Dutch?

German Iris

German Iris

A couple of days ago a local garden center posted on their blog about transplanting iris. The information was good for those growing bearded German iris but the post included a picture that was all wrong. Instead of a German iris flower it showed the flowers of Dutch iris . While these two plants are both iris, the way they grow is completely different and the information was all wrong for Dutch iris. You would think a garden center and its “garden guy” would have caught this mistake!

There are almost 300 different species of the genus Iris. While most of these are wildflowers or non-cultivated varieties, there are a number of different iris species that can be grown in the garden. But when you get right down to it, there are basically two kinds of iris with which people are familiar – bearded German iris (Iris germanica) and Dutch iris (Iris tingitana x Iris xiphium).

Dutch Iris

Dutch Iris

Dutch iris aren’t grown a lot in gardens but if you ever get a flower arrangement from a florist that has iris in it, you’ll be getting Dutch iris. These spring-flowering plants come in white, yellow, blue, purple and various combinations of these colors and they grow from a bulb that’s planted in the fall like tulips and daffodils. Dutch iris blossom in the late spring and die down in the summer like other spring-flowering bulbs. Since this flower grows from a bulb, growers can plant and force them to bloom throughout the year to provide the floral  industry with iris. While I like these flowers, they’re often hard to find. I was lucky enough to locate some bulbs locally last year and they’re blooming now.

Iris Beard

Iris Beard

While Dutch iris are the iris florists know, when most people think of iris, they’re thinking of the bearded German iris. These large flowers typically have 6 petals, three of them are upright (standards) and three of them drape downwards (falls). This iris are called bearded because on the falls is a fuzzy caterpillar-like structure that points into the center of the flower. These beards have no specific function other than possibly directing bees to the pistil and stamens of the flower.

German iris come in all kinds of colors and variations. In some of the more interesting varieties (at least in my opinion!), the falls and standards are different color. While the Dutch iris is a spring bulb, the German iris is a spring-flowering perennial that grow from rhizomes, modified stems that serve as storage organs. In order for German iris to thrive, these rhizomes need to be at the surface of the soil and not buried in the ground.

While German iris are a great spring flower, more and more varieties of this iris are re-blooming. The main time for flowering is still spring for these re-bloomers. But if the conditions are right, the plant can also flower in the fall. The re-bloomers that I have blossom in the fall about every other year. While the show isn’t as impressive as in the spring, there’s something kind of amazing about seeing iris blooming with the chrysanthemums.

Well, I sent an email to the “garden guy” pointing out that the picture didn’t match the article – I’d want someone to point it out to me if I did this. But whether he changes the picture or not, there is a big difference between Dutch and German iris both in looks and culture. But they’re both great plants for the garden.