Amaryllis Blooms and beyond

Amaryllis blooms are spectacular no matter the colour and with a minimum of care, will bloom over Christmas and throughout the winter months. Native to tropical and sub-tropical locations, this bulbous plant is not winter hearty here, but provides us a much needed indoor blast of colour in the coldness of winter.

 

amazing Hippeastrum (amaryllis)

amazing Hippeastrum (amaryllis)

 

 

Garden centres sell the widest variety of bulbs, which they generally sell loose for your planting pleasure. Potted bulbs beginning  their rapid leaf growth are also found in garden centres, and a wide variety of other locations including grocery and big box hardware stores. While many people are familiar with this plant, the background, cultivation and care information is something not be commonly known.

Amaryllis Genealogy

Amaryllis is the common name used for the herbaceous , perennial flowering plants of the Amaryllidaceae family. The actual genus Amaryllis bulbs come from South Africa , while the genus Hippeastrum bulbs from South and Central America are what are commonly sold here in the Northern Hemisphere around Christmas time.

Amaryllis  of the genus Hippeastrum have a wide variety of colours, both solid and in combination as there are approximately 90 species and 600 hybrid varieties. These herbaceous bulbs begin by sending out 2-7 narrow, flat long strap-shaped, green  leaves and from there if conditions are right, the flower stem begins to grow.

 Amaryllis Bloom Kits

Amaryllis bulbs are sold, as previously mentioned, loosely in most garden centres as well as in kits. The bulbs when found in grocery store , or big box store floral sections,  are generally in a kit either already growing or with all the necessary ingredients to start your own  plant.

Kits include a large tuberous bulb, a plastic or ceramic pot as well as growing medium. I purchased several kits, one of which had coconut fibre pellet that had specific volumes of warm water needed to get the right texture for planting in its drab green plastic pot. However, I have learned form many sources that this fibre can remove nutrients from the plant itself so I chose to use a soil-less, potting soil, coconut fibre mix instead. The other kit had a bag of slightly moistened soil-less mix, that I add some of the leftover fibre to, as an additional means to help with water retention in the lovely white ceramic pot.

Growing requirements

Amaryllis bulbs should be planted in the centre of a pot only  about 1 in larger in diameter than the bulb. One kit I purchased had a poor quality pot that was far too large, and so a more suitable size was used instead. Approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the bulb should be above the planting medium, which should be firmly packed before watering. Water well and find it a good spot to begin growing.

Amaryllis bulbs love warm sunny spots, and prefer to out of drafts. My collection sits in my front window which faces south west and primary gets sun from late morning until about 5 in the evening. After that time, I pull the tray back form the window, to allow the blinds to go down and to keep the plants away from the cold that radiates in through the glass.

my new white Amaryllis

my new white Amaryllis

Feeding

Water lightly at first, until the stems begin to grow when watering increases and fertilizing is needed for strong plants and beautiful Amaryllis blooms. At this point  the use of high Phosphorous fertilizer is important. Phosphorous is the middle number on household plant fertilizers and is the most important for healthy full blooms. The nitrogen and Potassium, which make up the first and last of the NPK components of fertilizer, help the plant grow strong roots and ensure  good overall health. You could use  a 5-10-5 or 11-35-15 fertilizer or whatever you have with the higher middle number.In addition, as Amaryllis are hearty feeders, watering in the fertilizer every second or third week while they are in bloom,  ensures longevity!

Salmon coloured amaryllis

Salmon coloured amaryllis

 

Once the flower begins to open, experts suggest the plant then be moved out of direct sunlight to ensure the  blooms last longer. By removing some of the light, the metabolism of the flower/seed formation would  decrease and allow for maximum enjoyment.

Seed planting in Spring and caring for sprouts

 Seed Planting in Spring

Seed planting in spring and caring for the sprouting seedlings are always popular pastimes and certainly April is one month that has Northern Hemisphere gardeners chomping at the bit.

 plant stuff and office 015plant stuff and office 042

 

 

 

 

Whether you had carefully scrutinized seed catalogues for your purchases or chosen them from the countless seed displays in local stores, you will have noticed the huge variety of seeds available!  Perhaps you collected seeds collected from last season’s garden, just as those in the Southern Hemisphere may be doing now as their gardens go dormant as colder weather approaches.

While many seedlings require different germination needs as previously written on this site, no matter  whether gardeners are working in large gardening centres or toiling over their grow lights and window sills, they are all hopeful those conditions have been met.

-_Seedling_-001

 Despite the complex process a seed goes through before the first sprout appears, from large global gardens such as Viceroy’s Palace Garden in India and Tsarskoe Selo Russia, through to massive garden shows like Canada Blooms to our small but priceless gardens, each carefully planted seed carries with it the hope and perspiration of many hands.

Now that seeds are under the lights, or on a sunny window ledge the tricky part begins. Keeping a few simple points in mind should ensure the sprouts you watch daily, will grow tall and healthy awaiting their new home in your garden or planters.

 

plant stuff and office 053

 

POST GERMINATION CARE

While the information on temperature, light and moisture levels seem pretty straightforward, to novice gardens especially, these both require careful monitoring. In addition, fertilizing is important in the right strength, to help ensure healthy hearty plants come from your seed planting in spring.

 

Temperature

If possible, providing a source of gentle warming from beneath is a valuable tool, enabling most seeds to germinate faster as it mimics the warm soil of your garden or planter. Certainly the top of refrigerators were once the site of many seed tray and seedlings, the newer model appliances give off very little heat. However, if they allow good sunlight, this would still be a good location for both new seeds and struggling seedlings.

The temperature requirements of most seeds are on the packages, but generally whether purchased or collected; seeds and seedlings both have minimum temperatures for good growth. Generally this is approximately 65 º F or 18 º C but above 68 º or 20 º is better. In addition, the optimal temperature is one if many pieces of information on the seed packages.

Heated seed tray starting kits are a big help as the try comes with a heating pad designed to warm the seeds from the bottom at an even temperature. Unfortunately on the one I purchased the actual temperature was not listed but the seeds sprout much faster than the comparable one in the small trays beside it.

 

plant stuff and office 028

 

If you live in an older home heated by radiators, covered in a non combustible material, trays could be placed there for warmth but monitor the area regularly so they are not baked instead.

There are several problems that can arise if the temperature needs of the sprouting seedlings are not met. The first problem with lower temperatures is the metabolism of the seed/seedling is slower. In addition, the cooler temperatures combined with generally high moisture levels are good breeding grounds for fungus which may result in the disease or condition know horticultural as damping off.

Lighting

Seeds generally require a good source of light and in fact, some require so much to germinate that the packages suggest little to no coverage of the seeds. In addition, some plants do not grow well if planted early indoors and transplanted. I have had little success transplanting sunflowers and in fact, the package instructions say just to plant in the garden after danger of frost is past. While the root systems may not support the transfer, more often than not the plant’s metabolism requires a high level of natural sunlight, hence straggly plants even when under grow lights.

If you do not have a sunny, no draft location for your seed trays, pots, pellets or whatever you planted in to, perhaps grow lights are for you.  There are many locations from larger big box stores and most most large garden centres  that sell tiered, fluorescent lit plant stands. Another good source to check out are garage sales, or on line used items sites as new tiered light stands are generally quite costly.

 

plant stuff and office 022

 

With the availability of new natural daylight frequency bulbs, often even a desk lamp or shop lighting arrangement can be used for seed planting in spring and  to give seedlings the light boost they need until they can be transitioned to outside areas. Of course there are many home made lighting set ups people have come up with, including adding foil around a light source to keep stray light at a minimum. In addition the increased warmth from the lights also helps with maintaining a good even temperature in the growing area.

To ensure good even lighting, start off with the grow lights approximately 6 inches or 15 cm from the seedlings and raise them as the sprouts grow. If the lights are too high above the greenery, the plants will grow taller and spindly as they try for more lights. In addition the lights should be on 16-18 hours a day to ensure the growth of sturdy  not tall thin plants.  Good, adequate lighting  promotes good leaf formation and strong stems,  and helps prevent  damping off.

Moisture levels

Water levels as any gardener know as crucial to plants, but with seedlings it is a bit tricky. Certainly the peat pellets, coir pots, mini greenhouse, coffee cups and pots that have been carefully planted are being watered regularly, but with the extra light and greenhouse like conditions watering may be a challenge. Of course it is highly recommended to either water via mat watering system or use a spray bottle to keep them seeds moist without disturbing them.

 

Mini Greenhouses on self-wicking water mat

Mini Greenhouses on self-wicking water mat

 

If corms or tuberous plants such as begonias or dahlias are started now to get a jump on the outside growing season, watering with a small container, gently on to the media is best to ensure thorough watering.

Begonia corms    sprouting

Begonia corms
sprouting

 

Possibly the easiest thing for garden novices especially is not drowning the seeds they plant in the spring. While the soil are growing media needs to be moist, try to ensure a consistent source of water by thinking of the seedlings as larger more mature plants. Most plant lovers know they do not need to water a plant every day, but when the soil surface is generally dry. Of course while there are always plants with more exacting water and lighting requirements, this is generally a good run of thumb that should be applied to the younger plant as well.

If there are tray covers on holding in the moisture, check the surface of the media used for possible mould formation. This is also possible when contaminated medium or dirty pots have been re-used. Provided the sprouts are up and growing fine, consider opening any vent on the lid or shifting it to allow more ventilation while maintaining a moist atmosphere over all. If you have rigged up plastic to create a greenhouse effect or are indeed using a greenhouse, remember circulation is vital, so create an opening and consider the use of a fan for good air movement.

Remember not all seeds even of the same plant will sprout at the same time so do not leave the lid on waiting for them all to catch up, so take the lid or dome off when a good percentage have sprouted and mist the rest. While moisture is required, at this point especially, good circulation is a must.

 

striving for better air flow

striving for better air flow

 

Fertilizing

One element often overlooked with seedlings is when and if they need fertilizer. Remember nutrients are important but the seed embryo itself contains all the food the new sprouts will need until they have developed true leaves, not the first ones formed. In fact, according to several expert sources, even mild fertilizer can kill the seedlings by over accelerating their metabolism and burning them.

If the growing medium you used contains no fertilizer, begin weekly feedings with a ¼ strength dilution of fertilizer, whether synthetic or organic. Keep in mind for most plants higher amounts of Phosphorus for good root and plant formation. In addition, if Coir pots or media are used, that coconut fibre product can compete with the new plants of Nitrogen so a more balanced N-P-K (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) ratio is best. After a week or two ½ strength can be used.

Full recommended dosing is not advisable until the plant is larger and ready to be acclimatized in to a cold frame, or shady area on the way to its permanent home. Another option at that point is mixing a granular organic or synthetic slow release fertilizer in to the soil when the seedlings are moved.

Additional Suggestions

There are countless sites, books, garden experts and even gardening forums that offer a variety of information and support and a few are listed below:

www.GardenWeb.com

www.Helpfulgardener.com

 

Final notes:

While to some, planting seeds in the spring is not something they are interested in, others find it very rewarding. To those of you who cannot spare the time but love to garden, remember most garden centres carry basic perennials, annuals, vegetables etc. at a reasonable cost so you too can have a garden of your own without breaking the bank… so whether it be seeds, sprouts, veggies, ferns, flora or fauna…let your garden inspire you…and happy Spring wherever you are!

lily Logo

 

 

 

Planting Bulbs

Planting Bulbs

While there are many things I have posted on that can inspire others to garden, paint, research their favourite flower, just to name a few, one activity that much of the Northern Hemisphere has in common in the fall is planting spring flowering bulbs. My last post gave brief information on bulbs and their origin, leading to this more factual information on the steps to actually planting bulbs and corms.

 

corm

corm

bulbs

bulbs

 

Tulips are merely one of many bulbs, along with Hyacinths, Daffodils and Narcissus that are the most widely known bulbs. The structure of a bulb’s interior is composed of fleshy, modified leaf like layers, which would be easily visible if it was cut in half. Corms such as crocus and gladiolas may look similar to bulbs, but they are basically thick stem like tissue.

Whether you choose true bulbs or corms, be certain they are winter hardy.  Remember then, to provide the proper temperature for  vernalization to take place. Vernalization is derived from the Latin word vernus, or spring, and is the required exposure to cold winter weather which allows the plant to grow and flower. If you live in a warmer zone than an 8, where the temperature outside will not provide the required temp of 5-10 degrees Celsius (40-50 Fahrenheit), then forcing bulbs in your fridge is a good option. Instructions for this will follow those for gardeners who will be planting outside in the flower beds.

Bulbs can be planted almost until the ground freezes, but early to mid October planting allows time for the bulbs to settle before the cold winter starts. There are many things to consider when planning what and where to plant, but with a few basics, anyone can have lovely spring blooms!

 

planting info

 

SUNLIGHT

Despite the deciduous trees having no leaves in the spring, shade from buildings and evergreen trees is still a factor to consider. With a shadier area in the front garden both at home and at the cottage, I was concerned about how this would impact the blooms there. After a bit of digging, into books, I found that bulbs labelled “early flowering” were the best for this situation. Really this classification of bulbs is not based on a specific family, genus or species, but the fact that they bloom and flower with less UV rays than other plants…hence the early designation. I other words, these bulbs, that require less UV are better suited to shadier areas.

SOIL

Bulbs sleep all winter, blanketed in soil, until the temperature there has chilled them for approximately eight weeks below 10 degrees Celsius or 50  degrees Fahrenheit, long enough for their growth cycle to begin. This is an important factor to consider as with planting any annuals or perennials.

If your soil is sandy , like at the my cottage, any natural compost, peat moss, cocoa fibre  or organic aged manure  that can be worked into the soil  will help provide a more even moisture content  throughout the winter in to spring. If the soil is too dense, these additions can also break up the clumps that often prevent adequate drainage.

Basically you need to add anything natural that will help lock in moisture and provide nutrients. Adding clay soil to offset the sandy is good, or vice versa, but remember to ensure nutrient levels are high.

Organic matter, in addition to being a good additive for improved soil fertility, also provides food for earthworms and beneficial bacteria in the soil. These creatures break down the soli and its nutrients so they can be absorbed well by the forming bulb roots and all plants as they grow.

 NUTRIENTS

Certainly the better flowing nutrient laden soil is better for both spring and summer flowering bulbs. In addition to augmenting the soil itself, the addition of blood or bone meal, provides a boost to the bulbs themselves.  Approximately ¼ to ½ a teaspoon can be added to the hole around each planted bulb.

Blood meal as a dry powder made from animal blood that provides much needed nitrogen to the soil. In addition, spread on or slightly below the ground level, the scent is a deterrent to small animals such as rabbits and squirrels. Bone meal is crushed bone that provides higher amounts of phosphorus which is good for root growth, but it may in fact attract animals looking for bones.

A good soluable general fertilizer 10-10-10 can also be added to the soil and then watered or dug in again when the bulbs begin to shoot out of the earth.  This can be mixed with the blood or bone meal and should be in the soil down to below the level of the bulbs being planted.

LOCATION

Again, the sunny spots will probably produce the best blooms with early flowering bulbs the best selection for shadier areas. Evergreen trees will shade all year round but do help even out the soil temperatures close by, evening out extreme fluctuations that can damage bulbs. In addition, spring bulbs planted on a slope will tend to bloom earlier than bulbs in a dip or gulley as warm air rises and cold air tends to settle in lower areas.

PREPARATION

Beyond the soil preparation, there are a few basics that can be prepared in advance. Collecting clean spades and trowels as well as blood/bone meal or other fertilizer helps cut down on the actual planting time. Also knowing the location to plant, whether it is in an existing garden or part of a new garden design, and proper spacing of all bulbs to be planted, is vital for enhanced garden design and good spring growth.

METHOD OF PLANTING

There are basically two methods of planting, both of which require the gardener to know the depth of planting. As a general rule of thumb the bulbs or corms are planted with the fine tip up and to a depth of approximately 3x the height of the bulb itself.  Checking the package or growing directions at the nursery will also help. Good gardening practise is also never to plant in even numbers as it seems odd number produce a more natural look.

 

1. Using a spade or small shovel, one large hole is dug at the required depth for the assortment of bulbs requiring that depth. Using a tape measure or judging by eye are the basic way of measuring the depth. Then a small bone /blood meal or natural fertilizer is spread lightly in the whole before placing bulbs.

 

grouping in one large hole

 

If space allows for any smaller bulbs/corms to be planted, once the bigger bulbs are partially buried, spread more nutrients and add those buds.

 

smaller bulbs above

 

2. This method is similar but uses a small trowel or a bulb planter. There are short handled manual bulb planters that require you to be on your hands and knees and many long handled versions where you stand and use your feet to force the tool in to the ground.

 

bulb planter

 

 

 

 

 

There are many of both types available at local garden centres, many of which have the depth scale right on the tool. Again, nutrient supplement is added to the whole once the soil is removed, before the bulbs are added.

larger bulbs in place

best individual holes

small bulbs indiv

 

 

 

 

 

 

FINAL STAGES OF PLANTING

After bulbs have received their nutritional supplement, been spaced properly in depth and between each other, soil is filled in around them. Then mulch on top will provide an extra measure of winter protection and keep the temperature and moisture levels more constant. Finally a thorough watering will ensure the ground there has adequate moisture for the  bulbs to get started once there is a spring thaw.

REFRIGERATOR BULB GARDENING

If you can purchase at garden centres or by the Internet, spring bulbs that require vernalization, never fear as your fridge is near! There are many articles on what is called forcing bulbs and sometime the misconception that they have to actually be frozen.

Basically the easy version is as follows:

-good soil

-pot 13-18 cm deep  ( 6-9 inches)

– few inches of soil in bottom so bulb is ad required depth

-add bulb and cover well (with nutrients to be watered in later)

-water thoroughly

-put in a plastic bag with one end open for ventilation

-place in the back of the fridge

-check on it every week to ensure it does not get too dry

-after approximately 6-8 weeks  there should be small shoots

-bring out of fridge in to partially lit room for a few days

-water with fertilizer and then bring to a brightly lit room or window ledge

-enjoy!

Final thoughts

Remember, while many things seem to go wrong, bulbs are very forgiviing. In fact, once I planted my bulbs upside down and although it took some extra time, they did bloom. Only when I thinned them out a few years later, did I realize the pointed tip was facing down!  🙂  Happy planting!

Holland  Commercial Tulip Farming

Holland Commercial Tulip Farming