Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Loving Lilacs

Who doesn't love lilacs? They have a scent stronger than roses that carries quite a distance. There are more than 1,000 varieties in several colors including white and pink (the most popular colors are lilac and purple), blooming in April and May depending on the variety an d area you live in.

The ideal lilac shrub has about 10 canes and produces flowers at eye-level—all the better to enjoy that sweet, haunting fragrance—and they can live for hundreds of years!

Lilacs, both Syringa vulgaris and S. x persica, the finer, smaller "Persian Lilac," were introduced into European gardens at the end of the 16th century, from Ottoman gardens. Lilacs were brought to the American colonies in the 18th century where they were planted in our first botanical gardens and both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew lilacs in their gardens. New Hampshire recognizes the lilac blossom as the official state flower, because it "is symbolic of that hardy character of the men and women of the Granite State."
Grow lilacs in fertile, humus-rich, well drained, neutral to alkaline soil. Select a site where your lilac will get full sun—at least six hours.
Lilac bushes are prone to powdery mildew disease, so provide good air circulation by keeping their branches pruned. Lilacs bloom on old wood so prune right after blooming is over. In addition to branch pruning, thin out old ‘canes’ and cut the dead flowers off when they're done blooming. Lilacs are a delightful addition to your spring flower garden and with proper sitting and minimal care will reward you with their intoxicating fragrance for years to come … perhaps even hundreds of years!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I Love Amaryllis

The amaryllis is, I think, the most beautiful and dramatic of our flowering bulbs. We are so fortunate to be able to grow these amazing flowering bulbs in garden beds. If we have the know how.

In colder regions, like lets say New England, amaryllises must be grown in containers, as they would freeze during the winter if planted in the ground.

The amaryllis belongs to the genusHippeastrum, which, oddly enough, translates as "horse star." Those we grow today are mostly hybrids of several species native to South America.

Dormant bulbs are readily available now, and they can become a long-lasting part of your landscape. The bulbs that you purchase now, however, must be handled specially during the winter.

When they are dried and forced into dormancy for shipping purposes, the bulbs are triggered to bloom during the winter, rather than the spring.

If you plant bulbs you purchase now outside into the garden, they may send up their flower stalks this winter, this will kill the bulb. What a waste of such a stately flower.

Growing amaryllis indoors

Even if you intend to plant them in your garden eventually, amaryllis bulbs purchased now should be planted into pots.

Use a good-quality potting soil and plant the bulb with the neck that protrudes from the top of the bulb above the soil surface.

The pot should be large enough so that there is about a 1-inch clearance between the pot rim and the bulb. Clay or plastic pots may be used. Since an amaryllis in bloom can be somewhat top-heavy, clay pots provide a little more stability. You can also buy them pre-planted in pots ready to grow. These bulbs can be of lesser quality if they are not clearly marked as being Dutch bulbs.

Place the pot indoors in a sunny window (the more sun the better) and keep the soil evenly moist.

When the flower stalk begins to emerge, rotate the pot about one-half turn every few days so it will grow straight. Otherwise, it will grow toward the window and look awkward.

If you provide your amaryllis with too little light, the flower stalk will grow excessively tall and may even fall over. Trust me this is heartbreaking.

This time of year, flowering generally occurs about 7 to 10 weeks after planting. Some large bulbs will produce two flower stalks if you are lucky.
Sometime after the flower stalk has emerged, leaves will grow from the top of the bulb. After the flowers have faded, cut the stalk at the point where it emerges from the bulb, but do not cut any foliage.

Keep the plant inside, and continue to provide plenty of light, or the leaves will be weak. Water it regularly when the soil begins to feel dry, but it is not really necessary to fertilize your amaryllis during this time.

When April arrives, or the first complete thaw whichever comes later, it's time to plant your bulbs into the garden. Amaryllis planted in the garden this coming spring will get into their natural cycle and bloom each year in April. Clearly mark where you have planted each bulb as they will have to be dug up each fall.

Care in the landscape

If you are growing amaryllis in your garden now, you know just how carefree they are. They thrive in any reasonably good garden soil, as long as drainage is good.

A spot that receives part sun (about six hours of direct sun and then shade in the afternoon) is the ideal location, but I have seen amaryllis thrive in full sun to part shade.

Amaryllis bulbs are planted with the narrow top of the bulb, or "neck," exposed above the soil surface. Do not plant the bulbs too deep, or flowering will decrease. Bulbs are generally spaced about 8 inches apart and show best in the garden when planted in clumps of three or more. Mulch the bed to provide a place for moisture to be held for the bulbs.

Once planted and established, use a light sprinkling of a general-purpose fertilizer in June and early fall and watering during unusually dry weather is all they need.

Beds should be mulched with an inch or two of pine straw, leaves or other similar material to help reduce weeds and conserve moisture.

Although it is necessary to dig and store amaryllis bulbs in the fall each year, this can be a good thing. Clumps of bulbs can become overcrowded, and fall is a good time to divide them. Amaryllis bulbs produce offsets or small bulbs from their base that grow larger each year. Over a number of years, the crowding of the bulbs may cause a decrease in flowering, due to competition.

Dividing amaryllis

If needed, divide your amaryllis now by lifting the clumps of bulbs carefully, so as not to damage the bulbs in the process. Try to get most of the roots attached to the bulbs. I like to use a garden fork, as it will not cut through the roots.

Separate off the smaller bulbs from the larger bulbs, and put them in two piles. Trim off any yellow or unhealthy foliage, but leave healthy, green foliage attached.

While the bulbs are out of the bed, take the opportunity to turn the soil and then incorporate some compost, rotted manure or peat moss to enrich the soil.

Store all bulbs for the winter in a dry, dark environment with plenty of air flow. I like to make a sinle layer of bulbs at the bottom of a plastic milk crate. Using serveral milk crates if needed. I store mine in the most dry section of an unfinished basement. 

The smaller bulbs can  later be planted into another area where you want amaryllis, or given to friends. Some may bloom next spring or in the next year or two, depending on their size. This is the most common method of propagating amaryllis.

Purchase amaryllis bulbs now to brighten your home during the holiday season, but don't forget that they can become a wonderful part of your garden as well.

One other point; potted amaryllis bulbs in bud or bloom are popular gifts for the holidays. If you think you might be giving some as gifts, keep this column handy and include a copy with each gift amaryllis you give.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Carey's Flowers Thanksgiving Flowers Cheer Those Left Alone At the Holidays

Not every Thanksgiving is delightful. For those left alone on Thanksgiving Day, this holiday can be a turkey – and not the kind that's roasted. Fortunately, there's a way to make this festival of gratitude better for “orphans” – namely, by sending them Thanksgiving flowers.

Not every Thanksgiving is delightful. For those left alone on Thanksgiving Day, this holiday can be a turkey – and not the kind that's roasted. Fortunately, there's a way to make this festival of gratitude better for “orphans” – namely, by sending them Thanksgiving flowers.

“Thanksgiving is traditionally a family holiday,” explains Seth Carey, COO and President of careysflowers.com. “It can get a bit lonely when you're far from your loved ones. The luckier 'orphans' get invited to friends' celebrations, but that doesn't always happen. For everyone else, we suggest sending Thanksgiving flowers as a way to connect and include them from far away.”

Traditional Thanksgiving flowers come in golds, bronze and yellows, but any flower arrangement will do the trick. Bright yellows and oranges are good colors for bringing cheer, the primary objective when sending to someone stuck alone on Thanksgiving Day. While Carey's Flowers does offer same-day delivery, that doesn't extend to major holidays. Planning ahead is required.

“When you surprise someone with Thanksgiving flowers, you're telling them you're there with them in spirit,” says Mr. Carey. “The blues can quickly overtake a person left alone on the holidays. Anything you can do to help the lonely, to keep in touch, is going to be welcome. If you make the gesture and order the flower arrangement, we can take care of the rest.”

Carey's Flowers has been delivering Thanksgiving flowers as well as taking care of all other flower needs for 99 years now. We can handle whatever it is you need.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Are all orchids hard to grow? ~ Not reallly ! !

It's true that some orchids can challenge the most skillful gardener, but a number of orchids are simple to grow. My favorite in the simple to grow category is the phalaenopsis or moth orchid.

Phalaenopsis flowers are borne on stalks above large waxy leaves. Flowers are about 2 inches across and are shaped like a moth. My phalaenopsis orchids begin blooming about November, and the flowers can last until May. Stalks can hold 15 or more blooms, but seven or eight is more likely. Colors range from pure white through pink and deep lavender.

I grow phalaenopsis orchids in a bark medium (chunks of bark), which takes a little getting used to. It makes you want to water frequently, because it is hard to understand how the plants can absorb enough water and nutrients from it. The advantage of bark is that it drains well, so you can hardly over water.

Dendrobium, cattleyas and oncidium orchids also are fairly easy to grow. Apply these tips listed below from the Alamo Orchid Society for growing those varieties and phalaenopsis.

Light: Bright light from an east- or south-facing window is ideal. Avoid midday sun. Too much direct sunlight will burn an orchid; too little results in weak, dark green leaves and no flowers.

Temperature: Orchids are comfortable when you are. Perfect temperatures are 55-65 degrees at night and 70-85 degrees during the day.

Water: Water when the growing medium is nearly dry.

Humidity: Many orchids are native to tropical and subtropical areas with high humidity. To simulate those conditions, place the pot on a saucer full of moistened pebbles. Do not allow the bottom of the container to sit in water.

Fertilize: Orchids experts say, "Fertilize weakly weekly." Apply a diluted (¼ strength) balanced fertilizer such as a 20-20-20 after each watering (don't fertilize dry medium). Water without fertilizer once a month to leach accumulated salts.

Grooming: Cut spent flowers at the stem with clean, sharp scissors. Remove flower stems when they've dried up.

Repotting: Orchids grow better when their roots are pot-bound, but repot when plants have obviously outgrown the container. Repot when the growing medium breaks down. Do not repot while plants are in bloom.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Starting early spring gardens now

Spring almost requires that gardeners have a few blooming bulbs in front door flower beds, in outdoor pots and on windowsills.

Now that cooler weather and soil are settling in, it is a perfect time to get going on bulb projects. In our area we can plant garlic, allium, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, fritillaria, crocus, squill, snowdrops and others, as long as the ground has not yet frozen.

The prettiest displays are planted in groups rather than in rows. To plant an entire bed, the bulbs can be tossed and planted where they land so there will be clusters of flowers with spaces in between.

Plant bulbs twice their length. For example a 1.5-inch tall bulb is planted in a 3-inch deep hole.

Plant Oriental and Asiatic lilies three times their depth because they root along the stems. Madonna lily is planted with the top of the bulb at the top of the hole.

Be sure that the fat end of the bulb is actually sitting on soil. A planting hole dug with a trowel or shovel can have an empty place at the bottom. Water can accumulate there and rot the bulb over the winter.

Interplant bulbs with biennials, perennials or creeping plants that will cover the fading stems after the flowers fade in the late spring.

Plant bulbs practically touching when you plant layers of them in pots or tubs. Put a few inches of soil in the bottom of the container and top with bulbs. Add 2 inches of soil and more bulbs. If you want the entire pot to bloom at once plant all one bulb type.

A 6-inch pot will hold six tulips and three hyacinths. Some gardeners plant pansies or grass seed on the top of the pot to hold the soil and add to the spring display.

Plant bulbs you plan to move in plastic trays or crates buried in the ground. If moles and voles are a problem, plant bulbs in plastic berry baskets, wrap each bulb in plastic mesh or surround the bed with gravel. Entire pots can be sunk into the ground. Moth balls help keep the squirrels away for a few weeks. Scattered pine cones will keep cats out of the beds and pots.

Bulbs planted this year do not need fertilizer. Try to remember to fertilize them in the spring.

Gladiolus bloom later than daffodils and tulips but are planted at around the same time. Tall varieties may need support if they are in a windy spot so put stakes in place as you plant.

Their cut-flower blooming season can be extended if you plant them in groups a few weeks apart.

Bulbs should be weeded by hand since hoes and cultivators can damage them.

If you plan to force bulbs such as hyacinths and daffodils in the house, add a piece of horticultural (not barbecue) charcoal to the water to keep the water sweet. The charcoal will help prevent gnats and bulb rot.

Garlic planted now can be tucked in any flower or vegetable bed where the soil can be kept evenly moist. Buy planting garlic rather than the treated grocery store garlic. Plant the largest cloves to get the largest heads next summer.

Shade-loving Spanish bluebells grow to a foot tall with an abundance of blue flowers in the spring. Plant bulbs 3 inches deep. They will return for years if they are kept dry enough over the summer.

Snowdrops, Leucojum aestivum, grow 15 inches tall with a white, bell-shaped flower. This is a favorite in many gardens, as they can survive clay and shade as well as sand and sun.

Monday, October 17, 2011

How to say it with flowers

Duchess Kate Middleton's custom wedding bouquet had symbolic significance to the Royal family, and was in keeping with tradition.

You may not be royalty, but that should not stop you from emulating the royal family. Go ahead and take the lead from the Victorians who used flowers to express their feelings. Here's a list of different flowers and what they can mean. I say 'can' mean because if you hunt around on the internet you can find a thousand different meanings for the exact same flower. However we continue to get many questions about the meanings of flowers so I blog about it from time to time.

A quick peek at some flowers:

- Carnation implies affection. It's meant to be given to one's lover or partner.

- Chamomile means patience and attracts wealth.

- Chrysanthemum means cheerfulness and says that you're a wonderful friend.

- Daffodil means respect.

- Daisy is associated with innocence and carefree beauty.

- Forget-me-not stands for true love and lasting memories.

- Geranium (scented) implies a degree of preference.

- The Hibiscus flower signifies delicate and elegant beauty.

- Honeysuckle is all about generous and devoted affection.

- Hyacinth is associated with games, sports and rashness. You would be surprised to know that this flower is dedicated to Apollo.

- Iris is a flower that signifies faith, hope, wisdom and valor.

- Jasmine is a flower about amiability and it attracts wealth.

- Lily is a flower that helps keep unwanted visitors away.

- Marigold is a flower that comforts the heart and gives solace.

- Orchid is a symbol of love, beauty and refinement. Ideal to gift to a beautiful lady, it is also the Chinese symbol for many children.

- Poinsettias symbolize a degree of good cheer and great success Also known as the Christmas Star, it is said that this winter flower's association with Christmas comes from a Mexican legend.

- Red roses symbolize love So try gifting a bunch of red roses before you say those three words. However, some girls happen to find them boring.

White roses imply beauty.

In a nutshell

- Do not gift red roses to a family member like your cousin Sally

- Daffodils are the perfect bouquet for your mother,

- A bunch of daisies are the perfect flowers for your sister.

- Scented geraniums are ideal for the girl you have a crush on

- Marigolds are the perfect condolence flowers. Gift them to someone who has recently suffered an accident, illness or tragedy

- Chrysanthemums are the perfect flowers for a female friend when there are no romantic feelings involved

- Chamomile, jasmine and poinsettia attract success and wealth

- Barring the traditional (and cliché) red roses, other flowers that communicate LOVE are carnations, honeysuckle, and orchids.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A helpful little plant

The French Marigold flower is one of the more amazing ‘beneficial’ garden companions that will help a number of your garden plants to thrive with it’s potent pesticide-producing root system while also offering a rather strong aroma to confuse other pests.

I believe there may be some confusion out there (I know I was initially confused) about which Marigold to purchase or to grow from seed, in order to be the ‘right’ one to classify as a ‘French Marigold’ so as to be the most effective in the garden for it’s beneficial companion properties to certain plants. First don't look for the words ‘French Marigold’ to be included on the tag along with the name. Once you let that go you will be surprised to discover that there are allot of varieties that are French Marigold’s!

There are two basic types of Marigold’s, American and French, that make up most of the huge variety that is available out there. The French Marigold varieties are bushier, generally do not grow as tall and do not have really full flowered heads like the American varieties, but they do offer the most potent affect on repelling and eliminating underground nematodes while also confusing and repelling white flies and other insects with their strong odor.

Plant Marigolds everywhere in your garden. They will flower throughout the Summer and Fall, and maybe later if it doesn’t get too cold. They are particularly helpful to tomatoes, squash, broccoli, potatoes, and peppers. Apparently you should not plant Marigold’s along with beans. Unfortunately the Marigold is an annual, requiring re-seeding each year, although the affect of their root system is said to last for a few years afterward.

List of French Marigold varieties

Aurora Series

Bonanza Series


Boy O Boy Series

Brocade Mixed


Disco Series

Durango Series

Dwarf Bonanza Blend

French Brocade

Golden Gate Series

Golden Guardian

Ground Control

Gypsy Sunshine



Hero Series


Jacket Orange, Yellow

Janie Series

Jolly Jester

La Bamba

Lemon Drop

Little Hero Series



Mr. Majestic

Naughty Marietta


Pesche’s Gold

Petite Series

Queen Sophia

Red Marietta

Safari Series

Scarlet Sophie


Spanish Brocade

Sparky Mix

Striped Marvel

Spice Series


Yellow Boy

Happy Marigold-ing!