Category Archives: Blog

Perennial of the Month: Hosta

Hosta are hardy perennials that are especially perfect for a shady garden. Reliable and very easy to grow, hosta are long-lived—and may even outlive the gardener!
 
What’s neat about hosta is that there are so many sizes, heights, textures, and colors. Plus, they work in many kinds of gardens (patio, border, container, rock).Though mainly known for their attractive foliage, the plants also produce lovely flowers during the summer in fragrant pink, lavender, or white. Hummingbirds love the flowers. Note: Slugs, snails, deer, and rabbits like hosta almost as much as people do. Keep this in mind if you have deer regularly wandering into your garden.

HOW TO CARE FOR HOSTAS

  • Apply a well-balanced, slow-release fertilizer after planting or when growth emerges in the spring. 
  • Keep the soil moist but not wet.
  • Place mulch around the plants to help retain moisture. 
  • Remove flower stalks after bloom to encourage new growth.
  • Clean up around the plants and remove brown leaves in the fall to help control diseases and slugs.
  • Transplanting and dividing is best done in early spring when the leaves just begin to emerge.

TRANSPLANTING OR DIVIDING HOSTAS

Hostas do not usually need dividing for their health. If they have less space, they’ll simply grow less quickly. However, if you wish to divide a hosta for a neater appearance, it’s best to do so in early spring once the ‘eyes’ or growing tips start to emerge from the ground.  This is also a good time to move or transplant a hosta to a new site.

Leave as much of the root attached as possible to each crown or plant. Plant the new hostas at the same soil level as they were previously. Water well until established.

PESTS/DISEASES

  • Slugs and snails:  If you see irregular holes along the leaf’s edges or entire leaves chewed off at the stem nocturnal slugs may be the culprit. Look for shiny slime trails on the leaves or on the ground around the plants.
  • Deer: It’s true. Deer love hosta. To discourage deer, use fencing or motion-sensitive sprinklers. Speak to your local garden center about odor-based sprays and deer repellents; the deer will taste the distasteful repellent first. 
  • Rabbits: If you see clean-cut chew marks on young hosta stems and leaves you may have rabbits in your garden. Look for dropped leaves and rabbit droppings on the ground and around the plants.

Thanks to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

 

6 Simple Tips for Better Tomatoes

We know you are itching to get growing so we thought we’d provide tips to help you along the way. So by now you’ve got your tomato plants ready to plant. You’ve either grown them from seed, bought seedlings or perhaps even a fairly mature plant. Ideally you’ve waited for the last frost date and you’ve prepared your soil. You’re on your way to a summer filled with luscious fruit. Success can be yours if you’ll follow these simple steps when planting and caring for your plants. 

Bury the stems

Plant your tomato plants deeper than they come in the pot, all the way up to the top few leaves. When planted this way, tomatoes are able to develop roots all along their stems. And more roots make for a stronger plant.

You can either dig a deep hole or simply dig a shallow trench and lay the plant sideways. It will quickly straighten itself up and grow toward the sun. Just be careful not to drive your tomato stake or cage into the buried stem.

Mulch tomatoes after the soil has warmed

If you are not going to leave plastic on the soil, hold off on putting down mulch until after the ground has had a chance to warm up. Although mulching conserves water and prevents the soil and soil borne diseases from splashing up on the plants, if you put it down too early, it will also shade and cool the soil. Because tomatoes love heat, allow the sun to warm the soil in the spring. After temperatures remain warm, both during the day and at night, you can add a layer of mulch to retain moisture.

Remove the bottom leaves

After your tomato plants reach about 3 feet tall, remove the leaves from the bottom foot of the stem. These are the oldest leaves, and they are usually the first leaves to develop fungus problems. As the plants fill out, the bottom leaves get the least amount of sun and airflow. Because these leaves sit close to the ground, soil borne pathogens can easily splash up onto them. Removing them helps prevent fungal diseases from taking hold. Spraying weekly with compost tea also seems to be effective at warding off fungal diseases.

Pinch and prune for more tomatoes

Pinch and remove suckers that develop in the crotch joint of two branches. They won’t bear fruit and will take energy away from the rest of the plant. However, go easy on pruning the rest of the plant. You can thin out a few leaves to allow the sun to reach the ripening fruit, but it’s the leaves that are photosynthesizing and creating the sugars that give flavor to your tomatoes. Fewer leaves will mean fewer sweet tomatoes.

Water regularly

Water deeply and regularly while the fruits are developing. Irregular watering—missing a week and trying to make up for it—leads to blossom end rot (a calcium deficiency) and cracking and splitting. The rule of thumb is to ensure your plants get at least 1 inch of water per week, but during hot, dry spells, they may need more. If your plants start to look wilted for most of the day, give them a drink.

After the fruit begins to ripen, you can ease up on the watering. Lessening the water will coax the plant into concentrating its sugars, for better flavor. Use your judgment. Don’t withhold water so much that the plants continually wilt and become stressed or they will drop their blossoms and possibly their fruit.

Getting your plants to set tomatoes

Tomatoes’ ripening is pretty much at the mercy of the weather, but sometimes we can help things along. Pinching off the tips of the main stems in early summer will encourage indeterminate tomatoes (those with fruit available continuously) to start putting their energy into flowering.

Indeterminate tomatoes
like to grow tall before they start setting fruits, so don’t be alarmed if your tomato plants aren’t flowering for their first month or two. Pinching is also a handy trick toward the end of the summer when you want the last tomatoes to hurry up and ripen.

It shouldn’t be a problem getting determinate tomatoes (those that ripen all at once) to set fruit unless weather conditions are unfavorable and cause a condition aptly named “blossom drop.”

Houseplant of the Month: Easter Lily

Did you know that Easter lilies are the fourth largest potted plant crop grown in the U.S.? With Easter approaching, no doubt many homes and churches will soon be graced with the fragrant and lovely white trumpet-shaped flowers, symbolic of spring, purity and the Lord’s Resurrection. But how can you enjoy your fragrant flower long after the holiday? We have some helpful tips.

Caring for Your Potted Easter Lilies

To keep your potted Easter lily as its best, it prefers a cool daytime temperature of 60° to 65° F. and nighttime temperatures 5 degrees cooler. To keep the flowers from wilting, avoid placing the potted plant in direct sunlight. Most plants will lean toward the sunlight. To keep the plant growing upright, turn the pot every two days.

Keep the plant moist, but not soggy. Most Easter lilies are sold commercially in pots covered with decorative foil jackets. No water should be left standing at the bottom of this covering or the life of the lily will be ruined. Remove the pot from the foil covering every time the plant is watered. Once the water has soaked into the soil, return the pot to the foil covering.

Also, to help your potted lily thrive, do not place the pot near a direct source of heat. Lilies thrive in a humid climate, more so than a dry one. To create natural humidity, fill a saucer with small pebbles and water and set beneath the potted lily.

How to Transfer Easter Lilies to the Garden

Your Easter lily plant can be introduced into your flower garden for annual enjoyment. Transplant it outdoors once all danger of frost has passed and when the flower stops blooming. 

The plant needs to be in well-drained soil, just as it did when it was potted. To provide the needed drainage, add peat moss and perlite to rich organic soil.

Plant the lily bulbs, roots down, 3” inches beneath the surface of the soil and water. If planting more than one bulb, position them at least 12” inches apart. Cut back the stems once the plant appears dead. This will cause new growth to begin and possibly another bloom this summer. Next year, look for a June or July bloom.

Why We Garden

Gardeners tend to be optimistic. The simple act of planting a tree shows vision, creativity and yes, even hope. Sowing seeds is an act of faith, a fundamental belief in the natural world. One knows that with fertile soil, water and light, anything is possible. Gardens of contentment are borne in cities and in the country, in grand designs and in simple windowsills. The fact is, we garden because it makes us feel good.

Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who was the creative force behind the design of New York’s Central Park observed that viewing a scene in nature “employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest.”

This observation could be judged to be more true today than when Mr. Olmsted was quoted back in 1865. In a day and age when work has become more stressful than ever, where daily lives are played out in an environment with higher levels of noise, crime and intensity, it’s understandable that people feel a general fatigue. Even work here at the nursery takes on an almost frenetic pace during the spring season. Where do we turn for relief? A quiet greenhouse or sales yard in the early morning hours. Like you, we turn to the garden…we connect with nature. Whether it is for five minutes or hours spent transplanting seedlings, we emerge refreshed, rejuvenated and somehow inspired.

There is something to be said for stopping to take notice of the world around you. It may seem trite, but taking the time to stop and smell the roses can lead to better health, a sharper mind and reduced stress. While we are force fed advice on how we should reduce our fat intake, increase our non-impact aerobic workouts, and oh, yeah….spend more quality time with the children, we’d like to present an alternative available right in your own backyard.

The Warm-up-

Start by taking in the morning air. Pulling weeds can be your opening stretching exercise. Comb your landscape and lawn for any and all invaders. Take your time, enjoy whatever is sprouting. Your neighbors will think you are strange, but they’ll be amazed by your weed free (all-organic, by the way) garden.

20-minutes to a leaner, greener you!

In the time it takes to rake your yard, or mow your lawn you can achieve quite an enjoyable aerobic workout. The great part is, you feel better from the results you’ve achieved, and from the physical activity that goes into it-a natural high!

A lush, green lawn, an exquisite flower, the sight of a cardinal…these acts of nature that make us feel good. They lift the spirits and improve people’s general feeling of well being. A garden can be just the right medicine for what ails you.

Gardening is a great opportunity to connect with yourself, your natural environment, and your inner creativity and self-expression-and it’s an activity you can enjoy as a family. Tend your garden daily. Planting the seeds for tomorrow’s blooms could just improve your health at the same time!

Houseplant of the Month: Shamrock

What is a Shamrock Plant? The potted shamrock plant (Oxalis regnellii) is a small specimen, often reaching no more than 6 inches. Leaves are in a range of shades and delicate flowers bloom off and on during fall, winter and spring. Leaves are clover shaped and some think the plant brings good luck.

It has clover-shaped leaves that grow in variable shades of green and purple tones. Shamrock plants bloom periodically, with delicate white or pink flowers which peek out from clusters of leaves throughout their growing season. These whimsical, living good luck symbols can be enjoyed during the fall, winter, and spring months.

Shamrock plants differ from most house plants in a few ways. For one, Shamrock plants grow from tiny bulbs that may be planted outside in fall or early spring, depending on the hardiness zone in which you live. They also fold up at night and re-open when light returns. These plants require a dormant period in the summer time, and will begin to shut down, which Shamrock plant owners sometimes mistake for the plant being dead.

Shamrock Plant Care Tips

  1. Place the plant in an area that is room temperature and receives good air circulation and bright, but not direct, light.
  2. Soil should be kept lightly moist. Water sparingly and allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
  3. Fertilize with a balanced houseplant food every few months.
  4. When leaves begin to die back in late spring or early summer, the plant is telling you that it needs a time of dormancy to rest. At this time, move the plant to a cooler, darker location, away from direct light and do not water of fertilize it. The dormant period varies and may last anywhere from a few weeks to three months, depending on the cultivar and the conditions.
  5. After the first couple weeks of dormancy, check your plant for new growth every week or so.
  6. When new shoots appear, the dormancy period has ended. Move the plant back to a brighter location and resume the recommended regular plant care.

How to Read a Grass Seed Label

If more is better, than a lot should be great! That seems to be the logic when buying grass seed. To get the best results when seeding this spring, it might help to understand a few of the basics. Let’s take a look at a typical seed label:

First of all, what do those names mean? They are usually proprietary varieties that were specifically bred for optimum results. With improvements in seed breeding and technology in the past 7-10 years, these new varieties are more disease and pest resistant. However, over half the lawns in North America are over 7 years old. Newer varieties have definite advantages.

How about germination? The second set of numbers is the germination rate of the seed. Like anything else there are different grades and qualities of grass seed. Watch out for this number. The higher the number the better. Why pay for seed that won’t grow.

What is “other crop seed?” The seed listed here is for the “off types” of seed that can detract from the quality of the lawn. These are usually fillers used in lower priced mixes. The lower the percentage, the better.

Why is there weed seed listed? If there is any weed seed present it is listed by percentage of weight. While you don’t want any weed seed, it is difficult and expensive to keep them out. Similarly avoid those listing obnoxious weeds.

What exactly is “inert matter?” Inert matter is just what it sounds like. This is substance in the box or bag that is not capable of growth. Usually it is filler added to take up space. The lower the percentage the better.

How much seed do you really need? In depends on your application. In full sun, figure about 4-5 lbs for 1000 (M) sq. ft for a new lawn and about 1.5 lbs/M for overseeding. In deep shade your numbers shuld be more like 3 lbs/M for a new lawn and 1.5 lbs/M for overseeding.

Ready to get going? Measure your area. With an understanding of the basic facts, area, conditions (soil, sun, shade) and a better understanding of how to read a seed label, you’ll have greater success with your next seeding project and save time and money! We’re here to help!

Houseplant of the Month: Monstera Deliciosa

Monstera may be the perfect houseplant for you if you’re looking to create a big, bold, tropical feel in your home. It features big (2-foot-wide) leaves that look like they have holes or cuts in them, giving rise to two of its other common names: Swiss cheese plant and split-leaf philodendron (while monstera is not a type of philodendron, it is closely related to them).

While young, this houseplant has a dense, bushy shape, but as it grows, it wants to vine out. You can keep it bushy with regular pruning, or let it climb up a vertical support (such as fishing line fastened into the ceiling), for a decidedly bold and tropical look.

Grow monstera just about anywhere in your house! It tolerates low light, but grows faster and becomes more dramatic in a bright spot. In most areas, it can take some direct sun on its leaves when grown in the house.

Water monstera regularly — enough to keep the soil from drying out. The plant is somewhat drought tolerant, so you don’t need to worry about keeping up with the watering all time time. It’s a survivor! 

Fertilize monstera a few times in spring and summer to keep it happiest, especially if the leaves start to look light green or pale around the veins. You can fertilize it more regularly — even weekly — if you want more growth. Either way, use a houseplant fertilizer and adhere to the directions on the product packaging. 

How to Attract Birds

Overview of the Four Requirements for Attracting Backyard Birds

Wild birds require four things to be attracted to a backyard: food, water, shelter and nesting sites. If you make each of these four things available, you will be amazed at how many different species of birds become regular backyard guests.

Food

A good food source is the most important thing you need to attract birds. Food sources can be naturally occurring or supplemental sources such as feeders. Offering several different foods will attract a greater variety of birds.
Popular foods to attract birds include:

  • Seeds
  • Nectar
  • Fruits
  • Insects
  • Scraps
  • Nuts
  • Suet

Not all foods will attract the same birds. For the best results, learn which birds are present in your local area and choose foods to attract them to your yard. Once your yard is a popular feeding site, more unusual species will become curious and you can offer them treats as well.

Water

Water is critical to birds’ survival and adding water to your backyard will quickly attract birds. Types of water features that are attractive to birds are:

  • Bird baths
  • Misters
  • Ponds
  • Waterfalls
  • Streams

Moving or flowing water will attract the most birds because it is more visible and they can hear it from a great distance. Water should be kept fresh and clean, but no chemicals should be used to purify water because they can be harmful to birds.
Birds also need water in the winter. A heated bird bath will provide drinkable water that birds do not have to use body heat to melt first. Heaters can be added to regular bird baths or special heated baths can be used.

Shelter

Birds will not stay in a location where they do not feel safe, and adding backyard features that can offer them shelter will help attract them to your yard and keep them there once they have found it. Common bird shelters include:

  • Trees
  • Shrubs
  • Scrub brush piles
  • Overgrown grassy areas

Provide shelter at different levels for birds that prefer both high and low shelters. More dense plant growth is popular with small and medium bird species, while larger birds prefer perches where they can scan nearby areas for predators and other dangers. Shelter near feeders is especially popular since birds can quickly retreat if they feel threatened while feeding.
Many plants can also serve as food sources for birds, so choosing plantings wisely can not only provide shelter but will also entice birds with a natural food source.

Nesting Sites

For permanent guests, it is necessary to provide nesting sites for backyard birds. Many birds prefer to nest in natural locations, but manmade sites can also be attractive and may be easier for birders to enjoy. Nesting sites can include:

  • Trees and shrubs for natural nesting sites
  • Simple nesting boxes
  • Functional or decorative birdhouses
  • A brush pile for ground nesters

Different birds build different types of nests, from twig piles to dangling cups. For the best results, learn what types of nests your regular backyard birds prefer and offer nesting sites that are suitable for their needs.

By providing food, water, shelter and nesting sites, you can attract birds to your yard and invite them to take up residence.

http://birding.about.com/od/attractingbirds/a/attractoverview.htm

Houseplant of the Month: Phalaenopsis Orchid

If you are lucky enough to have a Phalaenopsis, you are about to enter the wonderful world of growing orchids! Phals are one of the easiest orchids to grow in the home. If you follow a few basic requirements, these plants will reward you with several months of beautiful blooms.

Water
How often you water will depend on the potting medium. Bark retains less water than moss. If your phal is potted in bark watering once a week is generally sufficient. If your plant is potted in moss, water when the top feels dry. The amount of light and heat your plant receives will also affect how soon your phal needs watering. Summer months will need more frequent watering, winter will need less. After a few watering, you will be able to tell by the weight of the pot whether or not it is time to water again. If in doubt, wait a day.

It is best to water in the morning. Place the plant in the sink and use tepid water. Do not use salt-softened or distilled water. Let the water run through the plant for a minute or so. Be sure to let the plant drain completely.

If any water remains in the crown (where the leaves join in the center) use a paper towel to blot the water to avoid crown rot.

Light
Phalaenopsis are ‘low’ light orchids. They grow beautifully in an east window and can be grown in a south or west window if protected by a sheer curtain. A phal’s leaves should be olive green. If they are darker it means the plant is not getting enough light; red tinged leaves mean the plant is getting too much light. Once the plant is in bloom you can place it anywhere in your home out of direct sunlight. If your plant does not re-bloom, increase the amount of light that it receives.

Continue watering and fertilizing while waiting for the blooming cycle to begin!

Temperature
Phals are easy to grow because they enjoy the same temperatures we do – above 60º F at night and a range of 70º F to 80º F or higher during the day. 95º F is the maximum temperature recommendation. Keep in mind that temperatures close to the window on a windowsill will be colder or hotter than your general house temperature. Fluctuating temperatures can cause bud drop on plants with buds ready to open.

Fertilizer 
Any balanced orchid fertilizer (look at the numbers on the container, 20-20-20, etc.) can be used to fertilize your orchid. Feeding weakly (half strength) weekly works well. Once a month, use clear water to flush any accumulated salts from the potting mix.

Humidity 
Use a shallow tray of pebbles filled with water to increase humidity around your plants. Be sure the pot does not sit in water as this will rot the roots.

Cutting the spike
When the blooms are finished, you can cut the spike down to the level of the leaves and the plant will bloom with larger flowers and a strong stem within a year. You can also cut off the stem leaving two nodes (those little brown lines on the stem below where the flowers were) on the stem. One of these nodes will then initiate and generally produce flowers within eight to 12 weeks. 

Continue watering and fertilizing while you are waiting for the blooming cycle to begin again! Repotting is usually done every one to three years.

Indoor Gardening with Kids

When the outdoor garden is tucked away for the winter — the saplings supported, the grass seed sown and the spring bulbs tucked snugly away in their flower beds — it’s time for indoor gardening fun!

Many plants can be successfully grown indoors by children, including the pits and seeds of many grocery items (who hasn’t seen an avocado pit supported by a toothpick in a plastic cup on a window sill?).

One of the most fun and satisfying indoor gardening projects, however, is forcing flower bulbs.

Forcing projects are an easy, inexpensive way to keep little hands busy for hours on a rainy day. Bulbs can be potted up as “I made it myself” gifts for friends, teachers or grandparents.

They can also give young people a real feeling of accomplishment. Imagine their pride when Grandma “ooohs” and “ahhhs” over her magnificent pots of blooming amaryllises!

As bulbs mature into flowers, the seeds of myth and magic can grow in a child’s imagination. A three-year old, for example, might thrill to the “wonder of it all.” A “more serious” 12-year old might play the budding botanist, growing various colors or experimenting with different treatments of light and temperature.

Though the flowers are wonderful, the real joy comes in the child’s anticipation, as each morning she rushes to the kitchen window to see “her” green stalk yet another inch taller.

Guided by an enthusiastic parent, growing these plants the Dutch call “guaranteed miracles,” can offer a metaphor for and an introduction to the wonder and mystery of the natural world.

You Can Fool Mother Nature

The term “forcing” might be better expressed as “fooling.” For what you really do is fool the bulb into thinking that winter is over and it’s time to flower. The two easiest bulbs to force are paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis (hippeastrum). Other fun bulbs for easy forcing include colorful hyacinths, crocuses and narcissi. These require a bit more attention, but they too can offer the young gardener an enchanting indoor experience.

To begin with the easiest:

Paperwhite types are especially easy to grow. They can be bought as loose bulbs or as part of a pre-packaged forcing kit. They are often found in displays along with gravel, containers and other bulbs for forcing.

Paperwhites are best forced in a shallow pot or bowl with no drainage holes in the bottom. Fill the pot two thirds full with gravel, stones or even fun things like marbles! Place as many bulbs as will fit on the gravel with the pointed side up. Then fill in gravel around them leaving the tops exposed. Add water up to the base of the bulbs and maintain water at this level.

Place the container in a cool place. Within days roots will appear. As they grow, they will sometimes push the bulbs upward. When the green shoots appear, move your project to a cool, sunny spot. The shoots will develop rapidly and in about three more weeks, you’ll have masses of heavily-scented sweet white flowers.  

Amaryllis bulbs are very large but also very easy to grow. These big bulbs are normally planted one to a pot and are also often available as complete pre- packaged kits. Begun early enough, amaryllises can be easily brought to flower for the holiday season. By staggering your start-up times, it’s possible to have amaryllises blooming in the house from December through April.

Loose amaryllis bulbs can be planted in any kind of container you like, but a drainage hole (and a saucer to catch the water that drains!) is required. The pot circumference should be not much bigger than the bulb itself.

Spread a shallow layer of gravel, pot shards or other drainage material at the bottom of the pot (this is a good way to recycle those annoying plastic foam “peanut” packing materials). Add several inches of soil and place the bulb in the pot, pointed end up, with the neck and “shoulders” of the bulb just peeking over the top of the container.

Fill in with soil and gently pat down, leaving the neck of the bulb exposed. Water well. Place in a cool bright spot. Water sparingly at first. After the first sprouts appear (about two weeks), keep soil moist but don’t over water. In about eight weeks, you and your young gardener will be proud to show off your plants with their huge, exotic-looking flowers of velvety red, pink, white, peach, orange or even multi-colors.

Magnificent amaryllis grow tall and top-heavy. To keep your child’s amaryllis upright as it blooms, try “double-potting” it by using a lightweight plastic flower pot placed inside a heavier decorative container. Kids’ containers should be fun, such as toy buckets, large kitchen tins or inexpensive crockery pots. Just about anything that pleases a child can be used as an outer container.

Forcing many other bulbs, especially hyacinths, crocuses, grape hyacinths (muscari) and narcissi (you probably know these as daffodils) is also easy but may take a little longer and require some free space in a refrigerator or in an unheated garage or storeroom. Do not store near ripening fruit.

Spring-flowering bulbs normally spend the winter underground outdoors because they require a period of cold temperatures to kick off a bio-chemical reaction inside them that starts the flowering process.  Indoor forcing induces that reaction artificially. 

Hyacinths can be grown without any soil or gravel. Special hour-glass-shaped hyacinth glasses are available from many catalogues and retail stores. Such containers allow you to grow these fragrant flowers righ t on water. The growing roots, which can be seen clearly through the glass, add a special interest. Pre-cooled hyacinths can be purchased, cutting about two to four weeks off time needed for the bulbs to flower, making it possible to have hyacinths for the holidays if you begin in September or early October. Methods for forcing hyacinths are about the same as for other spring bulbs that need cold treatment. 

Hyacinths can be grown without any soil or gravel. Special hour-glass-shaped hyacinth glasses are available from many catalogues and retail stores. Such containers allow you to grow these fragrant flowers righ t on water. The growing roots, which can be seen clearly through the glass, add a special interest. Pre-cooled hyacinths can be purchased, cutting about two to four weeks off time needed for the bulbs to flower, making it possible to have hyacinths for the holidays if you begin in September or early October. Methods for forcing hyacinths are about the same as for other spring bulbs that need cold treatment.
 

To force daffodils small and tall, delicate crocuses, and many other spring-flowering bulbs, it is important to look for types that will force readily. This information is usually provided when you purchase your bulbs. To prepare, use regular flower pots or other containers with drainage holes. Add a layer of gravel or drainage material and a layer of potting soil to a depth of about two inches. Use as many bulbs as will fit in the container, then fill in with enough soil so just the tops of the bulbs are visible. Water thoroughly. Wait two days then water again.

Put a piece of tape with the date written on it on each pot. Place your pots in a dark cool place (between 40 and 50° F) and keep moist for twelve weeks. If you have room in your refrigerator, cover the pots with an open plastic bag; this will reduce the need for watering. Two “musts” to remember: keep the pots moist and no fruit in the refrigerator! Ripening fruit gives off a gas that can kill the bulbs.

When the cold period is over, move the pots to a warmer area in indirect or low light. Keep them there a week or two, then move them to a cool, sunny area where they should flower — to everyone’s joy and amazement — in about six weeks.

Bulbs that need cooling periods are a bit more work than paperwhites and amaryllises, but they can be a great project for older children, especially those who have shown an interest in doing projects.

These simple winter garden projects offer children an insight into the workings of nature. A hyacinth bulb cut in half will reveal the embryonic flower bulb in its center. The process of chilling the bulbs, the effects that water and sunshine can help stimulate a child’s interest in natural chemistry.

But most important: it’s fun.

Whether for entertainment, education or both, forcing flower bulbs and other indoor gardening projects are activities the whole family can enjoy together.

Christmas Tree Care

1. Make a fresh cut.

Before you bring the tree into your home and place it in a stand, re-cut the trunk at least one inch from the bottom just before putting it in the stand. Even if you just cut it on a choose and cut farm, this re-opens the tree stem so it can drink water.

 

2. Choose a spot away from heat sources.

Heat sources like heat registers, space heaters, fireplaces, wood stove, televisions, computer monitors, etc. speed up evaporation and moisture loss of the tree.

 

3. Water immediately.

After making the fresh cut, place the tree in a large capacity stand with warm water. The stand you use should hold at least one gallon of fresh water.

 

4. Don’t add anything to the water.

Research has shown that plain tap water is the best. Some commercial additives and home concoctions can actually decrease a tree’s moisture retention and increase needle loss.

 

5. Check water level daily.

Do not allow the water level to drop below the fresh cut or the stem will reseal and be unable to drink. Christmas trees are very thirsty! It is not unusual for a tree to drink 2 gallons of water the first day it is the stand.