Blooming Bulb Garden

One of my bulb gardens in bloom at a friend’s office. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One of my bulb gardens in bloom at a friend’s office. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Blooming Bulb Garden

Most years in fall, when spring bulbs are on sale, I pick up a few bags and make bulb gardens to share with friends mid-winter. Usually by early to mid-February those of us who live in Missouri are more than ready for spring and a little bulb garden offers the promise of more flowers to come.

This past year, I used crocus, small daffodils and tulips in my bulb garden, the bulbs layered so their roots could get nourishment as they grew. After watering and covering the bulbs with new potted soil, I wrapped them in a metallic wrap and placed them in a refrigerator to chill for 3 months.

Once the tips started to show, I started to pull them out and share as gifts for Valentine’s Day.

Usually the crocus bloom first, followed by the daffodils and tulips.

Here is how they look as they are getting started:

Bulbs after 12 weeks of cold getting ready to grow. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Bulbs after 12 weeks of cold getting ready to grow. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Once warmed up, it doens’t take the bulbs long to get growing. I place them in an area where they can get sun but not directly, and away from heat sources so that the heat doesn’t dry out their soil.

My bulb garden growing but not yet in bloom. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My bulb garden growing but not yet in bloom. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My crocus have bloomed in my pot, now waiting for the daffodils and tulips.

Daffodils bloom in my kitchen pot garden between potted begonias. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Daffodils bloom in my kitchen pot garden between potted begonias. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)


Another way to bring on an early spring is to add a floral quilt on your bed, like Pink Applique Tulips. These tulips last as long as you have the handmade quilt on your bed and no watering required!

Charlotte


Blooming Apple Blossom Amaryllis

Blooming amaryllis close.jpg

Blooming Apple Blossom Amaryllis

Do you ever wonder whether some blog posts actually turn out the way the person posting says they will?

I do as well. I thought about that as I was doing dishes earlier tonight and enjoying what I call my birthday Amaryllis bulbs, all starting to bloom in a pot in my kitchen. It may be cold and drizzling outside but these lovely flowers are brightening, and warming up, my home.

Quick recap. These Amaryllis bulbs were on deep discount after Christmas so I picked up three to add to my other Apple Blossom Amaryllis bulbs. I have a couple of pots full of bulbs that summer outside, then come inside in fall to bloom - well, not quite sure when they will bloom, which is why I splurged on these three as a birthday gift.

Amaryllis are native of South America and usually easily found mid-fall through Christmas. They come in a variety of colors and shapes. Two of the more popular ones include the pinkish Apple Blossom and the red ones usually featured during Christmas.

As I said in my earlier blog post, you want to pick Amaryllis bulbs already showing a little bud at the tip of the bulb. This is what all three of my Apple Blossom Amaryllis bulbs had when I selected them. The bud is thicker than the leaves that will develop after the flowers.

This Amaryllis bulb bud guarantees a bloom once it grows. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This Amaryllis bulb bud guarantees a bloom once it grows. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Although most Amaryllis bulbs planted and watered at the same time will grow together, two of the three Apple Blossom Amaryllis bulbs took off once they were in the pot. I tied them up once they were 6 inches tall to make sure the weight of the flowers didn’t make them tip over.

Two of the three Apple Blossom Amaryllis bulbs in bloom. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Two of the three Apple Blossom Amaryllis bulbs in bloom. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

At the other end, the Apple Blossom Amaryllis buds had several flowers inside each of the flower buds. These will bloom for a couple of weeks and get replaced by new flowers.

I tied up these Apple Blossom Amaryllis stalks so the flowers didn’t pull them over. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I tied up these Apple Blossom Amaryllis stalks so the flowers didn’t pull them over. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The Apple Blossom Amaryllis flowers are keeping my Christmas poinsettia company. I think they nicely brighten up my kitchen sitting next to the poinsettias.

Apple Blossom Amaryllis sitting next to my Christmas poinsettia. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Apple Blossom Amaryllis sitting next to my Christmas poinsettia. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Frankly with these flowers as company, I enjoy washing my dishes!

Charlotte

1961 Complete Guide to Garden Flowers

I bet I can describe this jacket cover in my sleep! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I bet I can describe this jacket cover in my sleep! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

1961 Complete Guide to Garden Flowers

If there was one book my grandmother sent me for Christmas that had the most influence over the years, this is it. The 1961 Complete Guide to Garden Flowers used to sit next to my bed for years, the favorite book to peruse as I was getting ready to sleep.

That turned out to not be such a good idea since once I started, I could spend hours browsing through the 1,000 illustrations and flower planting guides. I didn’t choose to live on a hillside but the photos of spring bulbs on a rise sure looks familiar during springs now in my garden.

The photos were a definite draw. What was even better were the detailed descriptions of flowers and their growing requirements. Six horticulturists contributed their expertise as book editors, which explains why this vintage gardening book still holds its value.

Photographs of daylilies, left, and delphiniums, right. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Photographs of daylilies, left, and delphiniums, right. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I know it’s easy to think that everything one needs to know is available on the internet but that’s not true. These older, vintage gardening books reflect a different time but still offer valuable information on how to successfully grow plant varieties.

As our climate continues to rapidly change, we will continue to lose species and these old books will also document varieties that we may no longer have.

If you’re looking for a gift for gardener who will enjoy this book, we have one edition in excellent condition for sale.

No, it’s not my original one, I have that one happily in my library in a place of honor next to my Grandmother’s photo. I have a feeling she knew what she was doing when she sent me that book!

Charlotte

Best Gardener Gift Idea

This is one of our custom gardener gift sets, ready to ship for Valentine's Day.

This is one of our custom gardener gift sets, ready to ship for Valentine's Day.

Best Gardener Gift Ideas

Periodically friends will ask what is a good gardener gift idea and I have several to recommend.

Most gardeners don't have enough good gloves. If they do, they are worn by now, or held on to in spite of the frayed edges, because they have some sentimental value. The best gardening gloves have reinforced fingers but still breath through cotton. I also like the longer cuffs to cover my arms when I'm wrestling shrubs and especially rose bushes.

I've packaged a pair of my favorite gardening gloves in this custom gardener gift set to make gift giving easier. 

Sneak peek at what's inside this custom gardener gift kit, the book has a charming book mark.

Sneak peek at what's inside this custom gardener gift kit, the book has a charming book mark.

Isn't this adorable? Cute bookmark is attached to the book so you don't misplace it.

Isn't this adorable? Cute bookmark is attached to the book so you don't misplace it.

In addition to the wonderful leather gloves, this custom gardener gift set includes a beautiful book with fun recipes; four fabric coasters; thread snips that can be used in the garden to dead head flowers; some wildflower seeds and our long-lasting, handmade gardener soap.

There are also three Bluebird Gardens honey samplers but I was going to leave that as a surprise.

Sorry, it's no longer avaiable, I sent it to a colleague as a thank you gift.

Charlotte

Winter Tomato Plant

Miriam, my 2017-2018 winter tomato plant, is starting to flower in one of my bay windows.

Miriam, my 2017-2018 winter tomato plant, is starting to flower in one of my bay windows.

Winter Tomato Plant

Most people have tropical plants and some herbs growing inside over winter. I do as well but I also add one tomato plant to my indoor winter garden.

This year's winter tomato plant was literally a last minute planting. I found the little seedling growing in a flower bed where I had planted hyssop starts from a friend's garden so this wasn't even a tomato start from my garden.

Over the years, I have added a tomato plant to my inside garden to winter over with my other tropical plants. Some years this one tomato plant makes it through spring to spend a second year outside providing me delicious fruits. In their native habitat of Peru, tomatoes grow as perennials, living for many years to produce fruit without the plant dying off and having to be re-grown every year.

I was so busy with other things this year I forgot to set aside a tomato plant to winter over inside. Usually it's a plant that was sacrificed to feed tomato hornworms early summer so that by moving inside time in October, the tomato plant is starting to recover. I didn't have many hornworms this year so I didn't have to segregate a tomato plant from the rest.

When I recognized the seedling growing in a flower bed, I pulled the seedling out of the ground, brought it inside, plopped it into a six-inch pot with fresh potting soil and stuck it in a southwest inside window.

At Christmas, I noticed the first flowers on the now 2-foot high plant so it must be happy where I plopped it. Time to do a little pollinating!

How to Pollinate Inside Tomato Plant

The absence of pollinating insects can be a problem when growing indoor tomatoes so hand pollinating is helpful. In nature, bees and other pollinators move the pollen from one flower to the next, matchmakers in the plant's scheme to survive by producing fruit with seeds. Since I don't have tiny pollinators available, I will be doing the honors.

One way to help a winter tomato plant pollinate is to tap the stems lightly when flowers are in bloom to spread pollen. That's easy enough to do but not a reliable way to hand pollinate.

I have also used a cotton swab tapped into each flower to move the pollen around. That's a better way and ensures the pollen ends up where it needs to be.

Besides giving the plant watered down fertilizer every couple of weeks, I turn the plant daily so each side gets adequate sun and flower and fruit production is even.

Miriam is now staked to keep the plant upright.

The full Miriam, now about 3-foot tall and needing a taller stake to keep leaning into as she grows.

The full Miriam, now about 3-foot tall and needing a taller stake to keep leaning into as she grows.

Miriam the tomato plant is keeping other tropicals company this winter season. A banana plant, right, and several tropical hibiscus plants give one of my reading nooks a nice garden flavor.

And yes, I have my chairs facing the windows instead of the inside of the room. That way I can sit and enjoy the view without having to turn the chairs. When friends visit, I turn them back into the room or we've been known to sit as the chairs are and enjoy the view together.

Miriam the tomato plant spends her days in this window with southeastern exposure. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Miriam the tomato plant spends her days in this window with southeastern exposure. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Will this tomato plant have tomatoes?

With a little care, winter growing tomatoes will produce in about the same time as their outdoor counterparts so yes, I should have some tomatoes by March.

Charlotte

Christmas Cacti or Cactuses

One of my Christmas cactus currently in bloom, see the smooth edges of the leaves?

One of my Christmas cactus currently in bloom, see the smooth edges of the leaves?

Christmas Cacti or Cactuses

Or should I say Christmas "cacti?" I have a tendency to call them "cactuses," too. Whatever you call them, these living plants from where I grew up in Brazil, north of Rio de Janeiro, are a favorite of a number of friends of mine. They like to compare photos, and tips, for keeping these South American plants happy and in bloom so here are a few photos of mine currently in bloom.

Christmas versus Thanksgiving Cactus

First, there are two kinds of Christmas cactus that often get confused. The original Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii) is no longer available on the commercial market so if someone has a start from grandmother, most likely it is a true Christmas cactus. The leaves of the old-fashioned Christmas cactus are rounded.

By comparison, the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) has pointed ends on the green fronds. They also tend to bloom earlier than the old-fashioned Christmas cactus, like this white version that was in bloom a month ago.

This is a Thanksgiving cactus, note the spikes on the green leaves.

This is a Thanksgiving cactus, note the spikes on the green leaves.

There is a third popular cactus available commercially and that one blooms in spring so it's sold as an Easter cactus.

Cactus Care

These tropical plants prefer indirect southern exposure. They will tolerate low light, but perform best in bright, indirect light in the home. Brighter light is beneficial during the winter, but full summer sun can result in pale plants. If you have them outside in the summer, keep plants in a semi-shady location.

Christmas cacti prefer temperatures of 70 to 80 F for their April to September growing season.

According to Dr. David Trinklein, University of Missouri Extension, Christmas cacti do not grow well in a wet root environment. Christmas cacti tolerate under watering better than overwatering. Water only when the growing medium is dry to the touch. If you put a saucer under the pot to collect drainage water, empty it to keep excess water from wicking back into the pot. Failure to do so results in a soggy root environment, which is an open invitation to root rot.

Reduce watering from fall through spring. Only fertilize plants during their growth period of early spring through late summer. Use a regular fertilizer at one-quarter strength or a houseplant fertilizer according to label directions.

Keep Christmas cacti slightly pot-bound to induce prolific flowering. Repotting may be necessary every three years. Use a porous, well-drained potting mix. Commercial mixes made for epiphytes are good choices. Make regular peat-lite mixes into epiphytic mixes by adding perlite or sterile sharp sand to increase porosity.

How to Get Christmas Cacti to Rebloom

Reblooming Christmas cacti can be challenging, Trinklein said. The cacti are short-day plants. However, temperature affects their response to day length. In fact, Trinklein says, flowering will occur regardless of day length under cool night conditions (50-55 F).

Prolific flowering occurs when plants are exposed to cool nights with at least 13 hours of darkness. Reduce water to slightly stress the plant at this time to improve flowering. Expose holiday cacti to short days, cool nights and dry conditions in mid-October for full bloom during the holiday season.

Wish I could tell you I follow these rules but I don't. I leave the plants in the same window all year and sometimes forget to check on them to water. They are kept in the cool basement during summer with a southern exposure, which triggers their blooming by mid-November.

When the pots are in bloom, I bring them upstairs so I can enjoy them but keep them with the same southern exposure. Sudden changes in temperature, light or other factors, such as excessive drying of the growing medium, can cause Christmas cacti to drop unopened flower buds.

Poor flowering also happens when stray light interrupts the required long periods of darkness during short-day treatment. Interior home lights, streetlights and even car lights can disrupt the required dark period and cause disappointing flowering.

Christmas cacti are prone to root rot, another reason to water sparingly. Avoid overwatering and maintain strict sanitation. Remove common insect pests, which include mealybug and scale.

Another Thanksgiving cactus in bloom, this one looks red and white in bright light.

Another Thanksgiving cactus in bloom, this one looks red and white in bright light.

I started several Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti in hanging baskets. When a piece falls off because I over watered, I plant the piece back in the hanging basket and most of them easily root to start a new plant with very little care. This red Thanksgiving cactus in the hanging basket has some of the dead cactus pieces in the front, turned brown. 

If you have friends who admire your Christmas cactus, consider taking snips to make starts and get them rooted for next year gifts. Remember to label them so you know what color they are. It can take 3-4 years before a plant is mature enough to start blooming.

Newest Christmas Cactus Addition

One of my master gardener colleagues earlier this summer mentioned she had a Christmas cactus that needed a new home. Without knowing what color or size it was, I volunteered to adopt it. To my delight, the plant was huge. Another friend told me these can live for decades so I found a plant stand to better display the beauty of the plant and now I'm looking for a pot to cover the plastic one.

This is a very old Christmas cactus, I feel so lucky to now be the caretaker of this lovely plant.

This is a very old Christmas cactus, I feel so lucky to now be the caretaker of this lovely plant.

I placed the plant in my southern exposure basement window, not expecting any blooms for this holiday. To my surprise, buds started within weeks of the plant settling in and now it's covered in blooms, just in time for Christmas.

From my home to yours, Merry Christmas!

Charlotte

Miniature Red Roses on Sale

Now this is what I call a great sale, and to have it attached to a flowering plant, even better.

Now this is what I call a great sale, and to have it attached to a flowering plant, even better.

Miniature Red Roses on Sale

I had popped into a nearby grocery store to get warm when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the 49 cent sale sign over the word "floral." My mother used to joke I could have my glasses off and still spot a plant on sale.

Meandering over to the sale rack, I found the sign was on the side of a row of miniature red roses, most of them with spent blooms. The plants themselves were still dark green and strong so I knew they were still growing. I picked three. I stick with the rule of uneven numbers to decorate, even with plants.

The sale price was attached to these red miniature roses, now on their way to my house.

The sale price was attached to these red miniature roses, now on their way to my house.

The lady at the check-out wasn't sure these would pull through but I was. These were marked down just because they had stopped blooming. A little time and sun, and they would be back to being appreciated.

I cut off the yellowing buds, sprayed the leaves with a room-temperature water mist, let drip dry, then mixed worm castings from my worm farms in a corner of the potted soil. I thought about un-potting them first but the soil was loose enough to easily add the castings and fluff them into the existing soil.

Worm castings are now available in bags at most garden centers. You can also make small worm farms in a garage corner with kitchen scraps and a handful of red wrigglers and collect your own during the growing season.

The potted roses spent a few days in a sunny spot and soon the rest of the buds were starting to open.

One of my friends in the nursery business recently told me sales of roses are down in general, although as a cut flower they are still a popular choice. The most cut red roses are sold for Valentine's Day, although Mother's Day is also a contender.

Over the years, of all of the roses I have grown,  miniature roses are the easiest and hardier ones to grow and, with a little care, will continuously bloom through our USDA zone 5b growing seasons. I enjoy growing the other varieties, too but I won't hesitate buying these small varieties whenever I find them on sale.

After a little compost tea, the roses are my dining room table center decoration.

After a little compost tea, the roses are my dining room table center decoration.

I also used to tell my husband-at-the-time, if he wanted to buy me flowers, I for one would appreciate having them still growing. Once danger of frost is over, I can plant gift flowers in the garden and keep enjoying them through the years.

Look at these now, tucked in a basket on my dining room table. Cut flowers are nice but a basket of potted roses that will keep on growing and blooming - well, even nicer!

Charlotte

How to Make Amaryllis Bulb Gifts

How to Make Amaryllis Bulb Gifts

No surprise, I suppose, but I like to give plants as gifts, especially a plant that promises beauty in the dead of winter. One of my favorite plants to give as gifts is amaryllis. These native South American bulbs are easy to find at garden centers, especially in winter.

A number of friends have told me they pass them up because they think they are hard to grow. Far from it. Once potted, amaryllis require a little water only when soil goes dry and maybe a stick to hold up the stem once the bud shows up. The flowers are stunning and last 1-2 weeks depending on room temperature.

Part of the fun is watching them grow, the stems can grow an inch or two daily.

To prepare them for gifts, open the amaryllis box to see how far along the bulb is growing. You want a bulb with only the bud tip showing.

If you are gifting this to someone who doesn't think they can grow anything, find a bud that's already growing a few inches. A day or two in a sunny window will turn the blond plant green and it will bloom quickly. 

It still amazes me these flowers will start without even being in soil. They store their energy in the bulb so it doesn't take much to get them started:

Amaryllis bulb getting a start on sprouting still in the gift box.

Amaryllis bulb getting a start on sprouting still in the gift box.

Look for the bud starts, those will turn into flowers. This bulb doesn't have a bud so it will grow leaves to collect energy in the bulb for the next blooming cycle.

To easily turn them into gifts, write up instructions on how to care for the bulbs. I copied my own published gardening article on amaryllis care and added them to the boxed bulbs:

my gardening to distraction article on how to care for amaryllis bulbs explains how to care for these south american flowers.

my gardening to distraction article on how to care for amaryllis bulbs explains how to care for these south american flowers.

No need to be fancy with packaging, just add a ribbon to tie the printed detailed instructions to the bulb boxes.

Once gift-wrapped, store them in a cooler spot away from sun so the bulbs aren't tempted to grow before you give them. These are tropical plants so they don't like temperatures below 60F.

Add a little gift card wishing the recipient well and there you have it, a fun and unusual growing gift for all sorts of occasions!

Boxed amaryllis bulbs with Gardening to Distraction article copies ready for gift-giving.

Boxed amaryllis bulbs with Gardening to Distraction article copies ready for gift-giving.

And guess who is happy to keep the left-overs....

Charlotte

 

Blooming Sign of Christmas Holiday

RED THANKSGIVING CACTUS IN BLOOM NOVEMBER 28, 2015 (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I don't know what marks the beginning of the Christmas holidays for you but for me it's when my Thanksgiving cactus  (Schlumbergera truncata) starts to bloom. Not exactly the best of signs because some of my plants bloom as early as September!

The leaf cactus I have are a collection of plant gifts and after Christmas sales plants. Since their identification tags were missing, I plopped them into hanging baskets in a basement window with filtered southeastern exposure. The basement stays cool all year around; they prefer temperatures around 65F, although plants in my office were exposed to temperature fluctuations and still bloomed well.

My main challenge is not to over-water. These are leaf cactus, after all, requiring less water than most and more than some.

Besides cooler temperature, the other requirement these easy to grow plants have is light exposure. To prompt them to bloom, they need a period of less light. As the seasons change and fall daylight gets less, that change in light exposure is enough to tell the plant it's time to bud and bloom.

And how do I know this is a Thanksgiving cactus instead of a Christmas cactus? 

Unless you have a very old plant, most plants sold on the market today are Thanksgiving cactus, grown to bloom around Christmas for gift-giving. 

Charlotte

Friendship of Books

t's rained all day; now they're calling for snow - again. At least I spent part of yesterday in the garden getting ready for spring. I plan for these days mid-summer, hunting yard sales and prowling used book stores picking up interesting vintage gardening books I challenge myself not to read until I'm snowbound and ready to go somewhere new.

That's one of the beauty of books; I can read a passage and see the scene in my mind's eye, relishing lush dialogue and paint strokes words leave in a paragraph. It's as easy to travel to 18th Century Paris in an art book or learn about 20th Century British gardening tips in color illustrations, all at my own pace. And I can easily turn a page and go back to see what I've missed instead of regretting not making that mental trip before I left.

So today was the day to take out my stash for this winter: a couple of gardening books; the story of "Rhubarb"  by H.Allen Smith, a loan from a neighbor, and a charming dark brown leather-bound book I quickly tucked away in the drawer after I found it for fear I would break my promise and peek. Settled into the sofa with a cup of tea, a blanket and a couple of cats, I opened the pages of "The Friendship of Books," dated 1911. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about all the people who almost a century ago must have prized this little publication of poems and essays about books, the chapters echoing books being "friends at home, inspirers of heart, educators of the mind, teachers in life, companions in pleasure" and "silent friendly spirits." They don't have to be many; I remember my mother telling me about my grandmother'sthree prized books she had growing up, reading them so often some of the page edges were worn thin and crumbled.

Today when we're all twittering and so "connected," it's refreshing to sit back, set all troubles aside and be reminded of the wonderful, quiet friends waiting on shelves to keep us company.

Charlotte