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Forcing Bulbs for Christmas

Finding an extraordinary holiday centerpiece is so easy if you take the time to “force bulbs” such as the classic Amaryllis or Paperwhite. It takes approximately 4 to 6 weeks for them to go from bulb to bloom so a trip to a local nursery or garden center NOW is all it takes to locate the bulbs. A starter kit usually comes with a filler (special potting soil containing a medium with ample drainage, or glass beads.) and a container to plant them in. Or, you can save your bulbs from year to year as I do.

About them:

Amaryllis ‘Minerva’

Amaryllis – Show stopper trumpet-looking flowers on tall sturdy stems with bright green shiny leaves. Blooms come in colors of red, white, pink, or a combination such as pink and white.

Paperwhites – According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was smitten with the reflection of himself in a pool of water. He stared at his image until the gods turned him into a flower. Blooms of Paperwhites come in white or cream colors and they have a heavenly fragrance that permeates the room they adorn.

How to Grow Them:

Amaryllis – The filler will be very dry so take a few minutes to soak it before planting the bulb. Place the bulbs with the root side down into the filler and be sure to gently press the filler around the bulb to anchor it in place. Place the bulbs in a bright sunny room. A window sill is a good choice.

Paperwhites – They will do best in a shallow bowl, dish, or a bulb vase.

General Care:

Amaryllis – They will become top heavy, so as the plant grows tall it will require staking to keep the stem supporting the beautiful blooms from tipping.

Paperwhites – Take care not to let the bulbs dry out. Keep them watered. If they are not kept fully hydrated, they will not thrive.

Saving your bulbs from year to year:

After they are completely done blooming, cut off the stalks that the flowers bloomed on. Continue to care for the green leaves (the plant) until spring when they can be transplanted into the ground OR your container can be moved to a sunny location. Feed with an all-purpose fertilizer. Dig up in the fall, trim all of the foliage back to about ¼ inch from the bulb and allow to dry. Start the process over again.

Many a Christmas comes and goes and I wish I had remembered to mark my calendar to give myself the approximate 6 weeks to start these stunning plants.

Well, this year I am going to have an attractive centerpiece, and I hope you will too!

 

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

Holly is a regular contributor to Appleton Monthly magazine.

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Amaryllis Story

by OCMGA Master Gardener Rich Fischer

amaryllis 2I honestly don’t know much about amaryllis and I only have one plant, but it is an interesting plant with an interesting story. 

This plant I got from my mother-in-law in, Gertrude Lenore Armbruster Taipale, when she moved from her apartment in Superior, Wisconsin, into an assisted living home about 8 years ago.  Gramma Gertie as I lovingly called her died two years ago but I think of her often. 

When I got this plant I didn’t quite know what to do with it so I planted it in the vegetable garden where it grew for the summer and it seemed to like it there.  Then Gertie told me to put it in a small pot with some potting soil and store it in the basement for the winter.  The next spring I brought it up from the basement and found a nice place by a window in the house for it.    

 This year I brought this plant up from the basement two weeks before Memorial Day and watered it.  The plant had one little sprig poking out of the pot at that time.  Then when I had a house full of Fischers over for a cookout on Memorial Day it was in full bloom.  What dumb luck!    Not only did it make a nice table setting, but also made me think of Pat’s mom on the very day when we’re supposed to remember the dead. 

amaryrillis 1The amaryllis shoots up 1 or 2 very tall scapes with a large red flower on each scape.  They are beautiful, but only last about a week.   When the flowers start to shrivel I cut off the scapes.  Then about 4 to 6 large iris like leaves shoot up and grow all summer.  I no longer put the plant in the garden, but leave it in the smallish pot and water it just like all the other house plants. Around October the leaves start to whither and I put the pot on a shelf in the basement until next spring.    

That is my one and only amaryllis story.  Never read a word about amaryllis care except what Gertie told me.  She’s gone now but her memory and her beautiful amaryllis live on. 

Rich Fischer 

Living Christmas Trees

by Outagamie County Master Gardener Terry Tess

real-potted-christmas-trees-sydneyEach year many people choose to bring a living tree into the home for Christmas. Smaller potted and even some balled and burlapped evergreens make great candidates for a living Christmas tree. Living Christmas trees should only stay in the home for 2-3 weeks and prefer cool room temperatures. They should be “eased in” to the home by holding them in an enclosed porch or garage until ready to be set up in the house and then “eased out” in the same manner when finished. Lighting the tree with cool LED lights is also a big help. Treating the tree with an anti-desiccant spray such as Wilt-Stop will also slow down moisture loss. Water the tree every day as it can never be allowed to dry out. Once the decorations are removed, plan on planting the tree immediately. This means that you need to plan ahead and prepare a planting hole now to receive the tree in January.

7c4cca738d67b1976b24744bf6c62e3aChoose a proper location in your yard to be the final home for your Christmas tree. Take into consideration the ultimate size of the tree as well as its soil and light requirements. Dig the hold before the ground freezes. The size of the hold should be as deep as the root ball and 2-3 times as wide. Amend the soil with leaf compost and store the soil in a location where it will not freeze and be easy to access in January. Now fill the hole with straw to slow down the frost. At planting time remove the straw from the hole and install the tree using the saved soil. Water the plant heavily and mulch around the tree using the same straw that once filled the hole. Plan on watering the tree again in early spring once the soil has thawed.

What a great holiday tradition to begin this year and to remember for many years to come as the trees grow and flourish!

Terry is a Design Build Manager/Horticulturist/Registered Landscape Architect for the Vande Hey Company in Little Chute, Wisconsin.

Easter Lilies

by aggie horticulture (Texas A&M University)

Along a few miles of the Pacific Coast at the Oregon and California border lies a unique area where the ideal combination of climate, soil, water and man has developed a product of deep meaning, beauty and tradition – the Easter Lily.

The Harbor-Brookings bench of Southwest Curry County, Oregon and the Smith River area of Northwest Del Norte County, California, is known as the Easter Lily Capital of the World. Here, lily growers toil year-round in their fields to produce nearly all the bulbs from which the large trumpet-shaped flowers bloom.

easter-lily-1-1Uniquely suited for the production of superior quality Easter Lily bulbs, the area offers a climate of year-round mild temperatures afforded by a protective bay, deep, rich, alluvial soils and abundant rainfall – the exact measure of ingredients needed to produce a consistently high quality bulb crop. The lily-perfect conditions combined with the ingenuity and dedication of the area’s growers are why over 95% of the world’s potted Easter Lilies originate from this narrow coastal strip.

The Easter Lily Capital is accessible only by a narrow and winding coastal highway banked by magnificent Redwood forests, overlooking the spectacularly scenic Pacific Ocean. It seems only fitting that the symbolic flower of Easter, which adds beauty, grace and fragrance to millions of homes, businesses and churches, has its roots in such a pristine and beautiful corner of the world.

The Easter Lily — the Latin name is Lilium longiforum – is native to the southern islands of Japan. In the 1880’s, it was widely cultivated in Bermuda and bulbs were shipped to this country. Around the turn of the century, the Japanese took over the annual growing exportation of Easter Lilies to the United States, and continued to dominate the U. S. export market until the start of World War II.

Precise growing conditions are necessary since the Easter Lily bulbs must be cultivated in the fields for three, and sometimes four years, before they are ready to be shipped to commercial greenhouse growers. Those years, however, are not a carefree time for the bulbs nor for the growers. The bulbs are never dormant and require constant care and attention to assure superior quality and cleanliness. Each bulb is handled up to 40 times before it is ready to be shipped.

A commercial- sized bulb often starts as a small, baby bulblet growing underground on the stem of its mother plant. When the mother plant is harvested, the bulblet is carefully removed and planted in another field. One year later, the bulblet, now called a yearling, is dug up again. The yearling is planted in a new field for another full year of cultivation and specialized care to allow it to grow into its full potential, maturity and status as a commercial bulb.

Bulb harvesting takes place each year in the fall, during late September and early October. At harvest time, the lily fields become a bustle of hectic activity as the growers orchestrate a 3-ring circus. Commercial-sized bulbs are dug, cleaned, graded, sorted, packed and cooled. Yearling bulbs are dug, treated and re-planted in newly-prepared fields for the following year’s commercial crop. And, baby bulblets are stripped from the mother plants and tenderly placed in the ground to start them on the road to becoming commercials in 2 or 3 years.

Easter-LilyThe commercial bulbs are shipped to greenhouse growers throughout the United States and Canada who force the plants under controlled conditions to flower in time for Easter. This is a very tricky process since Easter falls on a different day each year, dependent upon celestial bodies. The first Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Easter can be any day between March 22 and April 25. Crop scheduling and timing is critical – another reason why the bulbs have to be of such a consistent high quality with reliable vigor and performance. The flowers must bloom exactly when they’re supposed to, with no margin for error.

From the fields to the greenhouse to your home, the Easter Lily remains the traditional, time-honored flower of Easter. Symbolic of a resurrection, Easter Lilies rise from earthy graves as scaly bulbs, and bloom into majestic flowers that embody the beauty, grace and tranquillity of the special region from which they originate.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR EASTER LILIES KEEP ON GIVING

The Easter Lily, the traditional time-honored flower of Easter, is highly regarded as a joyful symbol of beauty, hope and life. The large, trumpet-shaped, fragrant white flowers make a meaningful gift that embodies the very essence of the celebration of Easter. Whether you plan to give the potted plants as a gift or use them to decorate your own home, the following tips will help make your Easter Lilies keep on giving.

Two of the greatest charms of the Easter Lily are form and fragrance, so look for high quality plants that are aesthetically pleasing from all angles. Select medium-to-compact plants that are well-balanced and proportional in size – not too tall and not too short.

For the longest possible period of enjoyment in your home, look for plants with flowers in various stages of ripeness. For example, the best selection would be a plant with just one or two open or partly open blooms, and three or more puffy, unopened buds of different sizes. The ripe puffy buds will open up within a few days, while the tighter ones will bloom over the next several days.

As the flowers mature, remove the yellow anthers before the pollen starts to shed. This gives longer flower life and prevents the pollen from staining the white flowers. When a mature flower starts to wither after its prime, cut it off to make the plant more attractive while you still enjoy the fresher, newly-opened blooms.

When selecting plants, be sure to also cheek out the foliage: an abundance of dark, rich green foliage is not only attractive, but a vital sign of good plant health. The foliage should appear dense and plentiful, all the way down to the soil line, a good indicator of an active, healthy root system.

Be wary of Easter Lilies displayed in paper, plastic or mesh sleeves. The protective sleeves are used for shipping and should be removed immediately upon arrival at the store. While the packaging may seem convenient, the quality of the plants will deteriorate if they are left sleeved too long. Also avoid waterlogged plants, especially if the plant looks wilted. This could be a sign of root rot.

In the home, Easter Lilies prefer moderately cool temperatures. Recommended daytime temperatures are 60o to 65o F. with slightly cooler night temperatures. Avoid placing plants near drafts, and avoid exposure to excess heat or dry air from appliances, fireplaces or heating ducts. The lily will thrive near a window in bright, indirect natural daylight, but avoid glaring, direct sunlight.

Easter Lilies prefer moderately moist, well-drained soil. Water the plant thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry to a light touch, but avoid over-watering. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, be careful not to let the plant sit in trapped, standing water. For best results, remove the plant from decorative pots or covers, take it over the sink and water thoroughly until water seeps out of the pot’s drain holes to completely saturate the soil. Allow the plant to air for a few minutes and discard the excess water before replacing it back into its decorative pot cover.

After the last bloom has withered and has been cut away, you can continue to grow your Easter Lilies, and even plant them outside in your garden to enjoy them for years to come. Once the lilies have finished flowering, place the potted plants in a sunny location. Continue to water thoroughly as needed, and add one teaspoon of slow-release Osmocote fertilizer every 6 weeks. You can move the pots to a sunny location outdoors after the danger of frost has passed.

To plant your Easter Lilies outside, prepare a well-drained garden bed in a sunny location with rich, organic matter. Use a well- drained planting mix, or a mix of one part soil, one part peat moss and one part perlite. Good drainage is the key for success with lilies. To ensure adequate drainage, raise the garden bed by adding good soil to the top of the bed, thus obtaining a deeper topsoil and a rise to the planting area.

Plant the Easter Lily bulbs 3 inches below ground level, and mound up an additional 3 inches of topsoil over the bulb. Plant bulbs at least 12 to 18 inches apart in a hole sufficiently deep so that the bulbs can be placed in it with the roots spread out and down, as they naturally grow. Spread the roots and work the prepared soil in around the bulbs and the roots, leaving no air pockets. Water in immediately and thoroughly after planting. Try not to allow the soil to heave or shift after planting.

As the original plants begin to die back, cut the stems back to the soil surface. New growth will soon emerge. The Easter Lilies, which were forced to bloom under controlled greenhouse conditions in March, bloom naturally in the summer. You may be rewarded with a second bloom later this summer, but most likely you will have to wait until next June or July to see your Easter Lilies bloom again.

Another planting tip to consider is that lilies like their roots in shade and their heads in the sun. Mulching helps conserve moisture in between waterings, keeps the soil cool and loose, and provides a fluffy, nutritious medium for the stem roots. Or, a more attractive alternative would be to plant a “living mulch,” or a low ground cover of shallow-rooted, complementary annuals or perennials. The stately Easter Lilies rising above lacy violas or primulas is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also sound gardening.

The Easter Lily bulbs are surprisingly hardy even in cold climates. Just be sure to provide winter protection by mulching the ground with a thick, generous layer of straw, pine needles, leaves, ground corncob, pieces of boxes or bags. Carefully remove the mulch in the spring to allow new shoots to come up, as your Easter Lilies will keep on giving beauty, grace and fragrance in years to come.

On March 17, we’re all Irish!

As we move into March, our thoughts turn to spring and gardens and gardening. For those of us living in the north, we can break out the green in mid-March by celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, whether or not we’re Irish. The ubiquitous symbol of the holiday — the shamrock — appears on clothing, signs, flags, and has been the inspiration for the color and name of the milkshakes that appear at McDonald’s this time of year. It made me wonder, though: what is a shamrock?

tumblr_static_nnv6lqv8140gw0kgk8ko44k8Turns out that a shamrock is really just clover.  Shamrock usually refers to either the species Trifolium dubium (lesser clover, Irish: seamair bhuí) or Trifolium repens (white clover, Irish: seamair bhán). However, other three-leaved plants—such as Medicago lupulina, Trifolium pratense, and Oxalis acetosella—are sometimes called shamrocks or clovers. There is no consensus as to the species of clover that is considered the “true” shamrock. The humble little plant has quite the history in Ireland and is mentioned in literature as far back as 1571 as a plant eaten by the Irish. By the end of the sixteenth century the shamrock had become known to English writers as a plant particularly associated with the Irish, but only with a confused notion that the shamrock was a plant eaten by them.

The shamrock was chosen Ireland’s national emblem because of the legend that St. Patrick had used it to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is the idea that God is really three-in-one: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. According to the legend, Patrick demonstrated the meaning of the Three-in-One by picking a shamrock from the grass growing at his feet and showing it to his listeners. He told them that just as the shamrock is one leaf with three parts, God is one entity with three Persons.

Another St. Patrick myth is the claim that he banished snakes from Ireland.

It’s true no snakes exist on the island today, but they never did. Ireland, after all, is surrounded by icy ocean waters—much too cold to allow snakes to migrate from Britain or anywhere else. But since snakes often represent evil in literature, “when Patrick drives the snakes out of Ireland, it is symbolically saying he drove the old, evil, pagan ways out of Ireland [and] brought in a new age,” says classics professor Philip Freeman of Luther College in Iowa. The snakes myth and others—such as Patrick using three-leafed shamrocks to explain the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)—were likely spread by well-meaning monks centuries after St. Patrick’s death, Freeman said.

Until the 1970s, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was a minor religious holiday. A priest would acknowledge the feast day, and families would celebrate with a big meal, but that was about it. “St. Patrick’s Day was basically invented in America by Irish-Americans,” Freeman said.  Eighteenth-century Irish soldiers fighting with the British in the U.S. Revolutionary War held the first St. Patrick’s Day parades. Some soldiers, for example, marched through New York City in 1762 to reconnect with their Irish roots. Other parades followed in the years and decades after, including well-known celebrations in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, primarily for flourishing Irish immigrant communities.

 

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The Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day

 

Wearing Green, Dyeing River Green on St. Patrick’s Day

Timothy Meagher is an expert on Irish-American history at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.  In the 19th century, as St. Patrick’s Day parades were flourishing, wearing the color green became a show of commitment to Ireland, Meagher said. In 1962 the show of solidarity took a spectacular turn in Chicago when the city decided to dye a portion of the Chicago River green. The tradition started when parade organizer Steve Bailey, head of a plumbers’ union, noticed how a dye used to detect river pollution had stained a colleague’s overalls a brilliant green, according to greenchicagoriver.com. Why not, Bailey thought, turn the river green on St. Patrick’s Day? So began the tradition.

The environmental impact of the dye is minimal compared with sources of pollution such as bacteria from sewage-treatment plants, said Margaret Frisbie, the executive director of the advocacy group Friends of the Chicago River. Her group focuses instead on turning the Chicago River into a welcoming habitat full of fish, herons, turtles, and beavers. If the river becomes a wildlife haven, the thinking goes, Chicagoans won’t want to dye their river green.”Our hope is that, as the river continues to improve, ultimately people can get excited about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day different ways,” she said.

Today, the U.S. tradition of St. Patrick’s Day parades, packed pubs, and green silliness has invaded Ireland with full force, noted Freeman, the classics professor. The country, he noted, figured out the popularity of St. Patrick’s Day was a good way to boost spring tourism.”Like anybody else,” he said, “they can take advantage of a good opportunity.”

“Like anybody else,” he said, “they can take advantage of a good opportunity.”

Did Your Christmas Cactus Bloom?

Cactus_de_noël_revMany of us have Christmas Cactus plants that we’ve nurtured since they were small, or maybe inherited from a close friend or relative so there are sentiments when the plant blooms. What if it doesn’t bloom, though? Don’t immediately assume that there’s something wrong or get rid of the plant!

Dan Mahr from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has written an extensive and authoritative article on these seasonal bloomers that will help you understand the background of this beloved plant, as well as provide great information on its care. Did you know that these plants are, indeed, true cacti related to the giant saguaros in Arizona but they come from Brazil? Did you know that there are over 100 cultivars that have been developed with flowers ranging from deep red to pure white?

Sit back with a cup of tea and read up on this delightful seasonal bloomer!

http://wimastergardener.org/?q=HolidayCactus

Happy Thanksgiving!

thanksgiving-turkey9“In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.”

Thus begins the History of Thanksgiving on the History Channel’s web page. I admit that it has been more than a few years since I was in grade school (grammar school? elementary school? – the name continues to change depending on where you live). As a result of this time lapse, it turns out that there are many, many things about one of most beloved holidays that I either forgot or never knew. For instance, there were no pies! What?! – Thanksgiving with no pies??!! Also, it’s likely that the meal may have consisted mainly of venison.

Most families have traditions surrounding Thanksgiving — a time to gather, enjoy being together, and not worry about buying or opening gifts. Like most Americans, our traditions involved the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (something that my mom still won’t miss each year), and watching football. Note: for those of us living in Wisconsin, the Thanksgiving football game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will hold special significance and, I suspect, an incredible number of viewers due to the retiring of former Quarterback Brett Favre’s iconic number 4.

For more information about the Thanksgiving holiday — both it’s origins and subsequent innovations — visit the History Channel’s complete coverage on the webpage.

Have a blessed and safe Thanksgiving holiday!

Outagamie County Master Gardeners Association