Tag Archive | perennials

Potted Bulb Garden and Cutting Back Perennials

“It would be fun to have specific directions as to how to build a potted bulb garden.    I think it has to sit in the refrigerator (40 degree area) for 12 weeks.

Also you could write about the proper time to cut down perennials.  I’ve heard the new thinking is let them stand until spring (to feed our winter friends) and then chop them down inch by inch to create mulch.



Hi Denise,

Thank you for the email regarding your bulbs and perennials.

Forcing Bulbs

Bulbs made to flower at other than normal times are said to be forced. The practice of forcing is commonly used to flower daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, crocus and other spring bulbs during the winter. With proper planning and care, bulbs can supply color for the home from late November until early April, when they begin to flower normally outdoors.

Steps for forcing include selecting the most suitable varieties, potting bulbs properly in well-drained potting medium, providing proper
cold-temperature treatment, bringing bulbs into a cool room, and placing the plants in a display location when well-developed.

Stage 1:  Preparation
Any spring-flowering bulb can be forced, but to be successful, select types and varieties known to be good forcers. Hyacinths and daffodils are generally the easiest to force. Tulips are slightly more difficult, but with proper treatments they can be forced successfully. Many small bulbs such as crocus, grape hyacinth and snowdrops also may be forced.

The general procedure for forcing all these bulbs is similar. Begin by buying only top-quality, flowering-size bulbs for indoor forcing. Good bulbs contain ingredients necessary for successfully producing roots, leaves and flowers.

Hyacinths are usually the most easily forced spring bulbs. They may be forced in water or potted in a container. Potting should be done in late September or early October. Plants will flower about one month after being brought indoors from the chilling treatment. Earliest bloom from bulbs can be expected about mid-January.

Many varieties of daffodils can be forced. Paperwhite Narcissus are suitable for earliest forcing either in pots or in water.

All varieties should be potted before the end of October for adequate root growth and chilling. Dates listed in the table are the earliest that bulbs planted in October should be brought into forcing conditions. Most varieties flower about one month after being brought indoors, although timing varies due to varieties and individual forcing conditions.

Hyacinth varieties for forcing:
Variety        Color        Pot no later than    Earliest date to bring indoors
Anne Marie        bright pink    Oct. 1            late December
Delft Blue        porcelain blue    Oct. 1        late December
Jan Bos        red        Oct. 1            late December
L’Innocence        white        Oct. 1            late December
Carnegie        white        Oct. 1            early January
Myosotis        pale blue    Oct. 1            early January
Ostara            dark blue    Oct. 1            early January
Pink Pearl        pink        Oct. 1            early January
City of Harlem    yellow        Oct. 15        mid-February
King of the Blues    deep blue    Oct. 15        mid-February
Lady Derby        rose pink    Oct. 15        late January
Orange Boven        orange-salmon    Oct. 15    late January

Daffodil (Narcissus) varieties for forcing.
Variety        Color                Forcing dates
Accent            white; salmon cup        March to April
Barrett Browning    white; orange cup        January to April
Bridal Crown        golden yellow        March to April
Carlton        double white; orange center    January to February
Cassata        creamy to pale yellow    January to April
Dutch Master        golden yellow        January to April
February Gold    bright yellow        January to February
Flower Record    white; orange-rimmed cup    January to February
Fortune        yellow; coppery-orange cup    January to April
Ice Follies        white; yellow cup        January to April
Las Vegas        white; lemon yellow cup    January to April
Mt. Hood        ivory white            January to April
Tete a Tete        yellow miniature        January to February
Unsurpassable    yellow                March to April

Tulip varieties for forcing.
Variety        Color                Earliest date to bring indoors
Apeldoorn        orange-scarlet        early February
Apricot Beauty    salmon-rose            early January
Attilla        purple violet        mid-January
Bellona        golden yellow        early January
Blizzaard        creamy white            early February
Christmas Gold    deep yellow            early January
Christmas Marvel    cherry pink            early January
Couleur Cardinal    cardinal red            early February
DeWet (General)    orange                early January
First Lady        reddish-violet        early January
Garden Party        white-edged red        early February
Gudoshnik        pale yellow streaked; rose pink    early February
Jewel of Spring    yellow-streaked red        early February
Kansas            white                early January
Make Up        white with red edge        early February
Merry Widow        red with white edge        mid-January
Olympic Flame    yellow-flamed red        early February
Orange Nassau    double-orange scarlet    mid-January
Orange Wonder    bronzy-orange        mid-January
Paul Richter        scarlet red            early January
Peach Blossom    double deep rose        early February
Preludlum        salmon with white base    early January
Queen of Sheba    mahogany-edged orange    early February
Westpoint        yellow                early February

Stage 2:  Potting

The following materials will be needed for potting bulbs:
–Pots 4 to 8 inches in diameter. Short pots known as azalea or bulb pots are preferred.
–A well-drained potting medium such as a blend of Sphagnum peat, vermiculite and perlite. High fertility is not essential, but good drainage is important. No fertilizer is needed at potting time.
–Wood, plastic or metal labels.
–Thermometer for checking temperatures.

All bulbs are normally potted in October.

*Add enough soil mixture to fill the pot so bulbs are placed as follows:
–Hyacinths and tulips: Allow only the tip of the bulb to show above the soil line.
–Daffodils: Plant so about one-half of the bulb shows above the soil line.
–Small bulbs (crocus, snowdrop, grape hyacinth, etc.): Plant so they will be about one inch below the soil line.

*Set the bulbs in the pot. One large bulb may be placed in each 4-inch pot.  Use six tulips, three hyacinths, five daffodils or 15 crocus (or other small bulb) in each 6-inch pot. All bulbs in a pot should be of the same kind and variety to ensure uniform flowering. Place tulips with the flattened side of the bulb toward the outside of the pot.

*Fill around the bulbs with potting medium to the proper height. Firm the medium with light pressure, but avoid tight packing. After planting, the final potting medium line should be about 1/4 to 1/2 inch below the rim of the pot.

*Label each pot with variety of bulb, date of potting and expected date to begin forcing.

*Add water until it drips through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. After about one hour, dump out any water remaining in the saucer.

Stage 3:  Rooting
After potting, keep hardy bulbs where temperatures range between 35 and 48 degrees F; 40 degrees F is ideal. These temperatures may be found in a cool north room, basement, crawl space, bulb cellar, outdoor trench, refrigerator or cold frame.

An unheated basement or storage cellar is most convenient because temperatures don’t fluctuate greatly and the cooling is quicker and more satisfactory. An old refrigerator may be used for a few bulbs.

A cold frame is easily built outdoors and may later be used for other gardening activities. Place the pots to be forced in the cold frame and cover them with sawdust, straw, leaves, peat moss, shredded styrofoam or other material. The cold frame should be in a shady place or on the north side of a building so the soil is as uniformly cool as possible in October and November. No sash is needed on the cold frame.

When preparing only a few pots, place them on the surface of the ground close to a building. Cover them with peat moss, leaves, straw or similar material and invert a box or bushel basket over them for protection.

Bulbs stored outdoors will normally get sufficient moisture from the soil around them after initial watering. Indoors, bulbs should be kept moist at all times. Overwatering, however, may cause bulb rot.

Roots should develop soon after potting. Excellent root growth is essential to good growth and flower formation. Potted bulbs should be placed outdoors at least three weeks before the first hard freeze is expected. This is an important period for good root development.

Stage 4:  Top-growth

A few varieties may be brought indoors after about 12 weeks of cooling, but most will require 13 or 14 weeks to develop the necessary roots and top growth. Indoor forcing takes three to four weeks. To extend the bloom period, remove potted bulbs from storage at weekly intervals.

If potting medium and tops are frozen when plants are brought indoors, place plants in a cool room (about 40 degrees F) for two or three days to thaw out slowly. Don’t touch the plant tops when they are frozen.

If plants are not frozen, bring them directly to a cool, bright window where temperatures range close to 60 degrees F. Don’t place them in direct sunlight. Keep bulbs watered, but fertilizer won’t be needed.

Stage 5:  Bloom

When flower buds are almost fully developed, pots may be moved to the area in the house where they are to be displayed. Avoid placing them in full sunlight or close to a heater. The life of the flowers can be lengthened by placing the plants in a cool room at night.

Bulbs that have been forced indoors are usually of little value for outdoor planting afterwards and should be discarded.

Forcing bulbs in water

Tender types of Narcissus such as Paperwhite and Soleil d’Or don’t require cold treatment before being forced into bloom. These are the most popular and dependable bulbs for forcing and may be grown in water with pebbles for support.

Hyacinths can be forced into bloom in containers that will support the bulb with only its base touching the water. Bulbs should be cleaned before placing them in glasses. The best time for starting the bulbs is in October.

Keep the glasses containing the bulbs in a cool (45 to 50 degrees F), dark location until tip growth is 3 to 4 inches long and the flower cluster emerges free from the bulb. This may take 8 to 12 weeks. When the top growth is well-developed, move the glasses to a cool, bright window.

As for your perennials, you can chop them down if they herbaceous (not recommended for roses or other woody perennials that come back on the same stems/foliage).  However, the only thing to keep in mind is to wait until the foliage had died back.  If the stems or leaves are still green, the foliage is still feeding the plant and preparing it for winter.

I hope this information helps you out.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask.


© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Japanese Lanterns and Everlasting Flower Mixes

“I like Japanese Lanterns, but I don’t like to grow just a single thing in a row. I like things in a mix. Do you know of any variety from any seed company that has Japanese Lanterns in their mix. I am starting to make my seed list out for next year, so would appreciate your advice.



Hi Margaret,

Thanks for your email regarding Japanese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi var. franchetii).

Japanese Lanterns

As much as I’d like to tell you that Japanese Lanterns are available in some type of everlasting flower mix, it’s just not the case.  Japanese Lanterns are perennials (winter hardy to Zone 3) and require a little bit of indoor work to start the seeds.  Like their cousins, Ground Cherry (Physalis longifolia) and Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa), Japanese Lanterns require 4-6 weeks to germinate at a soil temperature of 75-85 F (24-30 C).  If planted directly into the soil in your garden, the small seeds are not usually not great performers.

What I recommend doing is starting the seed inside in February/March and transplanting it into your perennial garden.  You can then plant whatever flowers you like around it so that you achieve the ‘mixed’ effect.

Unfortunately, most American seed companies seem to be shying away from selling anything but the most common plants — consider it the “McDonald’s generation” of gardening where people just don’t understand how fantastically beautiful and very easy to grow most near-nonexistent flowers are.  Let me tell you, you don’t see the same trend in Europe!  Anyway, the only reputable place I have found in the U.S. to buy seed for Japanese Lanterns is from Swallowtail Garden Seeds.

I hope this information helps you out.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask!


© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mythbusters: Gardening Edition

For a long time, I have wanted to do a post about all the many myths that float around in the gardening world. Things are quiet here today, so now I get my chance!

As a kid growing up, it seemed like my Uncle V_____ and Aunt V_____ had a lot of crazy ideas about how plants could cross — like not planting different vine crops next to each other because the fruits that come off them will be all messed up.  Even though I had a grade school education of science and biology at the time, that just didn’t seem right. Later, I found out, it wasn’t correct.

So, the time is now. Let’s bust those myths!

Myth #1: Pinch the seed pod off if the onion goes to seed. (http://hamnpotatoes.blogspot.com/2007/11/gardening-basics-onions.html)

Busted!: Years ago that was a common practice because older (heirloom) varieties were prone to bolting. In today’s world with newer hybrids, if you pinch the seed pod off immediately it will keep the center core of the onion from growing and the end result is a smaller onion that will not store well.

Myth #2: Knock the tops of onions over to make larger bulbs. (http://www.blogsmonroe.com/gardening/2008/08/onion-harvest/)

White Onion
Busted!: (And busted big time!) Actually the opposite is true. If you knock the tops over prematurely, that will stop the bulbing process and thus will make the onion more likely to grow during storage because they did not get all of their growing done when they were planted.  Onions will fall over on their own when they are ready to be harvested.

Myth #3: To get sweeter tomatoes, add sugar to the planting hole. (http://www.ehow.com/how_2221948_grow-sweet-tomatoes-sugar.html)

Busted!: Sorry grannies, this is not true. Tomato plants can’t absorb sugar in the soil because it is too complex of a molecule for their metabolic pathway. They produce the sugars they have in the fruit via photosynthesis. The sugar content of a variety is predetermined in the plant’s genetics.
Myth #4: Perennials won’t bloom the first year, especially bare-root. (http://www.howhomearticles.com/archives/20130523/what-kind-of-flower-are-easy-to-grow-for-cutting-the-garden.html)

Half Busted!: With modern breeding and growing techniques, this is no longer true. Go ahead and plant bare root and potted perennials now and enjoy those blooms the first year, assuming you don’t plant them past the time they naturally would bloom. However, if you buy a potted perennial that requires over-wintering, then you will have to wait through the first winter to get the desired blooms. It’s best to inquire from the seller to find out what to expect that first season after planting.

Myth #5: Plant peas and potatoes on St. Patrick’s day. (http://www.mockingbirdmeadows.com/2011/03/17/its-st-patricks-day-time-to-plant-the-peas-and-potatoes/)

Half Busted!: This can’t possibly be true for all climate zones. It’s much better to refer to the updated USDA hardiness zone map and plant according the local last-frost dates as recommended by local gardening experts. We assume grandma never moved far from where she was born so she must have lived her entire life in the same hardiness zone!

Myth #6: Pinch off all blooms of annuals before planting. (http://www.gardeners.com/Growing-Annual-Flowers/5070,default,pg.html)

Busted!: In many cases pinching is no longer an absolute must because today’s commonly available bedding plants are bred to be more compact with continuous blooms. So, you don’t need the pinch to manage growth or promote another flush of blooms.

Myth #7: Planting tomatoes in a trench or up to the first true leaves promotes a sturdier plant. (http://blog.diynetwork.com/maderemade/how-to/plant-tomatoes-in-trenches-for-better-results/)

Half-Busted!: This one is still true for seed propagated heirlooms and hybrids. Planting deeply does help elongate the rooting area since any point on the stem that comes into contact with the soil will root. The exception is when planting grafted tomatoes because if  the scion takes root it will negate the benefits of the grafted rootstock so never plant a grafted tomato too deeply.

Myth #8: Drought-tolerant plants do not need to be watered. (http://carycitizen.com/2013/05/30/gardening-drought-tolerant-plants/)

Busted!: It doesn’t matter if a plant is a barrel cactus or water-guzzling bamboo; it needs water to grow. This is particularly true in its first year, when consistent watering is crucial for a plant’s survival. Another good time to give it a soak, of course, is during a drought.

Myth #9: Just-pruned trees should be coated with a seal to keep fungus out. (http://www.oakwilt.com/paint_oaks.html)

Busted!: At one time bandaging a pruning cut while gardening was common practice. The problem is that this prevents the cut from healing properly and forming a callus. The better option is to make a clean cut outside the branch collar (where the branch connects to the trunk) and allow it to heal naturally.

Myth #10: You must have both male and female trees in order for them to bear fruit.
Half Busted!: It’s true that some fruit trees require the male and female of the species to be planted in close proximity to one another in the garden to produce fruit. These trees are called dioecious (which means two houses). An example would be the ginkgo tree. However, there are self-pollinating trees that provide their own pollen and fertilize themselves, such as peach trees and certain types of apricot trees.
Myth #11: Wood chips from diseased trees can spread pathogens to plant roots.
Myth!: Wood chips are a popular mulch material, but some gardeners get nervous about where those chips came from. If the original tree had an infection, mightn’t the chips spread the disease? As a result, many people let wood chips compost for weeks before they use them, thinking it kills leftover pathogens. But there’s no pressing need to compost the mulch, since no research has found that pathogens can leap from uncomposted wood-chip mulch through a few inches of soil to the healthy roots below. Dirt contains beneficial fungal and bacterial species that will outcompete pathogens. Still, do keep uncomposted mulches as surface dressing only. Keep them away from tree trunks, too, since a trunk’s moisture can serve as an incubator for infectious pathogens.

Myth #12:The more you fertilize, the better a plant will grow.
This is a common mistake. Many gardeners assume that the more of a product they use, be it fertilizers or pesticides, the better it will work. Instead, gardeners should follow directions on the package, regardless of how eager they are to have a garden in full bloom or the best lawn in the neighborhood.

And, because all of the old wive’s tales are not myths…

Myth: Use tuna fish cans around transplant stems to thwart cut worm.

Not Busted!: Yes, Grandma was correct and frugal with this tip! When both ends of the can are removed and placed around the plant, it acts as a barrier to keep these natural soil surface crawlers from reaching the plant until the stem has thickened past the tender stage.

Myth: Add chalk or egg shells to the planting hole.

Not Busted!: Again, a good tip, as both of these items will help prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes since they provide calcium to the fruit (since egg shells take a while to decompose, crush or grind the shells to enable them to dissolve faster).

Myth: Putting egg shell flakes around the base of plants will prevent slug damage.

Not Busted!: Yes, Grandma was right, slugs do not like to crawl over the jagged surface of sharp eggshells so putting a barrier of crushed (not ground too finely) egg shells is a great deterrent.

Myth: Beer traps for slugs

Not Busted!: Yes, they really do work. And there is even research to show they prefer the light beers over the darker ales and lagers. But, if you get a rain or water the plants, you will need to refill the traps with fresh, undiluted beer as those little critters avoid the watered down stuff.


© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Waterlogged Peter Pan… Agapanthus, that is

“I received a gift of small agapanthus(Peter Pan) and put in a pot in my greenhouse when it arrived. One bulb out of 3 grew 1/4″ since then.  The others have not grown at all. I repotted them and there is no sign of them growing. I have grown the large agapanthus for years without difficulty. What are your thoughts? Thank you. ~Patty”


Hi Patty,

Thanks for contacting me via Facebook regarding your agapanthus.  The only thing I can think of is that the soil may have been too wet.  When initially starting to grow after planting, agapanthus are really finicky being too wet.  If they are already established and it is too wet, they will make do.  Agapanthus thrives in fertile, well-drained, but
moisture-retentive soil.

If you plan to try to repot them and they are not rotted/dead, you should put each into a 8-9in pot in diameter and fill with potting soil. They will grow best in a light, dry area. Do not overpot agapanthus by putting all three in the pot, or there is a risk they may not grow because they feel overcrowded.


© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Divide and Conquer! How to Divide Established Dianthus Plants

“I have a huge Dianthus flower plant and wondering if it should be
divided and when to do it?  Any other help with this is greatly appreciated.
Thank you much for all your help. Thanks, Gigi”


Hi Gigi,

Thank you for the email regarding your dianthus.  Dianthus can be easily divided –much easier than other perennials.  The best time to divide is after the plant has blossomed.  While most perennials can be divided when they are dormant, dianthus is one of those that you don’t want to divide when dormant because they bloom so early in spring.

Cut back any dead flowers and their stems so that the plants will not be trying to produce seeds and causing stress to the plant after division.  What you are going to want to do is excavate the whole clump and separate ‘clumps’ of the plant mass gently by hand. Make sure that each ‘clump’ of plant has both a good root system and a sizable amount of shoot growth.  Plant where desired and irrigate well.

I hope this information helps you out, and thanks for reading!


© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.