Grow 548: Narcissus, bloom, insightful advice

Early Winter!

Bulbs blooming indoors now can be saved and reused next year


Dear Janet,

My paperwhite narcissus are blooming wonderfully now. Can the bulbs be saved for future blooms? How should I preserve them?

A.J., Manistee

 Dear A.,

Bloom time is the fourth stage of growth for Narcissus tazetta, the paperwhite. Keep it growing throughout this fourth stage and you'll see the flowers fade then its foliage gradually die back as it reverts to stage one, dormancy. Keep the dormant bulbs dry but insulated in soil until next fall and you can then start them again.

How well they bloom each time is a direct result of how much light they received while they were growing during the previous bloom cycle. So keep the plant in full sun or under grow lights until it begins to fade, and fertilize occasionally.

Try reusing the bulbs even if you forced them in water, says Deb Hall, one of my fellow instructors from The Michigan School of Gardening. "I was told by my grower that if I forced my Amaryllis in water, in the bulb jars where the bulb grows its roots into water rather than soil, I definitely couldn't reuse the bulbs. So I tossed them onto my compost pile after they'd finished blooming. Late that summer I found them growing and blooming again in my compost, so I dug them out and moved them into the garden, then lifted them and saved them for another year. I've learned that they have to shed the water-grown roots and regrow roots for the soil but that doesn't seem to bother them."

Short reports

More insightful advice.

Here is the final installment of gardening gems I gathered by asking other instructors what their students have said that begins with,"I'm glad you told me:"

 That you have to kill something three times before you really know it. Now I don't feel so bad when something I planted died. (Student of Janet Macunovich.)

 That it's okay, that it won't kill it if I cut a perennial back after it's finished blooming. It makes things like Pulmonaria and perennial geranium look so much better. I'm also glad you said that plants other than mums can be pinched during the growing season to control their shape or size. (Student of Chris Ward, perennial and ornamental shrub specialist and owner of Planters Palate perennials.)

 The "why" and underlying science of fall leaf color and which garden conifers would be right for me but didn't make it too heavy. I like that "lite science" approach! (Student of Dennis Groh, president of the American Conifer Society.)

 To always listen to my customers and be very aware that many people feel that landscapers don't listen. It took a while but I learned that's true. When I finally started listening and writing everything down my sales went up 75%! (Student of Rick Lazzell, landscape designer and owner of Ecoscape Environmental Design.)

 Why my hardy Cyclamen failed. Books had recommended I plant it with the top of the corm at soil surface, but you said that's sure death in our climate. I planted deep as you said, into the ground up to my elbow, and now I have late fall cyclamen blooms in my garden! (Student of Tony Reznicek, rock garden specialist and Curator of University of Michigan Herbarium.)

 That you can cut a piece of pussy willow or lilac in the ground and it will make roots and grow! (Student of Bob Williams, edible plant specialist.)

 Happy New Year!

May your gardens grow like never before, and may you take all you have learned forward with you into a great, green season!


Green thumbs up

to gardeners like M.H. of Livonia who keep on smiling and recycling organic matter despite jibes such as, "You aren't really taking all those potato peelings from our church pastie-making day for your compost! We know you're putting them in your still to make vodka!"


Green thumbs down

to sellers of bonsai junipers who don't alert buyers to the fact that junipers will die unless they have a cold period each year. If you received a cute little bonsai juniper as a gift, find a place where it will be cold (45 degrees is great) for 2 to 3 months, then move it there by stages.

 Originally published 1/3/04