Saturday, November 22, 2014

Updated Lowe's Creative Ideas Project: Swing Shelf Planter

Swing Shelf Planter in March 2013
About a year and a half ago, I did a project as a member of Lowe's Creative Ideas Garden Team in which I potted up a trio of herbs in a shelf planter that hung in a window. I designed it and making it and putting it together was a joint effort with my husband. My herbs grew well for several months in that south window, but the day came when I wanted something different.

In the summer, that window can really generate some heat, and I had a few cacti that I thought would work out better. The herbs were constantly thirsty, so I transplanted the herbs to the garden and the cacti to my red pots. They've been living happily there for a little over a year now.

Last month, I spoke at the Ohio Master Gardeners State Meeting at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware. My husband and I arrived early with enough time to look through the vendor's area.

'Frizzle Sizzle' at OFA 2013
I'm always attracted to unusual plants - most gardeners are - and though I vowed not to buy any plants while I was there, Groovy Plants Ranch had a couple that I simply couldn't resist. The price was good, too, at just six dollars each.

I'd first seen Albuca spiralis 'Frizzle Sizzle' at OFA in Columbus the summer of 2013. James Greenhouses had several specimens of this curly cutie on display and they were causing a lot of buzz.

This distant cousin of the hyacinth (you'd never know it though) is a bulb that must be grown in well-draining potting soil and allowed to dry out between waterings or the bulb is in danger of rotting. If you live in Zones 8 or warmer, you can grow it outside year round, but for me it has to be grown as a houseplant.

It likes full sun, and though it will grow in part shade, the more sun it gets, the curlier the foliage will be. Around late winter it will shoot up flower stalks that will bloom with yellowish-green flowers that are unremarkable but are said to have a slight vanilla fragrance to them. That's if it's grown outdoors, where it will go dormant in summer.

I wonder what it will do in summer here. I haven't been able to find any information online that tells whether it will lose its foliage in summer when grown as a houseplant. Maybe one of my readers can enlighten me?

Albuca spiralis 'Frizzle Sizzle'

I started to walked away from the vendor area with my plant as I began to prepare myself mentally for my presentation. And then this caught my eye:

 Opuntia cochenillifera f. variegata

It was a variegated prickly pear cactus - without the pricklies. Sometimes called Warm Hand Cactus or Velvet Cactus, it wasn't the lack of spines that fascinated me. It was the fact that it was variegated, because variegated plants in general are one of my weaknesses. If it hadn't been variegated, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have noticed the plant at all. Ho hum.

Opuntia cochenillifera f. variegata is hardy to Zone 9 and needs the same care as many succulents - minimal water with good drainage and full sun/part shade. It can grow up to 3-4 feet tall, but I'm pretty sure it won't do that for me. If it does, I'll have to find another spot for it other than the swing shelf. ;-)

Four cacti and a 'Frizzle Sizzle'

In case you were wondering, that hairy cactus in the middle is an Old Man's Cactus (Cephalocereus senilis). I've had it for several years now and it's about twice as tall as when I bought it. I learned early on that I had to keep it out of the reach of Simon, one of our inside cats, because he loved to lick it and chew on it. But mostly lick it. I guess he thought it was in need of grooming.

My Old Man's Cactus is sporting a cowlick.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Growing Amaryllis: Easy for Everyone (and a giveaway!)

Hippeastrum 'Gervase'
For as much as I dread winter every year, there are some things about it that I look forward to. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Fluffy snowfalls. The smell of winter air. Curling up on the sofa with a blanket, a kitty, and a good book.

And amaryllis.

Gardening continues for me, in spite of the outside gardens going dormant during the winter months. I've got plenty of houseplants to keep me busy, both in the house and in the conservatory. Most of those simply need to be watered, but I'll pot up my collection of amaryllis all winter long and have beautiful blooms from winter through spring.

Even though I get a few new bulbs each autumn, I save the bulbs from previous years, growing them outside over the summer. This year, I set aside a specific area for growing them, using galvanized aluminum firepit rings. I plant them, making sure to keep part of the top of the bulb exposed, and let them do their thing. Usually one or two of them will reward me with a bloom stalk sometime during the summer.

This is where my amaryllis bulbs lived for the summer,
before I dug them up just before first frost.

'Apple Blossom' bloomed outside in June.
Before first frost, I trim away the foliage, dig them back up and store them in the cool, dark basement until I'm ready to pot them up again.

New to my collection this year are 'Lagoon', a deep pink variety, and 'Magnum', which is red. 'Lagoon' is already potted up and beginning to grow and I put 'Magnum' in its container today. For the last three years, Longfield Gardens has sent a free amaryllis planting kit to me and being the amaryllis-crazed gardener that I am, I've really enjoyed this surprise gift.

Longfield's bulbs are some of the largest I've ever seen and a larger bulb means more blooms. Last year's Longfield bulb produced three flower stalks, and of the nearly 100 amaryllis bulbs I've grown, that was a first for me.

This year's amaryllis kit from Longfield Gardens contained a large 'Magnum'
bulb, potting medium, a plastic-lined "bird's nest" basket, and Spanish
moss for top-dressing the container.

 Potting them up is easy:

Choose a container just a little larger than the bulb. Amaryllis like it snug. The heavier the container, the better, because by the time it blooms, it's going to be top-heavy. I use a fairly inconspicuous plant support like this one to give the flower stalk stability once it gets some height to it.

Most bulbs like very well-draining soil, and this is especially important when planting in a container. I like to use a potting mix designed for cacti (which also need good drainage) when potting up my amaryllis and I make sure that there's a drainage hole in the bottom of the container. Soggy soil encourages bulb rot and fungus gnats and you don't want that! If the container you want to use doesn't have a drainage hole, you'll need to be extra vigilant about not overwatering.

Make sure that you leave the top fourth of the bulb exposed when firming up the soil around the bulb. Water thoroughly but don't water again until you see signs of growth. Thereafter, only water when the top inch or so of soil is dry to the touch. Err on the side of underwatering if you aren't sure.

I use  Haven Brand Compost Tea for watering all my houseplants and the amaryllises are no exception. It's nearly impossible to overfeed them when using this natural, organic product.


  • Some amaryllis will have the flower stalk appear first and foliage later. Others will do just the opposite.
  • Amaryllis make great cut flowers. In fact, the blooms tend to last longer when cut and put into a vase of water. Be sure to change the water daily though.
  • You can keep your amaryllis bulbs from year to year. Continue to care for the plant in its container, or do like I do and plant them outside for the summer, after all danger of frost is past. Grow them on throughout the summer, then cut back and dig up before first fall frost. 

Here's a short video featuring some of the amaryllis blooms from my amaryllis collection over the years:

Want an amaryllis of your very own?

Now that you know how to grow them, guess what? Longfield Gardens wants to send a 'Red Lion' amaryllis bulb to one of my readers! And Annie Haven provided some extra Moo Poo Tea in with my last order, so I'll send the winner a 3-pack of that as well.

Here's what you need to do to be entered:

1. Leave a comment on this blog post, telling me about your amaryllis experience. (Have you grown them? If so, what is your favorite one? Do you keep your bulbs from year to year?)


 2. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below with your contact information. I'll use this when choosing a random winner and to contact you if you're the lucky one.

Enter by midnight EST next Sunday night, November 30th and a winner will be chosen on Monday.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

But wait! There's MORE! 

My friends Dee Nash of Red Dirt Ramblings® and Robin Haglund of Garden Mentors are each giving away a bulb from Longfield Gardens and some Moo Poo Tea too! Robin is a new amaryllis grower and I love her excitement and enthusiasm over it. Dee is a veteran grower like me and has grown some beautiful varieties. Check them out and triple your chances at winning a bulb and some Moo Poo goodness:

Garden Mentors  - "Amaryllis Advent Calendar"
Red Dirt Ramblings® - "Growing Amaryllis is Easy"

If you want to read more about my Adventures in Amaryllis, here are some links to earlier posts about them:

Amaryllis Blooms Never Fail to Deliver
Amaryllis Season Has Begun!
Green Thumb Sunday - Amaryllis 'Lemon Lime'
Remember the Amaryllis!
The Hippeastrum on the Shelf
Absolutely Amazing Awesome Amaryllis
Desperately Seeking Susan
'Tis the Season
Wordless Wednesday: 'Gold Medal' Amaryllis
Amaryllis is a 'Dancing Queen'
Play 'Misty' For Me

Longfield Gardens sent me a free amaryllis kit and has provided an amaryllis bulb for the purposes of this giveaway. Annie Haven provided a 3-pack of Haven Brand Compost Tea as a bonus in my order, which I am giving away here. All opinions about these two companies are my own.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Let's Drink to Apples!

My husband and I have taken many, many evening walks down our road over the years. As far as country roads go in these parts, this one provides some interesting scenery. There are the neighbors that have an assortment of animals, a cemetery that has many familiar names, and we cross two creeks lined with wildflowers.

Many years ago, we also noticed a mature apple tree growing in the deeper ditch on the west side of the road about three-quarters of a mile south of our house. I've always been curious as to how it got there, knowing that there are random apple trees planted by Johnny Appleseed in our general area.

Logic tells me that while it's fun to fantasize, that tree more than likely grew from an apple that got tossed out the car window after someone long ago enjoyed it as a snack. And if that was the case, then it's highly unlikely that Johnny Appleseed had anything to do with planting it.

John Chapman planted several apple orchards as he traveled these parts, but the trees he planted didn't produce eating apples. Apples eaten for their fruit didn't become popular until the last century. Until that time, apples were almost exclusively used for cider.

This is because apples don't come true to seed and though they grow readily this way, the resulting fruit is almost always very, very sour. Henry David Thoreau described the taste of apple fruit as sour enough "to set a squirrel's teeth on edge and make a jay scream." So how do we get those deliciously sweet varieties such as 'Honeycrisp', 'Gala' and 'Jazz'?

Just like other new cultivars are created by crossing two varieties with the desired traits, so it is with apples, but because of their extreme variability, once a favorable result has been found, propagation is done by budding or grafting.
I personally learned about apple genetics by reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan as well as watching the PBS series by the same name. It never occurred to me that the apple wasn't commonly eaten until our not-so-distant past.

Like so many heirlooms, the apple varieties have dwindled to just a fraction of what used to be grown years ago. Back when they were open-pollinated, there were no less than 7500 different varieties of apples. Cultivated varieties for commercial use have basically created a relative monoculture, but apple enthusiasts are growing some of the older heirlooms in greater numbers.

The U.S. is number two in the world's apple production (China is number one), but apples aren't native to our country. They originated in what is now Kazakhstan and were brought to the U.S. by the Puritans. 'Red Delicious' currently leads all varieties in production.

I've not tasted the apples growing on the tree in that nearby ditch, mainly because there's a huge swath of poison ivy in the way of being able to reach the tree. But my curiosity may get the better of me and I might just have to figure out a way to pick that apple. I feel a bit like Eve...

Previously published as "Let's Drink to Apples!" by Kylee Baumle in the Paulding Progress newspaper in October 2013.  Reprinted and modified here with permission.

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