Garden Talk: December 22, 2005
From NGA Editors
Keeping Paper White Narcissus From Flopping
Paper white narcissus are popular bulbs for forcing indoors. The fragrant, white flowers are hopeful signs of spring. However, the tall flower stalks and leaves flop over easily, and even though they can be propped up with sticks and plant ties, their excessive height can be a nuisance.
Now researchers at Cornell University have found a way to keep paper whites within bounds. They forced the bulbs in pots filled with gravel and a 4- to 6-percent alcohol solution, made by mixing 7 parts water with 1 part 80-proof alcohol, such as gin, vodka, tequila, or rum (not beer or wine). It doesn?t matter which type of liquor you use, as long as the concentration of alcohol is the same. Continue adding this solution as needed while the bulbs grow.
The result is a perfectly normal narcissus plant and flower that grows only 1/3 to1/2 the normal height. The flowers are just as large and long lasting. It?s important to use the exact amount of alcohol because in a 10 percent solution, the plants grow and flower poorly.
For more information, contact the Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell University.
Unusual Night-Scented Geraniums
Many gardeners love scented geraniums (Pelargonium) for their foliage that releases fragrance when the leaves are rubbed. Gardeners may be less familiar with other members of the Pelargonium genus that have flowers that release a strong fragrance in the evening.
Many of these night-scented geraniums actively grow in winter from tubers. They bloom from March through May and then go dormant in summer. These South African natives can only be grown outdoors in the U.S. in frost-free areas. However, they make great houseplants in a sunny window or greenhouse.
One of the best species to grow is Pelargonium triste, which produces pale yellow flowers with maroon markings. In the evening the flowers exude a heady vanilla scent until morning. After flowering, the leaves yellow and the plant goes dormant. Stop watering and store the potted plant in a cool, dry location until fall when it starts growing again.
For more information on these night-scented geraniums, go to: Geraniaceae.com.
Photo courtesy of www.mytho-fleurs.com.
An Intelligent Indoor Plant Light
It?s great to brighten up a cold winter day by growing plants under lights indoors. Even a small African violet or orchid on a desk or table can help lift spirits. Now a new indoor plant light system makes growing small flowering plants easier. The Desktop Intelligent Plant Grow Light has an automatic, computerized timer that will turn the full spectrum 9-watt fluorescent lamp light on and off every day, simulating the changing length of days with the passing seasons. The plant "thinks" it is outdoors, and so it thrives.
The Intelligent Plant Grow Light also has an adjustable neck that stretches to 14 inches tall, a soil moisture sensor that indicates when it?s time to water, and a 5-1/2-inch-diameter pebbled base that catches excess water yet keeps the pot above the water, reducing the risk of roots rotting.
For more information on this simple, yet effective plant light system, go to: Cool Stuff.
The Complete Houseplant Resource
Houseplants are often a spontaneous purchase at the garden center, big box, or grocery store. It?s hard to resist a lush palm, flowering orchid, or fragrant gardenia. Houseplants are certainly a quick way to brighten up the interior of your house, but once you get them home, they may suffer due to pests and improper lighting, humidity, and watering. What?s needed is a friendly, easy-to-read, how-to resource to help you successfully care for your plants. A book just like The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual (Storey Publishing, 2005; $24.95), by Barbara Pleasant.
This beautifully designed book takes the mystery out of growing houseplants. It features growing information for 160 common houseplants, with many color photos and illustrations. For each houseplant there?s a helpful troubleshooting guide to walk you through common problems that may arise. The care information is quickly accessible for each plant, making it a manual you?ll want to keep handy. Pleasant also has an extensive chapter on general houseplant care that includes information on plant propagation, types of indoor lighting, container options, and pest control techniques.
For more information on The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, go to: Storey Publishing.