Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
February, 2008
Regional Report

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Brighten winter days with pots of blooming bulbs.

Bring Home a Bit of Spring

Diminutive snowdrops have been blooming in the garden since mid-January, daffodil foliage is emerging from the frozen ground, and in only a few weeks soft winds will regularly beckon me outdoors. No matter. The next couple of weeks always seem to be the longest, coldest, and most dreary. My antidote? Sojourns to tropical isles have never been a viable solution for me. For me, a trip to the grocery usually satisfies. Not for the bread, milk, and eggs, but for pots of hyacinths, which possess one of the world's most magnificent fragrances.

As wonderful as hyacinths are, there are lots of other delightful flowers that remind us that spring is just around the corner. Bringing home pots of daffodils, tulips, crocuses, grape hyacinths, freesias, and others is as convenient as picking up a gallon of milk. Although beautiful "as is," these relatively inexpensive supermarket floral offerings can be "taken up a notch," to use Emeril Lagasse's phrase, to become a fashionable addition to home decor.

Buy Green
The secret to enjoying potted bulb flowers is to buy the plants "green," that is, still in bud, so you can watch them grow and bloom at home, giving weeks of pleasure. After bringing them home, water well and put the pots in a sunny spot to help the blooming process. Potted flower bulbs need minimal care. Simply check them for water every few days and turn the pots regularly so the flower stems grow straight.

Creative Containment
Don't be satisfied with a plastic pot or foil wrapping. Give the potted bulb flowers a style upgrade by either camouflaging or changing the pots. One strategy is double-potting. Simply slide the plant, plastic pot and all, into a second, prettier pot, often referred to as a cache pot, from the French word meaning "to conceal." Choose a decorative pot that is only slightly larger than the plastic pot you're trying to hide. One of the great aspects of this approach is that once you've accumulated a few perfectly sized containers, you can fill and refill them with fresh plants year-round. If the cache pot does not have a drainage hole, be sure plants don't sit in water; pour out any standing water 30 minutes after watering the plant.

A second option is to actually replant into a prettier or more interesting pot you have at home. Depending on the size of the new pot, you may need a bit of extra potting soil to make the plant feel cozy in its new home. Be creative in what you choose. Don't overlook the unusual.

For another approach, pick up three of the same kind of plant and repot all three together into one larger, prettier container to create a more dramatic result. Now more lush and full, this planting will look like you paid a lot, plus a larger pot won't dry out so fast, and flowers will last longer. A variation on this approach is to combine three or more different kinds of plants, creating a luxuriant mixed container.

Though potted bulb flowers last for weeks, they won't last forever. After their winter service, either dispose of them and start anew or, depending on the type, plant them outdoors to die back in the garden and possibly come up in subsequent spring seasons. Transplanting to the garden makes sense for only a few bulbs, such as daffodils and crocuses, that naturalize readily. Tulips and hyacinths have little chance of reblooming in the garden.

Armloads of Flowers
Besides potted bulbs, cut flowers, especially tulips, are widely available in supermarket floral departments at this time of year. When shopping for cut tulips, choose ones with the buds just opening and showing some color. If the buds are too tight, they won't open properly. If you want to have a particularly high-style look, buy several bunches of the same color. Most cut flowers do best in warm water, but tulips should always be placed in cold water. Also, don't use cut flower food with tulips. The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center has more tips on buying and using cut tulips at:

Flowers brighten up our wintry days and make life just a little bit better all around. As the 13th-century Persian poet Sheikh Saadi wrote,
"If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul."

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