Tag Archives: bulbs

Forcing Paperwhites To Stand Tall with a Shot of Liquor!

The first time I forced bulbs to bloom indoors was when I was taking a horticulture class at Northern Virginia Community College. We were given paperwhite bulbs (Narcissus tazetta) that we placed in a shallow dish of water and pebbles. Because I took this class before we ever even heard of the Internet, I visited Merrifield Garden Center to take a photo of a paperwhite bulb in a container to show what it looks like.

The green stalks on my bulbs appeared quickly.  In a few weeks, I had several tall but spindly stalks with clusters of white flowers. The flowers were quite fragrant, but because the stalks were flopping over I had to place the dish on the kitchen counter, making it look like gangly teenagers leaning against the kitchen wall.

I bet the current group of horticulture students do the same bulb forcing project but now add a shot of liquor to their bulbs. Researchers at the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University have proven that using a dilute solution of alcohol shorten the stems. This is not new research but those new to gardening will appreciate this helpful tip. In fact, I bet the young undergrads have this cheat sheet in their back pocket:

After planting the bulbs in soil or stones and adding water, wait a week until the roots develop. When the green shoots grow to about 2 inches above the top of the bulbs, pour off the water and replace with a solution of 4 to 6 percent alcohol. Use gin, vodka, whiskey, rum, or tequila but do not use beer or wine. If it is a 40 percent distilled spirit, add 1 part of the alcohol to 7 parts water to yield a 5 percent solution. Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) can be used as well. If it is 70 percent alcohol, dilute one part alcohol to 10 parts water.

From then on, use the solution instead of water for the bulbs. Make sure the waterline is below the base of the bulbs so the roots are drawing in the liquid and the bulbs are not sitting in it (or will rot).

This method results in a plant that is up to one-third shorter than would normally grow – no more gangly teenagers!  Because staking is difficult in a container of pebbles, this ensures that the stalks won’t flop over. It only takes about 3 weeks from planting to bloom time and the flowers last about 4 to 6 weeks. These bulbs do not need a chilling period, are relatively cheap, and are often sold in bins at garden centers in the fall. If you run out to your local garden center now, you could get flowers just in time for your holiday parties. Don’t forget to stop off at the liquor store!

The effect of alcohol on ‘Ziva’ paperwhite narcissus. Left is an untreated plant and right is a plant grown with 5% alcohol instead of water. Photo courtesy of FlowerBulb Research Program, Cornell University

 

Harvesting Heirloom Yellow Potato Onions

harvest with one lone flower

I dug up my yellow potato onions and was surprised to find almost 40 bulbs. I first wrote about them in September 2016, when I received the shipment from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I planted the original 15 bulbs in the fall in very loose soil, high in organic matter. This spring, green stalks grew so that by summer there was green tubular foliage, similar to scallions. By the end of June, I could see bulbs clustered at soil level, as if emerging from the deep. The green stalks were bent and falling over so that when it was clear that the stalks were dying, I dug up the bulbs in the beginning of July.

Potato onions are a type of multiplier onion called Allium cepa var. aggregatum. They multiply at the base by making more bulbs. They are not as large or as pungent as onions we get at the grocery store. Within the same species are shallots, which also multiply at the base but are milder, can be eaten raw, and are round or bullet shape. The Egyptian walking onion is another type of multiplier onion, a different species called  Allium cepa var. proliferum. The difference between potato onions and Egyptian walking onions is that potato onions do not create bulbils at the top. The Egyptian walking onions create bulbs in the ground and bulbils at the top; therefore, are “proliferate.”

green stalks are down, signaling harvest time

In my Virginia garden,  potato onions are planted in the fall, dug up in the summer, cured until fall, and then some are re-planted and some are eaten. Thus they are “perennial” because they will exist in the garden every year. In the 1800’s, they were very popular because they were a constant source of onions, they stored for a long time, and they propagated easily. People just passed them along to neighbors and family. Now they are considered an heirloom. Very few seed catalogs sell them and you probably will not see them in your garden center.

Like other onions, potato onions have to be cured in order to extend their storage time. Bulbs should be in a shaded, warm, dry, well-ventilated area for a few months. I could slice up the large ones now and cook them or just let them cure if I want to use them in the winter.  In the fall, I will plant the smaller bulbs and harvest again next year in July. It’s a perennial cycle but I am looking forward to sliced yellow potato onions in butter and parsley over broiled trout, with green beans on the side.

Philadelphia Flower Show Celebrates Holland’s Contribution to Gardening and Landscape Design

artist rendition, courtesy of GMR Design LLC

artists rendition, courtesy of GMR Designs

Now is the time to think about planning your trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show, the nation’s largest and longest running flower show in North America. This year the show will run from Saturday, March 11, through Sunday, March 19. The theme is “Holland: Flowering the World.”  Celebrate the beauty and ingenuity of Dutch culture, from vivid flower fields to innovative eco-design. The Philadelphia Flower Show will transport guests to the rainbow landscapes of tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils and the cut-flower and bulb markets that have shaped Dutch history. The Flower Show will explore the innovation that has defined Holland’s approach to its unique landscape from windmills–one of the earliest uses of natural energy–to 21st century ecodomes and the Dutch Wave movement, which takes a natural and sustainable approach to landscape design. Leading designers from Holland, including Nico Wissing, Bart Hoes, Bart Bresser, and New Jersey born Carrie Preston will share their extraordinary floral and garden styles in major exhibits at the Flower Show.

artist rendition, courtesy of GMR Design LLC

artist rendition, courtesy of GMR Design LLC

The Flower Show is held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch Street, but you don’t have to drive by yourself. In the Washington DC metropolitan area, there are several nurseries, garden clubs, Master Gardener groups, public gardens, and park systems that offer day trips to the Convention Center. Green Spring Gardens, Brookside Gardens, and Greenstreet Gardens offer bus trips, contact them directly for more information. The Washington Gardener magazine offers two trips on different days: one from Behnkes Nursery and one from Silver Spring. Check out the various venues for date/time of departure, meeting locations, and prices which could include admission ticket, food, or entertainment. This is a walk-till-you-drop event: wear tennis shoes and bring your camera!

Philadelphia Flower Show http://www.theflowershow.com

Green Spring Gardens http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring

Brookside Gardens http://www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside

Greenstreet Gardens http://www.greenstreetgardens.com

Behnkes Nurseries http://www.behnkes.com

Washington Gardener magazine, Kathy Jentz, http://www.washingtongardener.blogspot.com

Fall is a Great Time for Planting Shrubs, Trees, Bulbs, and Perennials!

Fall is Fantastic! from Prides Corner Farms

Fall is Fantastic!
from Prides Corner Farms

It’s October — time to plant shrubs, trees, bulbs, and hardy perennials. Fall is a great time to plant in our area. The cooler temperatures, increased moisture, and decreased sun/heat allow the plants to settle in the ground, send out roots, and get established. While the soil is still warm, roots continue to develop until the ground actually freezes so the plant’s energy goes into getting firmly settled in the soil, not on top growth. The plants you buy now can be planted with minimal stress to them as well as to your wallet. Many garden centers are concerned with moving their inventory, especially the container grown plants that are outside. As winter approaches, discounts increase thus increasing the possibility of finding bargains.

Visit your garden center this month to enhance your landscape, support a healthy environment, and boost your well-being! For a list of garden centers in the Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC area, view the “nurseries” tab at the top of my website, http://www.pegplant.com.