Sunday, October 7, 2012

Old Friends for Indoor Winter Color

     We are now in that in between season.  It is not summer any more but not quite fall yet.  A few leaves are turning color, but it is not because of frost.  This color change and the beginnings of leaf drop has to do with shorter days.  Now, before the first frost, is the time to dig up those plants that you count on for indoor color during the winter.  You remember, the ones that came out of their pot last spring to spend the summer in the sun.  For me, it's the big four - amaryllis, ornamental peppers, paperwhites and poinsettias.  If you haven't saved them through the summer, maybe this is the year that you make these favorites permanent friends rather than just winter visitors.
     I have plants that will in the next day or two be back in pots that are at least twenty years old.  I get a jolt of nostalgia when I dig them out of the ground and bring them back into the house - remembering who gave them to me or why I bought them and when.
     For those who have used these plants as annuals in the past, here is a run-down of how to keep them as permanent friends.
     Amaryllis is a lovely bulb that if you got it as a Christmas present most likely came from South African or other tropical origins.  That is why it does not survive in you garden over winter.  This year, when you get new bulbs, enjoy the flowers, but after they are finished, save the bulbs.  When the bulbs have finished flowering, cut the flower stalk near the base - take care that you don't damage the leaves.  In the spring after the chance of frost has ended, put your bulbs outside in a sunny location.  You will find that they do best if left in the pot.  Water them regularly and fertilize them as needed.  Four months before you want them to bloom, you will need to force your bulbs to go dormant.  You do this by bringing them into a cool (around 55 degrees) dark place and stop watering them.  I just stick them under the house.  Timing depends entirely on when you want blooms, but never let your bulbs go through a frost.  Check the bulbs weekly, but after an eight to ten week period, you should see the beginnings of a green sprout.  You can now bring your bulb back out into a warm sunny spot.  Water them, but allow the soil to dry out between waterings so that you do not cause your bulbs to rot.  If you re-pot your bulbs, make sure that the pot is no more than two times the diameter of the bulb and that when you plant the bulb a third of the bulbs is above the soil surface.  I like to bring my bulbs in this time of the year.  That way, they bloom during the dead of winter when I need the lift of spirits.
     Ornamental peppers are actually a hot miniature variety of regular hot peppers.  As such they are edible although fiery.  You can grow them year round easily by simply keeping them in their pot.  I move the pots out to a sunny location during the summer and back into a sunny location indoors for the winter.  They are a tropical plant, so just make sure that they are not allowed to go through a frost.  If you want to encourage more blooming, pick off the peppers; otherwise, the peppers are lovely if allowed to remain on the plant to dry out.  To renew the plants as they age, I simply open a dried out pepper and sprinkle the seeds around the old plant in the pot.  As the new seedlings grow you can cut the old plant to the soil line and enjoy the new ones.
     Paperwhites are actually a narcissus bulb just like your other daffodils.  As such, they can easily be planted in the ground and left there to bloom in early spring every year.  They are used as forced bulbs at Christmas time because they do extremely well in pots.  If you choose to bring them in to force, dig them up after the leaves have gone dormant and keep them in a cool dry place.  Three to four weeks before you want them to flower, plant them in a pot, bring them out into a sunny location and begin watering them.  They need only about three inches of pot space and virtually no care.  When they are done blooming, like all daffodils, let the leaves die back on their own so that the bulb rejuvenates itself.
     Poinsettias are the queen of the holiday season, but with hybridization have become the winter-long choice for color.  I leave them in their pot and let them spend the summer out in the sun.  Bring them in before the first frost (it is better not to let them experience temperatures below 50 degrees) but to similar light conditions, and keep them out of cold and drafty places.  A sunny window is the perfect place for them.  To get them to turn color, ensure that they get an ever increasing time of no light at night.  In other words cover them if they are going to be in a sunny window in a room that will have lights on at night.  You can use your normal sundown time as your guide, but they will basically need about 14 hours of darkness to set their flowers and for the bracts to turn color. 
     Keep your winter color plants year-round, just be sure to take care of them as the season changes.

No comments:

Post a Comment