Good Gardening

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University of Illinois Extension
Good Gardening

December 2006/January 2007

Paperwhites, Easy and Fun

Paperwhites are a type of narcissus (daffodil) that don't need any winter chilling. Take a shallow pan or bowl and fill it with pebbles, gravel or marbles. Fill the pan with water, so that the water line is to the top of the pebbles. Then simply place the paperwhite bulbs on top of the pebbles. Stand them close together, so they are almost touching. You may want to nestle the bulbs into the pebbles a bit so the bottom of the bulb makes contact with the water.

Within a couple of days you will see roots and then shoots forming. Flowers should be seen in about 4-5 weeks. While the bulbs are sprouting and growing, keep them in a cool room and keep the water level up to the bottom of the bulbs. Keep the bulbs in bright, but indirect light. When they are kept in low light, the foliage tends to get very tall and floppy.

Paperwhite bulbs are usually available in stores in late November and December. Buy several and start a group each week to extend the time of blooming. The blooms are generally white, cream colored or yellow. White flowered paperwhites have a fragrance that can be almost overwhelming. The yellow paperwhites have a sweeter scent. All paperwhites are extremely fragrant and their scent can fill a room Paperwhite bulbs should be discarded after bloom.

Amaryllis for the Holidays

Select a bulb that is at least 2 � inches in diameter. Smaller bulbs will not bloom. Larger bulbs (4 inches) produce better, often developing two flowers stalks instead of one. Make sure the bulbs are firm and free of soft spots and discoloration.

The container for the bulb should be about 2 inches bigger in diameter than the bulb. The planting mix should drain well. Plant so that about one third of the bulb shows above the soil level. After planting, the planting mix should be thoroughly watered. Keep the mix consistently moist.

Keep the bulb in a warm room (70-75�F) during rooting and early stalk development. As the flower buds begin to form, reduce temperatures to about 65�F to prolong flowering. The bulb should be kept in a well lighted area. During flowering, the plant is best kept in bright, but indirect light.

During stalk development, fertilize with a complete fertilizer (one that contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). Follow the label directions that come with the fertilizer you buy. The directions will tell you how much to use.

With proper care, the plant should be flowering within 6-8 weeks after planting the bulb. Duration of the flowers will be dependent on the temperature and light level in the room where the plant is being kept. As each flower fades, cut it off. After all the flowers have faded, remove the entire flower stalk. Do not remove the leaves. They will produce food and strengthen the bulb so that it can flower again next year.

Winter Interest

Ever find yourself thinking about adding plants to your garden for winter interest? Now is the best time to plan, because you can look out the window and see where that interest is needed the most.

Start by deciding what you see in the winter. Are you out in the yard a lot, seeing many parts of the yard, or are you looking at the yard from inside the house? Examine those views now and mark them down so you know where to plant in spring.

The next step is to decide what plants can provide the winter interest that you want. Some of the common categories of plants that provide winter interest include the evergreens (for green foliage in winter), ornamental grasses (providing interest with dried seed heads and foliage), and some shrubs and small trees (providing interest through persistent berries, colored stems, or even their structure).

Now we want to join these two elements. Think about the spaces where you need winter interest and then determine what type of plant(s) would fit in those areas. You may be dying to add a small tree, but only have room for a shrub. We have to be practical in our planning.

Personal taste will come into the decision making process. Every gardener has their own style and preferences. Evergreens are often considered the backbone of the winter landscape, but there is no rule that says they must be. If you don't care for evergreens, try some of the other plant groups mentioned above.

Here is a starter list of plants to consider for winter interest:

Evergreen trees: Pines, spruces, arborvitae and Douglas fir can provide height as well as a variety of shades of green in winter. True firs do not do as well in northern Illinois as other evergreens, but the White Fir can be used with success.

Evergreen shrubs: Junipers and yews are common additions to the winter landscape. Some of the junipers change to purplish shades in winter, adding to the color scheme. Broadleaf evergreen shrubs like boxwood can be used, but some will suffer in northern winters. The most cold hardy hybrids include Chicagoland Green®, 'Green Gem', 'Green Ice', and 'Green Velvet'.

Ornamental Grasses: Several warm season grasses give good winter interest. They include: Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis), Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis species), Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), and Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum).

Shrubs with Colored Stems: Redosier Dogwood and Bloodtwig Dogwood (Cornus sericea and Cornus sanguinea) have varieties with red or yellow green stems in winter. Japanese Kerria (Kerria japonica) has bright green winter stems. Common Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) has stems with peeling bark in various shades of tan and brown.

Shrubs with persistent berries: Chokeberry (Aronia species, red or black berries), Winterberry (Ilex verticillata, red or sometimes orange berries), and several species of Viburnum (Viburnum species, red, black or blue berries).

Trees with persistent fruit: Some crabapple varieties (Malus species), as well as Hawthorn (Crataegus species) provide good fruit displays.

Trees with colorful bark: Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) has peeling bronze bark. Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) develops a red undertone to its bark as it ages. Serviceberry (Amelanchier species) has a smooth gray bark that shows up well in the snow.

Garden Tidbit

When snow piles up on evergreens, try to gently brush it off. Don't shake the branches as this may cause them to break. If the snow is frozen on the branch and will not brush off easily, it is best to let it melt naturally, to avoid damage to the tree or shrub.

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