This newsletter was originally sent on December 28th, 2005.
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And most of all, my fondest wishes for a Joyous Holiday season and Happy, Peaceful, and Successful Gardening Year!
Yes, Some Do Smell Lovely!
Nothing could be simpler to grow indoors than paperwhite narcissus. No chilling is required, no requisite number of hours in a dark, cold closet; simply place them in a 6-8 inch deep, closed vessel with a few rocks, add water and watch them grow.
But some people tell me that they have stopped purchasing paperwhites, siting the objectionable aroma. I must admit that I like the scent, but do understand it can be too strong for some noses.
There are, however, many varieties of paperwhites, and my radio co-host, Vicki Johnson, has grown nearly all of them and declares that only a few of them emit a strong, musky fragrance and that others can fill your room with a very pleasant, sweet perfume.
Ask your local nursery for named varieties, or be sure to order from catalogs offering named paperwhites. Here is a list of the paperwhites Vicki recommends for their fragrance:
'Chinese Sacred Lily' has white petals and a gold cup. It is perhaps the oldest variety of paperwhite on the market. It may not produce as many flowers as some but its marvelous fragrance makes this one a favorite.
'Grand Soleil d'Or' has gleaming yellow petals with a golden-orange cup, is slower growing but its delicate fragrance makes it another of Vicki's favorites, even though there are fewer flowers produced on each stalk. Want more flowers: plant several of these bulbs together.
If it is a pure white narcissus you are after, Vicki recommends that you look for 'Galilee'. It has a very mild, musky aroma that will not overpower.
Like all our other Holiday plants, they will grow best and flower longest in a cool, bright location. So place paperwhites near a window where you will see them frequently, but not necessarily in the same room you keep warmest on cold winter days and evenings.
However, even when they grow right next to a south-facing window, the short daylight hours can mean tall, leggy paperwhites and you may need to give them some support to keep them upright. Vicki grows hers in a tall, clear glass vase, for instance, nestled in several inches of polished beach pebbles or other attractive stones or glass marbles (it is not necessary to plant them in potting soil). Or, when planted in a bowl or pan (6-8 inches deep to accommodate the substantial root system that will develop), she loosely ties the greens and stems together with a bit of raffia or ribbon; this is often enough to keep them from sprawling over the tabletop. Keep the roots covered with water; this helps to keep them upright as well.
Paperwhites will flower 4-6 weeks after potting up, depending on room temperature. They grow fastest in a warm room, but will definitely need support to keep them upright and the flowers will wither more quickly. A pleasantly cool room will mean slightly slower but shorter growth and the flowers will stay fresh longer.
The Truth About Poinsettias
And Why Christmas Cactus Is A Favorite
I'm afraid that the best way to deal with a poinsettia after the colorful bracts have faded (or when they are looking limp and puckered) is to carry the plant to the trash or compost pile and get it out of sight, and hopefully, out of mind.
If you are gluten for long, drawn-out punishment, the plant can be brought back into bloom next year, but it will never look like it did when you first received it. One reason is that these plants have been sprayed with a chemical growth-retardant that keeps them compact and stocky. They will grow long and lanky indoors.
To get your plant to bloom again, you will have to simulate its natural conditions in Mexico. The plants need twelve continuous, uninterrupted hours of darkness for 40 days. There are ways to provide this requirement. For example, give over an entire room of your house; build a moveable cardboard box that fits snugly against a window that is far from streetlights or car headlamps, and that can be removed during the day for watering, and...
Really, steel yourself. Compost is the answer.
I think the best holiday gift plant is the Christmas cactus. Remove the foil. Remove the foil. Water thoroughly when the top half inch of soil feels dry and do not allow the plant to stand in a saucer of water. I keep mine outdoors in the summer, and in August, move it to a spot with bright light but out of there reach of the raindrops. I only water if the leaflets begin to wrinkle, and let the natural darkness of the shortening daylight hours and lowering temperatures outdoors do the rest. Under cover, the plant can even be left outdoors when the first light frost falls. But if you can, bring it indoors just before frost is expected. By then, you may see some flower buds already forming. That's it. Don't worry, the requirement for less daylight is no where near as strict as it is for the poinsettia.
If,like me, you are suffering from an early case of cabin fever, and pine for a little hint of spring, please take a "virtual tour" of my New Jersey garden by clicking on the link below.
And if you need to escape even further into gardening, may I suggest one of my books?