Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: February indoor plant party

A closeup of the blooms of an interspecific orchid hybrid. I love the yellow color too. So cheery on dark days.

Sorry, I’m late to the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day party. I didn’t realize it was already mid-February. How could I miss it with Valentine’s Day right before? Well, everyone here has been sick since Christmas. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

There’s so much blooming in my red dirt world so let’s get on with the show.

Among my indoor plants, I’ve forced hyacinths, and I’ve also bought some small daffodils already doing their groove thing.

Hyacinths 'Delft Blue' Garden Bloggers Bloom Day
Hyacinths ‘Delft Blue’ I forced this fall and winter. Dreamy aren’t they?

All of my hyacinths performed wonderfully except the white ones. Most of them rotted. I prepared them the same way as the others. I placed them in paper bags in the garage refrigerator in late August because we don’t get that cold in Oklahoma at the beginning of winter–at least most of the time. I used paper bags because we occasionally store fruit in that refrigerator. I was super busy throughout fall, so I didn’t get them on vase until mid-December. I then put them in the bulb closet in my kitchen so they could start growing roots.

Bulb closet in my kitchen.
Bulb closet in my kitchen.

All of them rooted except the white ones. They just sat there. I watched for green shoots on top too, but nothing. When I pulled up the bulbs, they were rotten. I don’t know why.

Hyacinths mature at different rates when you force them, so I pull them out of the closet when the green shoot is about 1/2-inch high. Then, I place them in a sunny window. Before long, they turn bright green and begin to grow. You’re simply fooling the plant that it’s spring. It’s tons of fun and a good thing to do with kids. I usually get two months of bloom.

See those in front with the yellow tips? They just came out of the closet today. The vase on the left is modern. The turquoise one may be modern too, but it has the Tye type shape. It came from England.
The hyacinth tips were yellow until they sat in sunlight for a few days. Then, they turn bright green.

I gave loads of already-planted bulbs to family and friends at Christmas. They make excellent gifts.

I noticed Trader Joe’s already has plenty of forced tulips and daffodils. Go ahead and buy yourself some. They don’t cost much, and they make this period before spring seem shorter. I bought these daffs and slid the plastic pots down into my containers. I watered and enjoyed them until they bloomed out. Because they are planted in potting soil, I can transplant them outside for bloom in spring 2018. Daffodils are such strong growers that they transplant pretty well even when forced in potting soil. Other forced blooms, especially those in water, do not.

Forced daffodils from Trader Joe's.
Forced daffodils from Trader Joe’s.

After Christmas, Whole Foods put their amaryllis on sale, so I snatched up two I love. They bloomed just in time for Valentine’s Day. Who says amaryllis (hippeastrum) are just for Christmas?

I’ve also been obsessed with orchids this year. There is no easier plant to bring into your home. By the time you see the orchid in the store, someone has worked very hard in a large greenhouse to make it bloom. We visited an industrial greenhouse orchid operation when we were in California for spring trials. I have those photos, and I should write a post about it. Would you like that?

Greenhouse growers take your phalaenopsis orchid from a tiny cutting and eventually bring it to bloom. Then, all you need to do is sit it on a table or mantel and give it some sun every couple of weeks. Oh, occasionally, you water it too.

It’s almost a plastic plant!

For larger orchids, you can do the ice cube trick every other week to water, but even that’s too much for mini-orchids. The mini-orchids and the interspecific (mixed species) are my current favorites.

An interspecific orchid I found at a box store.
An interspecific orchid I found at Lowe’s.
A closeup of the blooms of an interspecific orchid hybrid. I love the yellow color too. So cheery on dark days.
A closeup of the blooms of an interspecific orchid hybrid. I love the yellow color too. So cheery on dark days.

I like how the minis aren’t top heavy, and the blooms on the interspecific ones, shown above, are truly spectacular. I found the minis at Trader Joe’s and the interspecific ones at Lowe’s. You just have to shop every couple of weeks because orchid stock seems to be replenished every week or so. I have a couple of larger phalaenopsis orchids too. I nearly drowned one of them, so I repotted it in orchid bark and stashed it in the greenhouse. It seems happier. Orchids like to grow on tree branches in tropical rainforests. They don’t like wet roots.

Orchids like to grow on tree branches in tropical rainforests. They don't like wet roots. Click To Tweet

When I started posting a lot of orchid photos on my Instagram account, I got questions about reblooming. Well, my friend, Shirley Bovshow, made a video on getting your orchid to rebloom.

Here are my thoughts. If you want to try for rebloom, great. If you don’t, just compost your orchid after it blooms. It’s no different than buying cut flower bouquets–they cost about the same–and orchids bloom for months.

I hear you. It’s–gasp–a plant, not a flower! Yes, but even plants die, and that’s ok.

I hear you. It's--gasp--a plant, not a flower! Yes, but even plants die, and that's ok. Click To Tweet

I repotted two of my orchids–including the unfortunate drowning victim–and put them out in the greenhouse for now. I’ll place them by a window in my bathroom come summer. We’ll see if I can get them to rebloom. I’ve never tried, but I never bought so many orchids before either.

Most of my February blooms are indoors, but I have a few outside too. My hellebores started blooming today in fact. I trimmed back the old foliage a few days ago and accidentally cut off two blooms. It is one of those things that just happens I guess. Some people in milder climates don’t cut away the old foliage, but here it looks so bad I do. That way, everything is fresh, unhidden and ready to bloom. I have more to trim, but as you can see, I need to cut back the ornamental grasses too.

We are supposed to have a high of 68F today. I think I’ll get out there and garden.

Just one of my ornamental grasses that needs cutting.
Just two of my ornamental grasses that need cutting.

Yesterday, I contacted Grooms Irrigation Co. and asked for them to come out and estimate what it would cost to expand the irrigation system. Since we installed it in 2008, I’ve added three or four more borders. I should get the costs soon and get started. I told him we needed it done before June and the daylily regional tour. Hopefully, since I contacted them early, they can get to it soon.

Happy Garden Bloggers Bloom Day everyone, and thank you, Carol, for once again hosting us.

 

Growing plants in the greenhouse

'Republic of Texas' orange tree that grows in the greenhouse over winter. The oranges are very good.

Have you ever wanted a greenhouse? Most obsessive gardeners do, and who could blame them? Growing plants in a greenhouse is one of those exquisite pleasures Victorian gardeners understood. A greenhouse or sunroom full of plants gets a gardener through the cold, dark days of winter.

The greenhouse and cold frames on a cool morning. Notice the condensation on the windows. Everything is nice and warm.
The greenhouse and cold frames on a cool morning. Notice the condensation on the windows. Everything inside is nice and warm.

This is the third winter for our greenhouse, and we’ve figured out a few things after the first two years of growing. Here are my greenhouse musings from last year when it was eternal summer all winter long. After reading these, you may be green with envy, but may I give you some advice before you order that freedom greenhouse kit like I did?

Inside the greenhouse, the scent is heavenly because the string of pearls plant blooms most of winter.
Inside the greenhouse, the scent is heavenly because the string of pearls plant blooms most of winter. Soon, I’ll start sweet pea seeds, and have lily of the valley pips blooming too.

First, if you order your kit to be shipped to your house, you’ll need to be there with a forklift and someone to put it together. My husband and son spent two weekends building the greenhouse. Some of the process is shown below.

Also, note that you need level ground for the vents to open and close. Since we live on a hill, we had to level the space first. That took some work too.

Greenhouses require a good and reliable heating system. As for ours, it’s all automatic up to a point. We have a small electric heater that we use for backup in case the propane runs out, and just before last week’s ice storm, the propane heater did quit working. After much troubleshooting, speculation and testing, we figured out the propane regulator was busted, probably because it got turned upside down, and water got into it. At first, we thought we were out of propane, but we checked and that wasn’t it. Then, we thought it was the heater so we bought another for approximately $250.00, but we were able to return it after replacing the regulator.

See how tall the plants have grown in the greenhouse.
The electric heater was at the end of the greenhouse for the first two winters, but I now need that space so we put it on the side.

The electric heater has an automatic thermostat. We set the propane heater on the lowest setting because it has a mechanical thermostat.

Propane heater for the greenhouse. Bill thinks he bought it a little large.
Propane heater for the greenhouse. It’s now three years old. See how we set it up on bricks to keep it out of water and off the cold floor?

We did run out of propane once last year which is why we have the backup electric heater. If the electricity goes out in a storm, propane is the backup plan.

We watch the condensation line on the propane tanks to see how much is left. We also have a gauge, but remember gauges break. You also must watch the condensation line, but it only appears when propane is burning. So, if you’re having a warm day, you won’t see it. We also have a thermometer we can read from the house so we know the temperature inside the greenhouse whenever we look out the kitchen door. If the temperature drops below 40 degrees, the tropical cuttings I took in fall probably won’t recover. Heat is the most important factor of the greenhouse operation. Normal temperatures run between 50 and 60 degrees F. I could make it warmer, but then, I’d spend more on fuel. I try to keep costs down.

Watering the tropicals in the greenhouse with my Haws Brass Watering Wand.
Watering the tropicals in the greenhouse with my Haws Brass Watering Wand.

Although I paid extra for them, the flood tables aren’t my favorite feature. You need a large tank sitting beneath the benches to flood the benches. As you can see in the photos above, I need this space for other things like pond plants now that we have a pond. We hired a company to bore under the driveway and tie in a water line to our well. Inside the greenhouse, we installed a frost free faucet and shortened a garden hose that reaches only to the cold frames outside. I then attached a Haws V360 All Brass 24-Inch Watering Wand with Ball Valve and Rose, an extravagance, but I love it. It wasn’t very expensive to bore under the driveway because we traded out the work with some friends. Bill said that at retail it would probably cost $200 or so. I can now flood the tables if I want with the want, or just spray the plants with water every few days. I do like how the flood tables hold the water beneath the plants for a period of time before it drains into the brick floor below.

These are the vent and flood table controls. I keep the vent controls turned off if the weather is very cold.
These are the vent and flood table controls. I keep the vent controls turned off if the weather is very cold.

Don’t build a greenhouse unless you have someone handy around to figure out what’s going on at any given time. Ice storms can make the vents that open on top of the roof stick and and tear up the gears inside. That was last year’s fun. Bill spent most of a cold winter’s day fixing the gears when that happened. If you’re expecting an ice or snow storm, or any extended cold period, go ahead and turn off the automatic vents. If they stay closed, you won’t tear up your greenhouse and will save money on heat. Also, the vent control batteries always seem to go out on the warmest day of the year, or if we have extended cloudy weather, i.e., most of February. The batteries are normally charged with a solar panel, but we have a small battery charger as backup. You don’t want your plants to fry or freeze.

Amaryllis soaking up the sunshine in the greenhouse. I want it to bloom by Christmas.
Amaryllis soaking up the sunshine in the greenhouse. I want it to bloom by Christmas.

Because the greenhouse is heated, you need to water plants every three or four days. One of the joys of greenhouse growing is the ability to stage how quickly forced bulbs grow. If they are growing too slowly in your house, you can always take them out to the greenhouse for a spurt of growth. All of the sunshine is captured by the greenhouse. Even though temperatures in your home are warmer, sunshine wins every time. I started my amaryllis late this year so I put several pots outside in the greenhouse to get a jump on things. I’m also growing paperwhites that don’t stink like ‘Ziva’–which I hate. This year I’m growing ‘Ariel,’ ‘Early Pearl,’ ‘Erlicheer,’ ‘Cheerfulness’ and ‘Nir.’ All are growing well except for ‘Early Pearl.’ I haven’t a clue why it’s not growing yet. I put it in the greenhouse to see if that will get things started. Here’s my other post on how to force bulbs. I’ve read that ‘Erlicheer,’ ‘Early Pearl’ and ‘Cheerfulness’ need two to three weeks of refrigeration before forcing so I did that. Here’s more information from Old House Gardens about forcing bulbs indoors. This winter I also bought prechilled lily of the valley pips to force indoors for later winter because I get a little sad after the holidays. It’s pricey, but well worth it for those of us who can’t grow these fragrant flowers outdoors.

About the bugs…a greenhouse environment is perfect for insect production too. I have trouble with fungus gnats, but my friend, Layanee, of Ledge and Gardens, suggested I put gravel on top of my soil to prevent them. I use chicken grit, and it helps. I also find black aphids on my citrus. When they show up in late winter, I drench the stems and leaves of the orange tree to drown them. After the foliage is dry, I then spray the tree with neem oil, or another organic insecticide. It keeps them down to a tolerable level, and I have oranges this year. The other big pest I have in the greenhouse are the mice. I use mouse traps to keep them from digging into larger plants and burrowing down into the soil. I like these Tomcat heavy duty mouse traps because I don’t have to touch dead mice. I find peanut butter to be the best bait.

'Republic of Texas' orange tree that grows in the greenhouse over winter. The oranges are very good.
‘Republic of Texas’ orange tree that grows in the greenhouse over winter. The oranges are very good.

What else would I tell someone about owning and operating a greenhouse? Before you build it, buy a kit that is two times larger than you think you’ll need. My greenhouse is always full to overflowing by the end of the season. I now want a Meyer lemon tree and a variegated Pink Lemonade tree, and, on Matt Mattus’ of Growing With Plants suggestion, a ‘Nagami’ kumquat to join my orange tree, but I don’t know where I’m going to put them. Bill says we’ll figure out someplace. I love that man.