All posts by White Flower Farm

It’s Cleanup Time!

The garden staff is busy cleaning and carting away spent annuals, and the foliage and faded blossoms of some perennials and shrubs.
Faded annuals, and the foliage and spent blossoms of some perennials and shrubs have been pulled out and are ready to be carted away.

Here in northwestern Connecticut, the fall foliage show is nearing its peak, and in some places, the leaves have begun to fall. They rustle at our feet as we go about our rounds. This is Nature’s way of telling us it’s time to clean the garden.

Clearing out beds and borders means different things to different people. Some gardeners clear every last leaf and past-bloom plant from their gardens while others find reasons to leave everything as is until spring. We fall somewhere in the middle. We believe that maintaining a healthy garden and nutritious, well-structured soil requires different cleanup rituals for different garden spaces. At the farm, here’s how we go about it:

The spent flowers of a Zinnia are beginning to develop mold. Those will be cut and discarded, but for the time being, there is a certain beauty in decay.
The spent flowers of a zinnia are beginning to develop mold. They’ll be cut and discarded, but for the time being, there is a certain beauty in decay.

Remove Most Annuals

For starters, we remove most annuals. In general, these plants are easy to spot because after the first hard frost, many of them, including impatiens, begonias, and coleus, have withered and turned brown. If the spent foliage and blossoms on these plants are free of mold and disease, we put them in the compost pile. If we see traces of powdery mildew (zinnias are often afflicted), downy mildew or other diseases, the plants are put into trash that’s hauled off the property. Keep in mind that any mold or disease that’s allowed to stay in the garden will overwinter and reinfect new growth in spring.

Some annuals argue to be removed a bit later in the fall. “If the Cosmos or verbena bonariensis are still green and self-sowing, I will leave them until later,” says nursery manager Barb Pierson. “Plants like Rudbeckia ‘Prairie Sun,’ which can overwinter here, will be left until spring. Kale is pretty late in the season, too.”

Cleaning out the beds beside the store. Rudbeckia 'Prairie Sun' bows out after an exceptional summer performance.
Cleaning out the beds beside the store, Rudbeckia ‘Prairie Sun’ bows out after an exceptional summer performance. (Because the plant is sometimes hardy in our zone, some gardeners keep it in to see if it returns in spring.)

Clean Out the Vegetable Garden

In the kitchen garden, Pierson removes all vegetable plants, paying special attention to any varieties, such as tomatoes, that may have fungal leaf spots and mildew. Afflicted plants must be completely removed and put into the garbage (or carted to the dump) or the same afflictions will plague next season’s plants. “Most vegetable plants are best removed unless you are growing fall lettuce or other cold crops here in New England,” Pierson says. “If we plan to plant tulips in the raised beds for a nice spring show, this is the time to do it. If we don’t plant bulbs, we will remove any soil that comes up with the vegetables and add fresh soil in spring. Compost can be added in the fall if it is fresh, but we prefer to do it in the spring because we use fully composted material. Each spring, we replace the top 1/3 of soil – at the least – for best results. Mulching can attract digging rodents so we don’t mulch the beds during the winter months.”

Perennials & Shrubs

In the perennial garden, our methods vary. In the shady beds near the store, our gardeners clean and clear away dead and dying foliage. They cut back ferns, hostas, astilbes, and ligularias. Why? One year, when they let the decaying leaves lie, they discovered that the cushy, warm environment attracted critters who dug around and sometimes nested in the leaf mulch. That would have been all right except the critters didn’t stop at the mulch. They burrowed into the roots of the plants, inadvertently killing a few, and those had to be replaced the following spring.

Browning fern foliage being yanked out and hauled away.
Browning fern foliage is yanked out and hauled away.

In areas where critters don’t pose much of a problem, Pierson and many others believe that the decaying leaves of most deciduous trees are beneficial to the garden. For starters, they form a natural leaf mulch that provides insulation for perennials and shrubs. Oak leaves, which are waxy and don’t easily break down, are particularly good for insulation. Mounding them around perennials and shrubs protects the plants from seasonal temperature swings. Pine needles are another fine insulator, and they’re especially good for acid-loving plants including rhododendrons and azaleas. Leaves that break down more readily such as maple, ash and birch leaves add organic nutrients to the soil, and help improve soil structure.

The foliage of Phlox 'Robert Poore' is covered in powdery mildew. The plants need to be cut at the base and removed or the mold will return in spring to re-infect the plants. It won't inhibit the blossoms, but it's not much to look at.
The foliage of Phlox ‘Robert Poore’ is covered in powdery mildew. The plants need to be cut at the base and removed or the mold will return in spring to re-infect the plants. It won’t inhibit the blossoms, but it’s not much to look at.

As with annuals and vegetable plants, it’s important to note that any perennials or shrubs that exhibit mold or disease should be cut back, and the spent foliage and blossoms should be carted away to the trash (not the compost pile). Plants like Perovskia (Russian Sage) should not be cut to the ground, Pierson says. “The most important thing to remove is the foliage – not the crown or stems – so I would say remove leaf litter and prune stems as you would for that variety, in general 3-4” above soil level.” Some of the perennials and shrubs most commonly affected by powdery mildew include peonies, monarda (bee balm), phlox, and roses. As with vegetable plants and annuals, if you leave afflicted plants in the garden, the mold and disease will overwinter and reassert itself in spring. The mold won’t interfere with blossom production, but it will detract from the beauty of the foliage.

We like to leave the seed heads of Echinacea in the garden. Birds feed at them, and they also look lovely dusted in snow.
We like to leave the seed heads of Echinaceas (Coneflowers) in the garden. Birds feed at them, and they also add winter interest when dusted in snow.

As you cut down bee balms, phlox and peonies, keep in mind that there are other perennials and shrubs you’ll want to keep. While ornamental grasses can be cut back in fall (leaving 6” of growth to protect the crowns), the argument for leaving them until spring is that they look quite lovely dusted in snow. The seed heads of Echinacea and the berries of Ilex verticillata (winterberry) feed the birds as winter sets in. The pods of Asclepias, the flower clusters of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Eupatorium, and the seed heads of Echinaceas (Coneflowers) all provide winter interest.

Purple kale won't be taken out of the garden until a deep freeze. For now, the intense color adds beauty to the autumn landscape.
Purple kale won’t be taken out of the garden until a deep freeze. For now, the intense color adds beauty to the autumn landscape.

So clean as much or as little as you choose depending on the types of plants you have in your garden. But whatever you decide, it’s time to grab your rake and pruners, and spend a few days in the glorious autumn weather putting your garden to bed.

In one of the display gardens, the bright lavender blossoms of the autumn-blooming Colchicum have popped up amid a sea of lime-colored Sedum 'Angelina.' We won't be cutting these!
In one of the display gardens, the bright lavender blossoms of the autumn-blooming Colchicum have popped up amid a sea of lime-colored Sedum ‘Angelina.’ We won’t be cutting these!

Harvest Fresh Fruits & Vegetables From Pots on Your Patio

By Barb Pierson, Nursery Manager

lettuce as container gardens
The options for container pot edible gardening were once limited mainly to salad greens and herbs, but there is now a wide variety of plants that thrive in pots and smaller garden spaces.

For gardeners with limited outdoor space or the desire to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables a few steps from the door, container pot gardening is a great way to go. While the options for container pot edible gardening were once limited mainly to salad greens and herbs, there is now a wide variety of plants – from Tomato varieties to Peppers and Eggplants – that thrive in pots and smaller garden spaces.

Growing vegetables in containers can be done in any location that has 6-8 hours of sun per day.

The benefits are obvious: There’s no need to dig and prepare a garden bed. Gardeners enjoy easy access to the pots for watering, fertilizing and harvesting. Containers can be moved to suit the needs of the plants or the gardeners. And, best of all, there’s no weeding.

There are a few obvious drawbacks: Some varieties of vegetables such as large pumpkins cannot be grown in containers. And more water and fertilizer is needed to produce a good harvest in a container. But the extra bit of effort is worth the reward of a delicious harvest.

To start a container garden of edibles, here are 9 steps to get you started:

Barb with pots
Keep in mind that the pot or pots you select must be large enough to hold soil and the roots of whatever plant or plants you wish to grow.

1. Choose Your Pot

Keep in mind that the pot or pots you select must be large enough to hold soil and the roots of whatever plant or plants you wish to grow. Tomatoes and vining crops produce best in containers that are at least 20–22” in diameter. Peppers can go a little less at 16” diameter. Greens such as Lettuce prefer a broad flat pot such as a large bowl-shaped container.

Drainage is imperative! Make certain that each pot has several holes in the bottom. It is NOT necessary to put stones in the bottom of the pot.

As long as there is drainage, pots made of almost any type of material will work. Fiber pots work well but are not decorative. There are many plastic pots that are decorative, functional, and lightweight. I prefer something that’s easy to move and to empty at the end of the season.

bags of compost
Use a lightweight, high quality potting soil and mix it at 2/3 potting soil to 1/3 compost.

2. Soil

Use a lightweight, high quality potting soil. Never try and use garden soil from your yard. After you have purchased your potting soil, mix it at 2/3 potting soil to 1/3 compost. This mixture allows the plants to retain moisture and nutrients. Types of compost can include: leaf mold compost you have made, dried aged manure, or shrimp and seaweed compost. I create a mix in a wheelbarrow or garden trug. Lightly water the mixture before placing it in your pot so the peat moss in the mix isn’t too dry.

When filling your container, firm in the soil without compacting it too much.  Unpot your vegetable plant and place it in the center, if you wish, or spaced with other plants if you’re creating a combination. Add more of your container mix, pressing down gently and adding more soil until the pot is filled to about 2-3” below the lip. Always leave space at the top to create a watering reservoir.

3. Planting Depth

This is key. For Tomatoes, remove the lower leaves and plant the Tomato deep in the soil. Roots will form along the stem. (The only exception is Grafted Tomatoes, which should not be set in soil below the graft line, which is generally marked with a tie or piece of tape.)

For Cucumbers, Squash, Lettuce, Eggplant and most other vegetable starts, plant at soil level.

Tomato cage
Pepper ladders (shown here) or Tomato cages can be used to support smaller Tomato plants, Peppers and Cucumbers.

4. Support

Tomato cages can be used for smaller Tomato plants, Peppers and Cucumbers. Cone or pyramid-shaped trellises usually work better than flat types. Chicken wire can be bent and used to make a cage. A few stakes can be placed around the perimeter of the pot to form a teepee.

Pot platforms or deck protectors can be used to move your pots around, protect your patio or deck, and allow air to circulate and water to drain from the pots.

5. Watering

Container plants in full sun need to be checked every day. Using organic compost will help reduce the need, but the hot sun will require that you check your plants daily. The best way to see if your plants need water is to stick your finger in the soil. If it’s dry to the touch below the surface ½” or so, it’s time to water. Learning to see signs of wilting is something that will happen as you grow plants every season. Look for the plants to be flagging a bit, or for the soil to begin separating from the sides of the container. Those are signs your plant needs water. But overwatering can also be a problem, in particular for Tomatoes and Peppers, so make sure you observe carefully and do not water during cloudy or rainy weather unless you see that the soil is dry under the surface.

Tomatoes and Peppers need regular watering and feeding while they’re growing, but when the fruit starts to mature, it’s important not to overwater or over-fertilize as this will cause your fruit to be susceptible to disease and reduce the flavor.

6. Fertilization

After the vegetables have settled into their new pots and new growth can be seen, it’s time to fertilize your plants. If your potting soil has slow-release fertilizer, you should wait at least several weeks before adding more. Use fertilizer at the rates recommended on the label. There are many organic and synthetic fertilizers on the market, and some of them specifically are for vegetables. If you use a fertilizer that is higher in phosphorus than nitrogen and potassium, it will promote more fruit. Read the labels carefully and apply what’s recommended regularly – in particular if you are watering often and the plants are actively growing prior to harvesting, make sure you are feeding. Hot sun and frequent water will leach out valuable nutrients.

7. Staking, Tying and Pinching

Stakes should be inserted into your containers at planting time. As the vegetables grow and produce fruit, tie the large branches so they have support but aren’t girdled.

To fully understand Tomato pruning, visit the Fine Gardening magazine website, www.FineGardening.com, and enter “tomato pruning.” They offer a detailed explanation of the process.

8. Insects and Disease

Prevention is the best organic method of pest control. Proper watering techniques avoid most issues with vegetables and herbs. Fertilization, full sun and air circulation are also imperative. If you do have insects or disease, use organic control measures such as horticultural oil and insecticidal soap.

9. Harvesting

Each type of vegetable has specific harvesting techniques. For Tomatoes, allow them to ripen to their mature color and feel the fruit to make sure it has soft give to it. Some varieties twist off easily when they are ready to be picked. Know the mature color and age, and resist the urge to pick too early!!

 

FAVORITE HERBS FOR CONTAINERS

pots on roof
Many herbs, such as Mint, Thyme, Oregano, Sage and Rosemary do well in containers.

Mint

Always plant Mints in pots! It’s very invasive in the garden, but so good for drinks and as a garnish. Plant in large pots with plenty of soil depth. Mint needs quite a bit of water so make sure you check it and add compost to the potting mix for better water retention.

Thyme

Thyme is pretty and creeping so it cascades nicely over the rim of a pot. Use a shallow container because Thyme has a fine root system and is prone to root rot when given too much soil.

Parsley

Cut Parsley often to keep it from flowering or “bolting.” (If it does bolt, it tastes terrible.) It’s best planted in a large pot.

Sage

It can easily be overwatered so plant it in a container that is medium depth or shallow and has good drainage. To promote drier conditions, don’t add too much compost.

Oregano

Delicious and aromatic, this is a fairly aggressive grower so use a large pot and treat it like Mint.

Rosemary

This favorite can be quite tricky when it comes to watering. Too much water, and it’s unhappy, not enough and it’s equally unhappy. Take care when combining it in a mixed container and be sure you have good drainage!!

 

FAVORITE TOMATOES FOR CONTAINER POTS

Note: Many of these are compact varieties. Some are “determinant” plants, which means they do all their fruiting in one flush.

grow bag, pepper mini red bell sweet
Many compact or dwarf varieties of vegetables are ideally suited to smaller quarters, but they can also be planted in small spaces in vegetable gardens.

FAVORITE VEGETABLES FOR CONTAINERS

Note: Many of these are compact or dwarf varieties that are ideally suited to smaller quarters. They also can be planted in small spaces in vegetable gardens.

Brazelberries
There are several varieties of Bushel and Berry™ compact berry bushes such as Peach Sorbet™ that do well in containers.

FAVORITE FRUITS FOR CONTAINER POTS

Emerald Isle Hosta Collection

How to Create an Enchanting Garden Pathway

Make a Path with The Works Daffodils
Make a Path with The Works Daffodils

Paths serve many functions in a landscape, both practical and esthetic. A paved one can lead guests, mud-free, to the front door, or allow you to fetch the mail every day. A gravel path might provide access to a storage shed or garage year-round to fetch the lawnmower and snow shovels. A grass or mulch pathway could lead to the vegetable garden, or invite you to explore the far end of the backyard among shrubs and ferns. Paths should be treated as important design elements, allowing you to link different parts of your landscape or simply draw your eye to various focal points. Sometimes it helps to imagine yourself as a designer, not just a gardener!

Here are some ways to meet the challenge of creating successful pathways that are functional as well as pleasing to the eye.

  • Start with long-blooming perennials and those with handsome foliage. For a long walkway, plan to repeat some of the elements to impart a sense of unity.
  • Vary foliage texture for the most interesting display. Start with your favorite varieties and then look for contrast — narrow and broad-leaved or feathery and ferny leaves. For a full to partial sun location, consider the scalloped, sage green leaves of Lady’s Mantle and deeply cut foliage of hardy Geraniums. For the shade, Hostas provide handsome leaf coloration with varying shapes and sizes.
  • On a long or winding path, add some surprise elements with a handful of tall plants such as the soft yellow Digitalis grandiflora or fragrant Oriental Lilies. Mark a turn in a sunny path with a tuteur or trellis embellished with a Clematis or Climbing Rose.
  • Consider compact shrubs for plenty of easy-care color. For partial or full sun, a number of Hydrangea varieties stay relatively short (3-4ft) and provide lush, showy flower heads. For full sun, there’s a whole new generation of Butterfly Bushes that mature 3-5ft tall with long-lasting, fragrant blooms.
  • Add romance by letting some plants grow over the path’s edge. Imagine a tumble of colorful perennial blooms such as Dianthus, Nepeta, or Coreopsis. Or the blade-like foliage of Ornamental Grasses that catch the slightest breeze and provide a sense of movement.
Plant perennials along the path
Consider Iris, Baptisa, Hydrangeas, Salvia or Heuchera for your path garden.

 

  • Using the path in the evening? White flowers remain visible for a long time after sunset, and reflect the tiniest bit of light. Hardy perennials such as white Astilbes, Gypsophila, and Leucanthemum will look clean and crisp during the day and glow at twilight.
  • Consider adding some annuals to a walkway, especially in the shade. Coleus, Begonias, and Impatiens provide long-lasting color and form tucked between perennials along a path.
  • For a simple, elegant display, a hedge-like planting of fragrant Lavender will transport you to Provence as you stroll along your sunny pathway. Plants are deer-resistant and stay attractive long after the spent blooms have been clipped off.

These ideas are just the starting points for successful pathway plantings.

Cleaning & Sharpening Your Pruners

With Matt Scace, Grower for the White Flower Farm Store

The gardening season is about to get underway in the Northeast, so it’s a great time to clean the garden tools.

Up at the farm, we asked Matt Scace, grower for the White Flower Farm Store, to walk us through the steps. For starters, he points out that there are a lot of different tools that would appreciate attention: axes, edgers, shears, hoes, swoes, shovels, trowels, pick mattocks, forks, and saws. For purposes of this post, we’ll concentrate on one of the most commonly used garden tools: pruners. The same techniques used to clean and sharpen pruners can be applied to lopers and the blades of some other garden tools as well.

To begin, the materials you’ll need to clean and sharpen a pair of pruners are:

dish soap, a nylon scrubby sponge, a whetstone or sharpening stone, a few drops of oil (any kind will do, from canola to WD40), a rag or paper towels, and a bit of elbow grease.

Step #1: Soak or Oil Your Stone

Some whetstones and sharpening stones require that you soak them in water for a period of time before use. Others require a few drops of oil. Follow the instructions that came with your stone. Soaking or oiling “prevents teeny, tiny bits of steel from getting stuck in the stone,” Matt says. “It’s the way oil works in a frying pan.”

Matt uses an all-in-one-tool to disassemble his Felco pruners.

Matt uses an all-in-one-tool to disassemble his Felco pruners.

Step #2 (optional): Disassemble Your Pruners

This step is optional because not all pruners or garden tools are designed for easy disassembly. Tools that don’t encourage disassembly should be left intact.

Well-made pruners, including the Swiss-made Felco models preferred by most of our garden staff, are easy to take apart. Disassembling should be done whenever possible because it’s the best way to clean and sharpen the full blade and to clean the interior junction where the blade pivots.

To disassemble: use a screwdriver, all-in-one tool, or, in the case of Felco and some other brands, the mini-wrench or disassembly tool that comes with your pruners. If you’re afraid you might not be able to put your pruners back together again, Matt has great advice: “Take out one screw, and take a picture with your cell phone. Take out another screw, and take another picture with your cell phone,” and so on. That way, you’ll have a visual record of how to put everything back together.

While you disassemble your pruners, take care to set the parts on a clean, uncluttered surface so nothing gets lost. For his demonstration, Matt used the back of a legal pad.

pruners and dish soap
Use warm water, dish soap, and a nylon scrubby sponge to remove sap and clean the blade.

Step #3: Dish Soap & Water

Washing your blade is next. If you’ve disassembled your pruners, carry the blade to the sink. (If you didn’t disassemble, give the whole tool a bath. It won’t hurt anything as long as you dry the pruners thoroughly and coat the metal parts with oil later, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves . . .)

Under warm running water, Matt uses Dawn dish soap and a nylon scrubby sponge to clean the blade. The results are rather remarkable. The blade emerges shiny, and looks almost new. Cleaning the blade not only removes grit, sap and dirt, it also enhances your view of the blade’s beveled edge. Taking care of that is the whole point of sharpening, which comes next.

pruners and sharpening stone

Matt holds the blade at the angle of the bevel as he rubs it down the sharpening stone.

Step #4: Sharpening the Blade

“The bevel on any blade is the angle at which it is ground at the factory,” Matt says. “If you look straight down on the blade of a food processor, the shiny part is the bevel. The purpose of sharpening is to maintain the existing bevel on a blade. While sharpening, you are essentially grinding along that existing bevel.” It’s important to sharpen while the bevel is easy to find, Matt says. “If you wait until you can’t find the bevel, you’re in a bit of trouble.”

Sharpening techniques vary, and they may depend on the size and shape of your whetstone or sharpening stone. Place the stone and blade in contact, and “feel for the angle,” Matt says. When you’ve found it, move the blade gently against the stone (or the stone against the blade, depending on the type you have) so abrasion begins to sharpen the edge. “Some recommend using a circular motion,” which means moving the blade or stone in small circles along the bevel, Matt says. Others run the blade down the stone in a linear fashion. The key is to maintain the angle of the beveled edge. Check your progress as you go. In the places where you’ve rubbed the blade against the abrasive stone, the blade will appear shinier. Make sure the shine corresponds to the factory-made bevel. You can check the sharpness of your blade by cutting a piece of paper: Hold the paper in one hand and slice at the edge with the blade. The blade should cut into the paper, creating a shred that curls away.

oil for pruners
After sharpening, it’s time for oil. A drop or two protects steel blades, preventing rust and corrosion, and it keeps the pivot mechanism moving smoothly.

Step #5: Oil

Once you’re done sharpening, it’s time for oil. A drop or two protects steel blades, preventing rust and corrosion, Matt says. It also keeps the pivot mechanism moving smoothly. Any type of oil will do, from canola or vegetable oil to WD40, honing oil, or household 3-in-1. “Use just enough to coat the surface,” Matt says. He rubs oil all over the metal surfaces and wipes off any excess with a cloth. “The oil shouldn’t run or collect.”

Step #6: Always, Always Use the Right Tool for the Job

There will be a future post on this topic, but for now, Matt reminds all of us to use the right tool for the job. “The right tool for the job is going to reduce wear and tear, and that means you sharpen less often,” he says. The Felco #2, which he uses frequently, “is capable of cutting a great many more things than you should cut with it. When you have your nice Swiss-made Felco pruners, and you’re out cutting your Roses, you might see a coated wire tie on a Rose, and you think, ‘Oh, I’ll just cut it with the pruners, and it’ll be OK because I’m only going to do it this once.’ It is not OK.” Tools that are misused are subject to dings, degradation, and breakage. “The relationship between care and use goes together like teeth and gears,” Matt says. Make that extra trip back to the shed for the wire cutters, or whatever tool is designed for a specific purpose. “This might sound like a sales pitch, but in the long term, having the tool that’s made for the job you’re doing is less expensive.”

disassembled pruners
TIP: If you’re worried you won’t know how to reassemble your pruners, take cell phone photos as you disassemble a pair, then you have a record of what goes where and in what order.

Ongoing Care & Rubbing Alcohol

Ideally, you should clean, dry and oil your tools after each use. Not many of us are that diligent, but the point is, buy good tools and treat them with the respect they deserve, cleaning them often.

For tools that come in contact with plant material, it’s wise to clean the blades with rubbing alcohol. “It can dramatically reduce insect and disease issues,” Matt says. A good number of plant diseases are plant-specific and won’t spread from one type of plant to another on a pair of pruners, but others can be transmitted that way, and a bit of alcohol can hinder the spread.

A Video Series on Houseplants

Have you ever looked at one of your houseplants and wondered why it wasn’t looking its best? Our team put together a series of videos to help you keep your houseplants thriving. We cover common problems with houseplants, when to water your plant, and also when and how to repot your plant.

 

 

 

Still have questions or haven’t found the answer you were looking for? Visit our website to chat with one of one of our knowledgeable customer service team members, or browse our collection of products for growing plants indoors.

 

 

Forcing Bulbs – It’s Easier Than You Think

Forced Narcissus

For starters, “forcing” is a misnomer because it sounds too much like work. We’re just tricking the bulbs into thinking winter is over quite a bit sooner than it is. Forcing is an easy sleight of hand that offers the soul-restoring scents and colors of spring at a time of year when spirits sorely need reviving. But you need to plant now, in autumn, to enjoy the results when the snow flies! Although we usually think of forcing Daffodils, Hyacinths, and Tulips, many of the smaller bulbs are also extremely easy and gratifying to force: Crocus, Muscari (Grape Hyacinth), Scilla, Dwarf Irises, and Anemones also will give great results.

Forced bulbs can be divided into two groups: those that require a chilling period and those that don’t. When bulbs do need chilling, what they actually require is many weeks less than typical northern winters. (See the list at the end of this post for details.)

In a nutshell, here’s what you do . . .

 Force Bulbs That Need Chilling

covering-bulbs-copy

Pot the bulbs in any well-draining potting mix, water them, and set them aside in a cool but not freezing dark spot for the required minimum time (see below), then bring them into warmth and light in the house. The bulbs think spring has arrived and quickly sprout and flower. It’s that easy — the bulbs do most of the work.

This is a great project to do with young children, if you want to invite the kids or grandkids to participate. The actual planting is a little messy, so it’s a good idea to spread some newspapers to catch any spilled soil, gather all your pots in one spot, and do all the planting at one time.

Containers and Potting Mix

Bulb containers with moistened potting mix
Bulb containers with moistened potting mix

You can use any pot you like to hold bulbs you want to force, as long as it allows room for root growth — about 3-4” of space below the bulbs. This is a great opportunity to showcase flea market finds and tag sale treasures, or your favorite terra cotta pots. If you choose a pot without a drainage hole in the bottom, you’ll have to water your bulbs carefully, because bulbs that sit in soggy potting mix soon will rot. Consider using a ceramic or terra cotta pot if you’re forcing tall Daffodils or Tulips. These flowers can be top-heavy when in full bloom and may topple if grown in lightweight plastic pots.

We recommend that you plant bulbs in a soilless potting mix (available at garden centers and hardware stores). A soilless mix holds moisture but allows excess water to drain away readily.

Potting the Bulbs

covering-bulbs-1-copy

To pot the bulbs, begin by placing potting mix in a plastic tub or bucket. Slowly add water and stir until the mix is moist but not soggy. This is an ideal job for a very young assistant, if you’d like to invite a child or grandchild to join the fun. Add the moistened mix to the container until the pot is about three-quarters full. Set the bulbs root-side down on top of the mix (or on their sides if you can’t tell which end is up, as with Anemone blanda). Space the bulbs much more closely than you would in the garden – they should almost touch. Then add more mix. Cover small bulbs completely with a ½” layer of mix; cover larger bulbs up to their necks, leaving the tips of the bulbs exposed. Water thoroughly after potting.

Chilling the Bulbs

Bulbs in bags in Mary Valente refrigerator door; Tulips; Daffodils; Narcissus; Hyacinth; bulb forcing
You can keep bulbs cool in a refrigerator, but only if there is no fresh fruit stored inside. The ethylene gas released by fruit during its natural ripening process will interfere with flower development. Better to store bulbs in an extra refrigerator, if you happen to have one.

To force cold-hardy bulbs into bloom, you must first encourage them to produce new roots by keeping them cool and moist for a period of time that varies by type of bulb (see listing below). The ideal rooting temperature also varies, but most bulbs flower best if stored at 40-60°F for the first 3-4 weeks after potting, then at 32-40° for the balance of the cooling period – a shift that mimics the drop in soil temperature outdoors as fall turns to winter.

The easiest way to chill bulbs is to put them outdoors and let nature do the rest. To insulate the bulbs from rapid changes in air temperature and from freezing cold, bury the pots in a pile of dry leaves held in place by a plastic tarp or in a pile of mulch, such as bark or wood chip, and cover the pile to prevent formation of a frozen crust. You also can chill bulbs in a cold frame if you’re lucky enough to have one; a cold basement; or an unheated garage (provided the temperature doesn’t fall below freezing). If you choose to chill bulbs in the refrigerator, be certain there is no fresh fruit stored inside. Fruit releases ethylene gas as a natural part of its natural ripening process, and the ethylene will interfere with flower development. In locations other than a refrigerator, it may be difficult to arrange for the ideal shift in temperature described above. Fortunately, most bulbs haven’t read the manuals, and they will root beautifully if the temperature does not stray too far above or below 40°F during the rooting time. Professional growers fill huge walk-in coolers with potted bulbs and control the temperatures precisely. Using an old refrigerator in a basement can deliver great results without ever touching the temperature controls.

The possible downside to outside storage has four little legs. If mice or other rodents have access to your bulbs, they will devour all but the varieties that are poisonous or distasteful to them (such as Narcissus, more commonly known as Daffodils). Protect potted bulbs with steel mesh, such as hardware cloth.

Please note that moisture is as important as temperature in the successful chilling of bulbs. Check the potting mix in the pots every few weeks and water thoroughly when the surface is dry to the touch.

Toward the end of the recommended rooting time, begin checking the pots for signs that the bulbs have rooted. If you see fleshy white roots poking through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pots, the bulbs are usually ready to bloom. If you don’t see roots, give the bulbs more time in cold storage. Don’t judge readiness by the appearance of shoots from the tops of the bulbs; without roots, the bulbs won’t flower properly.

Once the bulbs have rooted, you don’t have to bring them out of the cold immediately. Most will tolerate extra chilling time, allowing you to orchestrate a succession of winter bloom.

Bringing the Bulbs into Bloom

Forced bulbs under lights
Forced bulbs under grow lights. A sunny window also provides adequate light for bulb forcing.

When the bulbs have rooted, bring the pots out of cold storage and set them in a bright window in a cool room (one where the temperature stays below 65°F). Bright light will help keep the leaves and flower stems compact; in weak light, they tend to flop. You’re likely to find that the bulbs have produced white shoots during cold storage. Sunlight quickly turns them green.

Keep a close eye on the moisture needs of the bulbs as they send up leaves and flower stems. Initially, the bulbs probably won’t need to be watered more frequently than once a week (if that much), but by the time they bloom, you may need to water them every day or two.

Most bulbs will bloom 2-5 weeks after they come out of the cold, heralding spring with their bright colors and sweet fragrances. Duration of bloom varies with the type of bulb and the variety but is generally shorter than you’d expect of bulbs in the garden. Warm temperatures and low humidity indoors speed the decline of the flowers. Shifting the pots out of direct sunlight and moving them to a cool room at night helps prolong bloom.

When the blooms fade, we usually recommend that you toss the bulbs on the compost pile. If you keep them in a sunny window and continue to water them, forced bulbs can be planted in the garden after the threat of hard frost has passed, but they won’t bloom well again for at least two years. Tulips rarely bloom again, but Daffodils, Crocus, and Grape Hyacinth are more likely to be worth the effort of planting.

Forcing Hyacinths Without Soil

The whiskery white roots of some Hyacinth bulbs appeared in just 24 hours.
The whiskery white roots of some Hyacinth bulbs appeared  just 24 hours after they were removed from cooling and were set atop glass gems with water below.

Hyacinths can be forced in pebbles and water, or in glass jars. They still require a cool rooting period if forced this way. Special forcing glasses, in use since Victorian days, are shaped like an hourglass and keep the bottom of the bulb dry—only the bulb’s roots reach down into the water. If you are using pebbles in another type of container, place a 2-3” layer of pebbles, such as pea stone, marble chips, or river rocks, in the bottom of the bowl or pot. Set the bulbs on top of the pebbles then fill with more pebbles, leaving the top 1/3 of the bulbs exposed. Add enough water to create a reservoir for the roots, but be sure the bases of the bulbs stay above water level. If they sit in water, the bulbs will rot. Then place the container in a dark, cool area (40-50°F) for 4-8 weeks. Check the water level occasionally and add more water as necessary, keeping the water level below the bottom of the bulb. When roots have developed and leaves begin to grow, it’s time to move the bulb into a bright window in a cool room (one where the temperatures stay below 65°F). Bulbs forced in water can be planted in the garden after the threat of hard frost has passed, but they won’t bloom well again for at least two years – if ever.

Recommended Cooling Period

Professionals often recommend very lengthy cold periods, but we’ve had good results at home using the minimums listed here. Remember that bulbs can keep chilling for longer than the minimum. Please note that Tulips do require the longest period to flower successfully.

hydroponic-tulips-in-bloom-feb-20-copy

Recommended Rooting Times for Cold-Hardy Bulbs

  • Anemone (Windflower), 8-10 weeks
  • Chionodoxa (Glories of the Snow), 10-12 weeks
  • Crocus (Spring-blooming Crocus), 8-10 weeks
  • Galanthus (Snowdrops), 10-12 weeks
  • Hyacinthus (Hyacinth), 12-14 weeks
  • Dwarf Iris (Iris reticulata and other spring-blooming bulbous species), 10-12 weeks
  • Leucojum (Summer Snowflake), 8-10 weeks
  • Muscari (Grape Hyacinth, to keep the leaves shorter, store cool and dry for 6-8 weeks, then give 2 weeks of cool rooting time)
  • Trumpet Daffodils, 14-16 weeks
  • Large-Cupped Daffodils, 15-17 weeks
  • Small-Cupped Daffodils, 16-18 weeks
  • Double-Flowered Daffodils, 16-18 weeks
  • Split-Corona Daffodils, 14-16 weeks
  • Narcissus (Triandrus), 16-17 weeks
  • Narcissus (Cyclamineus), 14-15 weeks
  • Narcissus (Jonquilla), 15-16 weeks
  • Narcissus (Tazetta), 14-15 weeks
  • Narcissus (Miniature), 14-16 weeks
  • Scilla (Squill), 10-12 weeks
  • Tulipa (Tulip), 14-16 weeks

Video: Learn about our New Native Garden at the Farm

You can read the video transcript for the video “Planting a Native Garden at White Flower Farm” below:

Hi, I’m Cheryl, the head gardener at White Flower Farm. Welcome to the latest addition to our display gardens here at the nursery, the native garden.

The cast of characters for this new garden is selected from the pool of plants that are native to our Connecticut region. The purpose of this garden is to provide a safe and bountiful haven for our local birds, bees, butterflies and insects.

My planning for this garden began last fall.  The first step in my design process was lots of research.  I came up with a list of native shrubs, perennials and grasses that I thought might work in my space, and using the maps in the plant database on the USDA website, I was able to determine if my chosen plants were native to Connecticut.

After paring down my initial plant idea list, a final list began to take shape.  Working my way down that list, more research allowed me to fill in the specifics about each plant, such as its light requirements, mature height and width, flower color and bloom time, and most importantly, what role that plant played in sustaining wildlife. I also made note if the plant had an aesthetic attribute like showy fruit or outstanding fall color. Not only did I want the garden to be useful for wildlife, I also wanted to create a pretty garden.

After collecting all the necessary details about each plant, I started to put the pieces of the garden together. I began with the shrub pieces to my puzzle, which created the structural bones of the garden, which could then be flushed out with perennials and grasses.

The first plants went into the ground in early May, with a few more subsequent waves of planting as the rest of the plants showed up and reported for duty. Much to my surprise my paper garden plan translated pretty well to the earth, as I only had to make a few minor adjustments in spacing as I laid out the plants. It doesn’t always go that smoothly.

I’m pleased with the progress of the new garden this first season. The plants, for the most part, have settled in and have started to flourish. I’ve begun to make a few notes and a “to do” list that I think will improve the garden going forth.  It seems I have a little too much Verbena hastata, and I need to replace some Eupatorium perfoliatum that never did quite establish. I still want to find some Coreopsis verticillata. The straight species is hard to source. In the meantime, Monarda punctata, a last-minute addition to the cast, fills in for the Coreopsis and the bees couldn’t be happier.

Why are native plants important? WIldlife and plants that share native habitats have co-evolved over time. Native plants provide food and shelter for your resident birds and insect populations. Consider creating your own native garden, or popping in a few native plants into your existing garden. Your winged and feathered friends will be most grateful.

Problem Solving Plants for Your Garden

The simplest way to increase your success in the garden is to select plants that match your conditions. Sun-lovers such as Peonies and Daylilies will be less vigorous and less floriferous when grown in shade, and shade-lovers such as Hostas, Astilbes, and Ferns tend to get crispy and bleached when they bake all day. No amount of fertilizer will change those performances.

These huge blooms of Old-time Peony Collection are on display in June.
These huge blooms of Old-time Peony Collection are on display in June.

It’s easy to fall in love with a plant, but you’ll spare yourself a lot of heartache if you can match that plant’s needs with the conditions you have. It may be worth experimenting once in a while, but you’ll save time and money and frustration when most of your choices fit your site. Beyond the basics of sun and shade, you can also look in our quick guide for plants that resist deer, attract butterflies, rebloom with abandon, or even tolerate tough conditions.

The blooms of Digitalis purpurea Excelsior Hybrids show off shades of pink to lavender pink, light pink and white in June and July.
The blooms of Digitalis purpurea Excelsior Hybrids show off shades of pink to lavender pink, light pink and white in June and July.

Whether you’re lucky enough to have mature trees providing shade or you live in a new development with lots of wide-open sunny spaces, there are perennials, bulbs, and shrubs that will love to grow in your garden. So size up your site, make notes on your aesthetic preferences and enjoy browsing for just-right plants. Our Web site provides an A-Z List of Growing Guides in the Gardening Help section so you can be successful with every plant you choose.

Colchicum 'Rosy Dawn'

Fall Blooming Bulbs

Magazines and TV talk shows exhort us to live in the moment, and gardening is a way to encourage that practice — to stop and smell the Roses. But gardening is also very much about anticipation, eagerly looking ahead to the first ripe Tomato or the blooming of a favorite perennial.

Elegant, goblet-shaped blooms of Crocus speciosus are violet blue to mauve in color.
Elegant, goblet-shaped blooms of Crocus speciosus are violet blue to mauve in color.

We find it’s easy to extend that sense of anticipation far beyond the summer growing season with fall-blooming bulbs such as Crocus, Colchicums, Sternbergia, and Lycoris. These charmers provide a delightful way to bring the gardening year to a close.

Sternbergia lutea, a lovely fall-flowering Crocus look-alike with bright yellow blooms.
Sternbergia lutea, a lovely fall-flowering Crocus look-alike with bright yellow blooms.

Like bulbs that flower in spring, most fall-flowering bulbs need a sunny or partly sunny site (although Lycoris radiata prefers partial shade in warm climates) and moderately fertile, well-drained soil. To improve drainage, incorporate organic matter into the soil and to boost fertility, apply bulb fertilizer on top of the ground after planting. Sternbergia often benefits from a bit of limestone worked into the soil.

Bright red flowers, adorned with long, curling filaments make up Lycoris radiata.
Bright red flowers, adorned with long, curling filaments make up Lycoris radiata.

Plant fall-flowering bulbs as soon as possible after you receive them because they need to establish their root systems. Plant Crocuses 2-3in deep and 3in apart. Colchicum bulbs are larger; plant them 4-6in deep and 10-12in apart. Plant Sternbergia bulbs 6in deep and 4in apart. Set the bulbs of Lycoris so that the neck sits just below the soil surface and space them 5in apart.

As long as the soil is well drained, pests and diseases are rarely a problem with these bulbs. Deer and voles do not bother them. Fall-flowering Colchicums and Crocuses usually bloom about 3-6 weeks after planting. Lycoris requires more time to settle in; it may not bloom until the following year, but the wait is well worthwhile.

 

Staff Favorites for Spring

Each spring, about a dozen of our staff members participate in plant trials. Each of us takes home flats of annuals, perennials and shrubs that are being considered for addition to our lineup. We grow these plants in our home gardens, and we take copious notes and photos as the season progresses. When autumn arrives, we all have a pretty good idea of which plants live up to their breeder or grower’s claims and which don’t. We also know which have won a permanent place in our gardens.

As you peruse our offerings for spring and examine the new items in our Spring 2017 Garden Book and on our website, you might like to give special consideration to plants chosen as favorites by our staff members. While we asked staff members to name a single favorite, several had trouble narrowing down the choices. The result? We let them cheat a little. After all, what’s the harm? We apply the same logic in our gardens where there’s always room for one more.

Hellebore Gold Collection® Madame Lemonnier

Hellebore Gold Collection® Madame Lemonnier

When our Director of Horticulture Rob Storm and our Nursery Manager Barb Pierson both agree on which plant is the most exciting choice for spring, it’s worth taking note!

‘The foliage is dark green, large and vigorous, but the real show is happening right now in our greenhouses. The flowers are very large for a hellebore, over 3” across, and the color is a burgundy pink that is stunning. Looking across the crop, there are flowers everywhere. Madame is a beautiful strong lady!’

Barb

‘I took a shot of a Madame Lemonnier bloom next to a blossom from Hellebore Gold Collection® Pink Frost, and it is easily double the size, maybe even bigger.’ [That’s Rob’s hand you see in the photo above.]

Rob

Monarda fistulosa

Monarda fistulosa

‘A favorite of mine is Monarda fistulosa. Subtle and more modest in its appearance than newer hybrids, this native Bee Balm is anything but subtle when it comes to attracting pollinators to the garden. The blossoms’ generous supply of nectar draws a steady stream of butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds all summer. (Love watching the dueling acrobatics of hummingbirds as they dive, hover, and defend their favorite nectar source.) In fall, birds visit to feed on the flowers’ dried seed heads. I’m planning to add a few plants to our sunny back hillside and look forward to sitting on the porch enjoying the show.’

Ann

Tomato ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’

Tomato ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’

‘Being one who loves chocolate, I was intrigued by the name and color. I was pleasantly surprised by the taste. This is a delicious, small and mighty tomato.’

Lisa

Heliopsis Burning Hearts

Heliopsis ‘Burning Hearts’

‘This grabbed my attention from afar in acres of growing fields. Its rich foliage is outstanding and the flowers are so unexpected as they are very large with reflexed petals. Heliopsis are overlooked because they aren’t in bloom during the rush of spring but they can play an important role in the garden as false sunflowers bloom when many home gardens are looking tired. Being a bit taller than the average perennial gives it a commanding stature in a mixed bed of ornamental grasses, Joe Pye Weed, Hydrangea, Liatris and Rudbeckia.’

Tom

Coreopsis ‘Leading Lady Sophia’

Coreopsis ‘Leading Lady Sophia’

‘A real workhorse in the summer garden, it blooms earlier, which is a big bonus, as well as being sterile so the showy floral display goes on for months. Clean foliage, large, bright flowers, no dead-heading required, compact size and heat tolerance all add up to a great selection for the novice or expert alike.’

Tom

Hemerocallis ‘Marque Moon’

Hemerocallis ‘Marque Moon’

‘Being a daylily enthusiast, an amateur collector and a garden retailer, I see a lot of daylilies, and I found myself continually impressed with this selection. The ruffles, the diamond-dusted petals, the clean white coloration and the slightest contrast of butter yellow throat and edges really earns this a place in any garden. It has replaced H. ‘Joan Senior’ as my favorite white daylily.’

Tom

Petunia Tidal Wave® Silver

Petunia Tidal Wave® Silver

‘I’m blown away by Petunia Tidal Wave® Silver. Unlike your grandmother’s petunias, which tend to collapse after a rainstorm, this one just keeps coming. In the farm’s display garden, it grew up the base of a tuteur, forming a remarkable wave. At home, it stood up really well for me in containers, blooming its head off all summer.’

Eliot

Coleus Chipotle

Coleus Flame Thrower™ Chipotle 

‘My favorite new plant introduction is Coleus Flame Thrower™ Chipotle. In addition to growing it in my garden, I saw it at the trial gardens in containers at Ball Horticulture in West Chicago, as well as at DS Cole’s Open House in New Hampshire. It gives structure and color to mixed annual containers. I like how it plays well with others in color, shape and habit. Apparently I am not the only one who likes it – two of our new annual containers have it as a supporting element, Nectar Depot and Chipotle Spice.

Cheryl D

Hummingbird Kit

Hummingbird Kit

‘I’m most excited about our Hummingbird Kit. I have several Hummingbirds who visit our backyard each year, and I’m looking forward to identifying them with my new field guide as they take a little rest and perch on my new feeder!’

Mary

Dahlia ‘AC Dark Horse’

Dahlia ‘AC Dark Horse’

‘I love all Dahlias, and I think it’s absolutely necessary to try new varieties so I can make sure that I am growing the very best ones available. I choose new varieties by going on a garden walk at WFF and taking in the entire Dahlia border (it must be 50’ long). I let my eyes jump to the most stunning of them all, and this year it was ‘AC Dark Horse.’ The color combination is electric, and I am sure it would be a stand-out in any garden, even one that is filled with Dahlias. I am ordering 6 of them.’

Margret

Cardoon: Cynara cardunculus ‘Porto Spineless’

Cardoon: Cynara cardunculus ‘Porto Spineless’

[Editor’s note: Cardoons are not new to White Flower Farm, but when we reintroduced them last year for trials, they were new to some of our staff members. They might be new to you, too!]

‘I couldn’t resist planting 3 Cardoons in a small and rather pathetic garden bed near the front of my house. I think I have seen them in every English garden I have ever visited or read about, but I could never find them for sale anywhere near me. At the beginning of the summer, they looked like pretty ferns. By the end of the summer, they were about 4’ tall and absolutely amazing looking. At least three neighbors told me that my garden looked “fancy.” Apparently, all it took was 3 Cardoons.’

Margret

Digitalis purpurea Dalmatian Peach

Digitalis purpurea Dalmatian Peach

‘What an attractive plant to brighten the back of a flowerbed.’

Alyson

Summer Magic Roselily Mix

Summer Magic Roselily Mix

‘Our mix combines four varieties of fragrant Oriental lilies, each the product of years of selective breeding. The beauty of these blossoms is reason enough to plant them in your garden, but in addition to what you see in the photo, you’ll enjoy a long season of bloom and a rich perfume. Also impressive is the amount of bloom you can expect in the first season.’

Lorraine

Miltonia Orchids

Miltonia Orchids

‘Lots of us grow orchids in our homes. We’re delighted to be able to offer a colorful array of richly patterned, fragrant Pansy Orchids. The name is derived from the patterning on the flowers, which mimics the masklike faces of pansies. Descended from wild orchids found in the cloud forests of the Andes Mountains, Miltonias are a lovely, easy-care addition to any interior, and they’re bound to attract lots of attention.’

Lorraine

Months of Mini Moth Orchids

Months of Mini Moth Orchids

‘These delicate mini moth Orchids are so cute! These kinds of Orchids are hard to find, and the colors and patterns on the leaves are so intricate and interesting. You get to try a new one each month. Plus they are low maintenance and tiny, so it’s easy to make room for them.’

Liz

lindera-benzoin

Lindera benzoin

‘I am looking forward to planting out Lindera benzoin in the gardens here at the farm. As it is a larval host for the Spicebush Swallowtail, I’m hoping to lure in and meet one of those “big-eyed” green caterpillars in person. It’s on my bucket list!!’

Cheryl K