Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Plants in Legend and Lore

For many people, the holiday season is the most special time of year. It is a period somewhat set apart from daily living and reserved for families, friends and celebrations. Above all, it is a time rich with customs and rituals, where even our simplest holiday decorations, songs and stories are the product of complex legends and myths from numerous countries and religious traditions, curiously blended together, transformed and reinterpreted over thousands of years.

The decorative plants we associate with the holidays are an important part of this cultural evolution, with none more significant than the leaves and boughs of evergreens. Imagine a much earlier time, where as the winter solstice approached, a once bright and fertile world became cold and dark. Fields became barren and seemingly lifeless. As a means to offset this chilling mortal experience, many cultures used cut branches of evergreens to decorate their dwellings and serve as symbols of undying life and continuity. In fact, our popular evergreen wreaths are themselves important representations of this cyclical nature of time and the passage of seasons.

Today, we may “deck our halls with boughs of holly” because it is attractive or traditional, but it is among the most important evergreens used throughout history. For the ancient Romans, holly was sacred to the god Saturn, who is associated with time and agriculture. Romans celebrating their midwinter Saturnalia exuberantly employed garlands and wreaths of holly.

Druids appreciated the evergreen nature of holly in their midwinter observances, even to the point of recognizing a mythic Holly King, who served as lord of the waning year. In their culture, holly represented masculinity and steadfastness, and was paired with ivy, another evergreen, which was considered feminine — in part owing to misogynistic notions of it being clinging and requiring support, as the two plants were often found together in the wild. By combining the attributes of holly and ivy in their decorations, Druids believed they could ward off evil spirits.

Christian and pagan traditions combined in the legend of Gawain and the Green Knight, wherein the green knight arrives at King Arthur’s court at midwinter brandishing a holly branch. The green knight is beheaded, but survives as a dramatic symbol of resurrection. Moreover, the character is closely connected with ancient and medieval legends of the Green Man, yet another symbol of masculinity and vegetative regeneration, and also related to the Holly King.

Beyond its association with holly, ivy maintains its own significance thanks to the Greek myth of Cissos, a dancing girl whose tireless performance during a feast left her dead at the feet of Dionysus. Cissos was granted immortality by being transformed into the vining plant. Moreover, the Romans knew Dionysus as Bacchus, and ivy was popularly worn as a garland during their Bacchanals in the belief that it would stave off drunkenness.

There is no more complicated and widely used symbol than the Christmas tree. Some accounts attribute the first decorative tree to Nimrod, one of Noah’s wayward relations. Druids were known to decorate the Oak of Thor. And Romans probably included evergreen trees along with their other Saturnalia wreaths and garlands.

One of the earliest legends introducing an evergreen tree as a Christmas tree of sorts concerns St. Boniface in the eighth century who had an Oak of Thor cut down and replaced with an evergreen fir. During the Middle Ages, villagers performing mystery plays typically used fir trees decorated with apples to represent the tree in the Garden of Eden. Much later, Martin Luther is attributed with introducing the first lighted Christmas tree, allegedly inspired by seeing stars shining through the branches. The combination of lights and trees follows a convoluted path. Certainly, using lights during the holiday period owes much to the symbolism of a sun god, or the return of light and the rebirth of a dead world. Pagan traditions often involved bonfires and Yule logs, while Christians invoked the Star of Bethlehem. There are also associations connecting tree lighting with Hanukkah, the festival of lights.

The first written record of a Christmas tree places it in Germany in 1605. Later, Charlotte, George III's German wife, is credited with bringing the Christmas tree to England in the 1800s. Afterwards, Victoria and Albert's custom of erecting a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle, complete with cranberry garlands and gingerbread cookie ornaments, led to the widespread appeal of a lighted, decorated tree and traditions throughout Britain and America. The United States also owes much of its Christmas tree observances to the Northern European immigrants who brought their traditions to the New World.

Another popular evergreen with a dizzying pedigree is laurel. The laurel known and used in the classical Mediterranean world is Lauris nobilis, always associated with the golden-haired god Apollo. The connection with a sun god had strong appeal for Romans and Greeks busy with midwinter decorating. In northern Europe, branches of cherry laurel were used, also for its evergreen properties, although it is a different species. Adding to the horticultural confusion, Americans further use the term laurel to describe decorative evergreens of many other species, some of which are also called bay laurels or bayberry laurels — which itself is associated with the candleberries or waxberries (actually myrtles) used to scent candles. Once again, one tradition leads to another, from sun gods reflected in evergreens to popular holiday candles, fragrant symbols of light and nature.

Mistletoe enjoys a long and varied history. The “golden bough” of Aeneas was thought to be mistletoe plucked from an oak by the hero entering the underworld in yet another rebirth myth. The plant, sacred to the Druids, was used to ward off evil spells, cure illness, ensure fertility, bring good luck and serve as an antidote for poisons. Of course, it is most known for its role in kissing rituals. The Druids admired the plant’s mystical properties, as it was commonly found to grow on oak trees, also sacred. Despite no roots to sustain or support it, it remained evergreen. Norse legends attribute the plant’s white berries to the tears Frigga shed for her slain son, prior to his resurrection and her creation of a decidedly popular “good luck through kissing ritual.” This once again brings us to numerous layers of symbolism found in a single evergreen plant, ranging from resurrection myths to notions of fertility. Early Christians banned the use of mistletoe due to these associations, but the Victorians later gave the ritual another opportunity to adorn the holiday season.

Many other plants continue to play a diverse role in holiday celebrations. Some are ancient, like strewing fragrant branches of the evergreen rosemary upon the floor in winter; others are modern additions like the poinsettia, a Latin American native that plays a holiday role, mostly because of the red and green symbolism. Even purely decorative plants, such as paperwhite narcissus, while they simply provide fragrance and flowers in Occidental homes, have a brighter significance in Chinese dwellings: bulbs planted in midwinter serve as a harbinger of the New Year.

Across time and continents, these plants and many others have continued to play a significant role in world mythology and symbolism, bringing life and color and traces of understanding to both our rituals and our daily lives.

Copyright 2014, Joseph M. Keyser

Monday, December 08, 2014

Live Trees Bring Living Memories

For many of us, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a fragrant, fresh-cut Christmas tree in our home. And for a lucky few -- those with large yards and strong backs -- the holiday is an opportunity to celebrate with a living Christmas tree; a cheerful, green guest whose role in this holiday tradition is only matched by its future value in the landscape.

In the wilds of Baltimore County, Larry and Cheryl Nickol, my brother- and sister-in-law, have been decorating their dining room with various species of five-foot firs and spruces for a number of years, later planting them around their property as specimen trees to adorn their landscape. Moreover, they look warmly at the tradition as a way to plant memories.

However, before you go dashing through the snow to a tree farm or local nursery, there are a few important details you need to address. For example, do you have a suitable place to plant your tree? Many popular species, such as Colorado Blue Spruce or Balsam Fir, will reach 40 to 60 feet or more in height. They cannot be used as foundation plantings. Of course, even if you do not have a suitable planting site, you can donate your tree to a school, church, or even a public park.

Also, remember that even a modest five-to-six foot tree can weigh upwards of 150 pounds or more, depending on how moist the root ball is. Container grown trees are somewhat lighter and easier to move about and care for, and have a better chance of surviving transplanting, although they can be more significantly more costly.

When considering cost, keep in mind that purchasing a typical five-foot ball-and-burlap specimen from a rural tree farm might cost about 50 to 75 dollars, while container grown cultivars, such as “Fat Albert” and “Hoopsi” Blue Spruce, purchased from well-known local nurseries can run as high as 275 dollars.

Availability and suitability also need some reflection: not every garden center or tree farm will have a desired species in stock every year, and not every species is appropriate for the temperature extremes of our Piedmont region. A reliable nursery manager can help direct you toward the best possible options.

After acquiring your tree, you will want to attend to the following checklist to ensure your enjoyment of the tree for years to come.

Start by digging your planting hole right away, normally two-to-three times the diameter of the root ball and at the same depth. You will never get the hole dug once the soil freezes! Retain the soil you have removed to backfill the tree later on. It might be handy to actually store the soil in a dry, protected spot to prevent it from freezing.

Inspect the branches and needles for insects or egg masses and remove them by hand. Spray your tree with an antidessicant, such as Wilt-Pruf, to help conserve moisture while indoors, and later protect the newly transplanted tree outdoors. Moisten the root ball or container and keep it moist until and after you plant the tree.

Prepare your tree for temporary indoor life by placing it in an unheated garage or shed, or on a sheltered porch, at least for several days.

Now the fun begins! Place the root ball in a galvanized tub or wash basin to keep things neat and prevent water damage. Stabilize the tree upright with bricks or stones, or create a base with several inches of gravel, which will prevent the tree from sitting in water.
Position your tree in a cool room, out of direct sunlight, and away from heat sources such as vents, radiators, woodstoves, or fireplaces. My brother-in-law actually closes the vents in his dining room to keep it a bit cooler. Also, keep miniature lights to a minimum to avoid additional heat, or consider using the newer, super-efficient LED light strings.

Be sure to keep the root ball moist, but not wet. Drizzle moisture onto the roots periodically, or even place a layer of crushed ice atop the burlap wrapping material.

Timing is critical. Do not keep your tree indoors for more than one week, and four-to-five days is preferable. A longer visit might be enough to break dormancy and result in a loss of winter hardiness. If you set up your tree on Christmas Eve or thereabouts, get it back outdoors before you start popping corks on New Year’s Eve!

As before, condition your tree for outdoor living by keeping it in a sheltered, unheated area for several days. Afterwards, plant your tree as soon as possible, watering thoroughly, and mulch up to three inches deep with straw, leaves, or aged wood chips. You may need to stake your tree if it is planted in a windy location.

And now you’re done. You can begin a virtuous new year having already done a good deed for your landscape and your environment. Cheers!

Finally, for the less ambitious, there is an alternative to wrestling with large, heavy trees available at almost every local nursery. You will find compact Alberta Spruces in containers ranging in height from one-to-four feet, sometimes larger, and costing anywhere from ten to 80 dollars. These smaller specimens might be perfect for a sideboard or tabletop, especially as they seldom weigh more than 35-to-50 pounds, and stay between seven and 12 feet in maximum height. After gracing your home during the holidays, you can plant outdoors or even place in a decorative container at your front entrance.

Copyright 2014, Joseph M. Keyser

Monday, December 01, 2014

Holiday Decorations for the Birds (and Other Critters)

However you prepare to decorate for the upcoming holiday season, you might want to expand your spirit of giving to include your feathered and furred neighbors. You will find that creating colorful, edible outdoor ornaments is a fun, imaginative, and rewarding activity that will bring your family closer together, and may launch a wonderful new tradition.

An increasingly popular trend is to get double-duty out of one’s decorations. For example, make garlands for your indoor Christmas tree using dried fruits and berries and later decorate an outdoor tree with that same garland. You may then move a cut Christmas tree with such garlands outdoors after the holidays (after removing lights and other ornaments), leaving it near a window where the whole family can watch the birds and other critters enjoy the feast.

Some of the more popular garlands are made from cranberries, slices of dried apricots, oranges, apples, and pears, raw peanuts, and popcorn. Use carpet thread, heavy twine, or even waxed dental floss and a strong needle, such as those used for needlepoint or tapestry work, and either string a garland of cranberries or popcorn by itself, or create a multicolored treat by alternating a mixture of berries and dried fruits. Popcorn garlands should be salt and shortening-free. However, as the popcorn often splits in the process, you may prefer to use in-the-shell peanuts instead. Never use clear fishing line, which is difficult for wildlife to see and which might ensnare an unwitting visitor.

The same principle can be applied to wreathes, swags, and garlands for railings and doorways. Begin by using grapevines or fresh-cut evergreens, like pine and cedar, wired together to form a swag or wreath., into which you can interweave sprays of white proso millet and elderberry, dried seedhead clusters from sumac, sorghum, purple coneflower, and Rudbeckia, as well as a cornucopia of dried fruits, rose hips, berries, and nuts. You can also purchase prefabricated straw wreaths or evergreen wreaths and garland to achieve the same effect with a bit less effort.

Doubling the fun with indoor/outdoor decorations has caught on so well that an overwhelming number of holiday catalogs feature imaginative and festive (oh, and costly) versions of homemade swags, wreathes, bouquets, and centerpieces, including bouquet refills to keep birds coming back.

Of course, if you find the idea of festooning your formal parlor with popcorn somewhat unappetizing, you can always designate an outdoor Yuletide Tree for your nature-friendly efforts. You can certainly use any of the above notions and augment them with additional treats, perhaps fresh fruit garlands of grapes, pieces of orange and apple, blueberries, golden raisins, and so forth, or simply turn to the pinecone, the most popular and foolproof wildlife ornament of all.

Start by collecting large pine cones, such as those from loblolly or longleaf pines, and deftly cover them with peanut butter – the crunchier the better. Let kids use their little fingers to reach into all the tight spots. Roll the pine cones in a commercial mix of bird seed, or blend your own using black oil sunflower seeds and millet. Use red twine or yarn to hang the ornaments from the bare branches of deciduous trees like dogwoods, or secure to any of the pines and spruces around your yard. Be sure to place the cones in trees you can easily watch.

Your pinecone treats can be jazzed up by mixing peanut butter with suet or substituting suet altogether. You can also add raisins, cranberries, and minced pieces of unsalted nuts and dried fruits to your seed mix to make the ornaments more colorful and more appealing for birds.
Additional ornaments can be made from slices of stale bread by using cookie cutters to cut out fanciful holiday shapes like gingerbread men, stars, evergreen trees, Christmas stockings, and even Santa himself! Let the bread harden overnight, coat with peanut butter or suet, and adorn with your seed mixture. Bagels, sliced in half, and similarly spread with peanut butter and seeds, may be hung outdoors on your Hanukkah tree.

Naturally, if you plan to spend the better part of a month tracking down hard-to-find Hanna Montana paraphernalia, you might not want to invest time in homespun arts-and-crafts. Fear not! You will quickly find wildlife and gardening-oriented merchants offering a constellation of red and green star-shaped suet feeders, suet and seed encrusted holiday bells, stars, and Christmas tree shapes. There are commercial peanut bags, which lack the panache of the traditional red stocking that St. Nick favors, and egg cartons filled with a dozen assorted songbird “eggs,” as well as pricey edible bird “cottages.”

Lastly, if the ground has not frozen over, you can always give one of the best gifts of all to nature by planting a native tree or shrub to provide nuts or berries to a wide variety of local wildlife for many years to come. Then you may hang a peanut butter pinecone on it after you’re done.

Copyright 2014, Joseph M. Keyser

Monday, November 24, 2014

Amaryllis: The Queen of Bulbs

In an earlier posting, Bloomin' Bulbs Beat Winter Blahs (Nov. 17, 2014), we examined a number of spring-flowering bulbs which are easily forced to bloom indoors to brighten our winter windowsills. While some of these bulbs can be successfully transplanted outdoors for future use in the garden, others proved to be too finicky to make a repeat appearance. A notable exception to this group of plants is the amaryllis, the largest, showiest, and longest-lasting bulb in the bunch.

The amaryllis is a tender bulb, meaning that it cannot be planted outdoors year-round. However, this so-called tender specimen has been known to produce flowers for up to 75 years with proper care. Even with modest attention it can easily bloom indoors from year to year, or can be repeatedly forced to bloom on cue by simply transplanting outdoors after blooming, and bringing the plant indoors before the first frost.

For quite some time, the amaryllis has been associated with winter blooming favorites such as poinsettias and paperwhites. Lately, though, the bulb has found a new horticultural role as upscale retailers have started packaging bulbs with names like ‘Royal Velvet’ in red-lacquered cachepots as Valentine’s Day gifts, or pink, salmon, and yellow varieties in ribbon-adorned baskets as Mother’s Day offerings.

Regardless of when you would like your bulb to burst into flower, the bulb is where it all begins. Look for firm, healthy bulbs, without any sign of mold or damage, which are at least two-and one-half inches in diameter. Only a large bulb will ensure blooming the first year; smaller bulbs may only produce disappointing foliage.

Next, plant the bulb in a pot several inches larger than the diameter of the bulb, normally a five to six inch pot with drainage holes will suffice, although larger bulbs may require pots up to eight inches across. Because an amaryllis tends to be top-heavy, with flower stalks sometimes exceeding two feet or more, it is advisable to use a heavy terracotta pot, filled with an inch or two of gravel, both for weight and drainage. Also, as a high quality bulb can produce one or two flower stalks, each boasting up to six large trumpet shaped blooms, be sure that there is a one-two inch space between the bulb and the edge of the pot for the possible future insertion of a wire support or stake.

For your planting media, many garden centers provide suitable mixes for bulbs, although a homemade blend of two parts loamy soil (or standard potting mix), two parts compost, and one part perlite will do nicely. Be sure to leave half to three-quarters of the bulb above the soil level to avoid getting water and soil inside the neck of the bulb itself.

After watering thoroughly at the beginning, allow the soil to become somewhat dry and keep the pot in a draft-free area out of direct sunlight. Do not water already moist soil, as that is the surest way to cause the bulb and roots to rot. Once the bulb sets forth its dramatic shoot, move the pot to a warm, sunny spot, resume regular watering and light fertilizing, and wait for the show to begin in about six to eight weeks. Upon flowering, remove the pot from direct sunlight to prolong the blooming period.

After the flowers have faded, cut the stalk down to just above the top of the bulb. Leaving the flower stalk intact will deplete the bulb’s energy reserves as the plant will begin seed production. And while it is possible, perhaps even fun, to try propagating amaryllis from seed, those seedlings seldom breed true to the variety you purchased, and it will take years before a large-enough bulb will be produced capable of blooming.

Leave the large, graceful foliage in place and treat the plant like any other sun-loving houseplant. At this point, you can decide whether you simply want another houseplant, which will flower with some success each year, or whether you want to produce a bulb suitable for forcing next winter or spring.

As a houseplant, simply keep the pot in a sunny spot, continue watering and lightly fertilizing. It is essential to keep the plant growing and thriving after blooming to help the bulb develop new energy stores for re-flowering the following year. However, after several months, usually by mid- to late-summer, it is advisable to stop watering and feeding the plant, allowing the foliage to turn yellow and wither. Cut off the spent leaves and allow the plant to rest in a cool, dark location for about eight to ten weeks. Once a new flower bud starts to emerge, you can return the pot to a sunny spot and wait for a repeat performance.

Another popular option is to sink the entire plant, pot and all, into a hole in your garden during the warmer weeks of May. Start in a sheltered location with dappled light, eventually moving the pot into full sun for the summer. Treat the amaryllis like any other prized landscape plant with respect to care and feeding. By late summer or early fall, the foliage will start to fade and die, indicating that the bulb is going into a rest phase.

Be sure to bring the pot indoors before the first frost, and do not water any further. As bulbs frequently grow about half an inch in diameter each year, you may need to consider removing the bulb, cleaning it with a dry cloth, and repotting it in a larger container. If not, try to gently remove the top several inches of potting soil and replace it, called topdressing, with a fresh soil mix.

Like the houseplant version, keep your amaryllis in a cool (not cold), dark location until you are ready to force it into new service. Count back six to eight weeks from your desired bloom date and start watering. Once the flower bud appears, you are ready to return your queen of bulbs to light and new life.

The Lore and Lure of Amaryllis

The Amaryllis, like all good plant names, has its origins in Greek mythology. As is often the case, a beautiful young maiden (or nymph) named Amaryllis, which is Greek for sparkling or twinkling, falls in love with a self-absorbed Adonis of a shepherd, who rejects her unless she can produce a truly unique flower (obviously the antiquarian version of a Metrosexual). Consulting the Oracle at Delphi, she is instructed to pierce her breast (or heart) with a golden arrow at the aloof shepherd’s door. She does so for 30 nights, until at last Amaryllis, perhaps dying, calls out to her would-be lover, who emerges to see that the maiden’s blood has given rise to the crimson-red flowers of this amazing new plant. There may or may not be a happy ending. Suffice it to say that today, these fabulous plants are available blood-free, even from neighborhood supermarkets and convenience stores.

Author's note: I would be remiss in not acknowledging that the above illustration is my wife, Dr. Linda Migl Keyser, with one of her now ancient, but prolific, bulbs.

Copyright 2014, Joseph M. Keyser

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bloomin' Bulbs Beat Winter Blahs

Coaxing spring-flowering bulbs to bloom during the winter is a popular trick for adding brilliant color to the home and a welcome boost to the spirit. Unfortunately, the trick does not work well for everyone, while even successful practitioners often look at the faded foliage and wonder what next?

The process of "forcing" bulbs simply means inducing plants to bloom ahead of schedule and out of their normal environment. This horticultural chicanery can be applied to almost any bulb, corm, or tuber, although the easiest subjects for beginners are generally paperwhite narcissus, fragrant hyacinth, large-flowering crocus, and amaryllis, the largest, showiest, and most versatile of the lot.

Other, slightly more difficult species include muscari, like grape hyacinths, colchicum, such as autumn crocus, snowdrops, freesia, and sweet-and- spicy Lily-of-the-valley.

Tulips and traditional garden daffodils are a bit more finicky, requiring better temperature control, brighter lighting, and so on, although many catalogs and gar- den centers will advertise some species more suitable for forcing, such as miniature hybrids that are more at home on windowsills.

Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) are especially popular, as they can be planted in either a light, porous soil mix or, more commonly, in shallow glass bowls or other attractive planters, using nothing more than a layer of water in clear or colored marbles, or pastel-tinted gravel, easily found at aquarium stores.

These narcissi are noted for their thin, delicate foliage and clusters of fragrant white flowers. Some indoor gardeners will plant clusters of five, seven, or more bulbs every two weeks or so to ensure an ongoing aromatic display throughout the holidays and late winter months.

Regrettably, these easy-to-grow paperwhites are native to the Mediterranean, and are not tolerant of our colder climate. Except for gardens in warmer zones from nine onward, the usual advice is to discard the bulbs. Personally, I would prefer taking a chance on planting them outdoors after the foliage has yellowed and died-back, rather than merely adding them to a compost pile. At any rate, the bulbs will have exhausted their energy reserves and cannot be saved for forcing again the following year, which is true of almost all forced bulbs.

On the other hand, you might try forcing a related narcissus species called Grand Soleil d'Or, which offers a deep yellow color with somewhat smaller clusters of blooms. These narcissi can be transplanted to your garden later in the fall and should provide a decent showing the following summer, improving each year thereafter.

The key to success with forced bulbs is keeping your cool - or, at least, keeping bulbs cool while they are rooting. And while there is a whole science to buying and storing bulbs in refrigerated conditions, any number of retailers offer "hardened- off" bulbs which have gone through the appropriate chilling process and are ready for forcing.

With these ready-to-go bulbs, you can select a number of planting options. Hyacinth or forcing jars are specially designed glass vessels appropriate for crocus, narcissus, or, naturally, hyacinths, which artfully support the entire bulb, allowing the roots to dip down into the water below. You can also employ a gravel medium for paperwhites, crocus, or colchicum, or plant them in a soil mix. For these and all other bulbs, use a shallow "bulb pan" with a loose potting medium of equal parts of soil, compost or peat moss, and vermiculite or perlite. Many bulb fanciers like to add a pinch of bone meal per bulb. A four-five inch pot works well for larger single bulbs like hyacinths, while a six-ten inch pot accommodates several large bulbs or a dozen smaller bulbs.

Keep species forced in water or set in gravel in a cool, dark room (ideally below 50 degrees F.) for at least several weeks, until the root system has become thoroughly established and the top shoot or stems start to elongate.

Soil-planted bulbs will also require cold storage at 35-48 degrees F. while roots are developing. Never allow bulbs to freeze, and keep the temperature below 55 degrees. The best locations are usually an unheated cellar, enclosed garage, insulated cold frame, or refrigerator. In a refrigerator, it is best to cover the pot with a plastic bag punched with several holes for ventilation. Keep the planting medium moderately moist. The length of chilling time required depends on the species, but usually averages 12-16 weeks. The longer the bulbs remain cool, the taller and fuller their flowers will be.

A fundamental mistake in forcing bulbs is skimping on the cold treatment. Often if bulbs fail to bloom, it is an indicator that the retailer did not allow the bulbs to remain dormant long enough, the bulbs were stored at too high a temperature, or the forcing temperature was too high.

After the bulbs have been chilled appropriately, move them into a somewhat warmer room (50-60 degrees F.) with indirect light for a week or so, until shoots or stems elongate and the buds begin to swell. It is now safe to move the pot into a bright window at normal indoor temperatures.

To keep the blooms for the longest possible period of time, it helps to move the pot into a cooler room in the evening and avoid direct sunlight.

After your bulbs have finished blooming, cut off the flower stalk above the base, but not the leaves! Treat your forced bulbs like a typical indoor plant, with bright light, periodic watering and fertilizing, all of which will help the bulb renew its energy stores for future growth and blooming.

Do not remove the foliage as it begins to yellow and wither, but do reduce watering significantly until all of the leaves have died back. At that point, as your bulbs enter their dormant phase, you should allow the soil to completely dry out, and either save the bulbs in their pots or, especially in the case of water-forced species, remove the bulbs or corms, gently rubbing them clean with a dry cloth, and store them in a cool, dry, and dark place in a mesh bag or paper bag, keeping a vigilant eye out for mold.

In the fall, these bulbs can be planted in your garden. Pay attention to required planting depths. Bulbs cultured in soil generally fare better than those in forcing jars or gravel, but within one, two, or more seasons, your bulbs will return to full bloom in their new, natural outdoor environment.

Copyright 2014, Joseph M. Keyser