Sunday, January 27, 2019

Indoor Gardening Part 1: Amaryllis

This year we've finally had real winter again. January began warmer than average, but now it's cold and even with February looming, it doesn't look like the cold will let up for more than a day or so. That means that this winter I'm more focused on indoor gardening. So I've decided to do a little series on growing plants indoors.

This will be a bit different than just writing about houseplants. Most of the plants in what I've come to call the "Green Room" are not simple houseplants (although some are). Many of them are food plants, seasonings, or plant medicines.

However, I'm going to start the series with a relatively common houseplant, Amaryllis. I wrote about how to care for amaryllis last year. But the amaryllis are in bloom right now and I can't resist posting photos of tropical blooms on a snowy January day.
This richly colored coleus was a cutting I took from a larger plant that lived
on my back porch last summer. It will become an outdoor plant again, come 
warmer weather.

A few months ago the Horticulture Newsletter from KSU recommended repotting amaryllis every year. When was the last time I repotted my amaryllis? Uh... well... I... I dunno. Have I ever repotted them? Probably, sometime, obviously, since they're not in the original pots. So in November I repotted them. They obviously were happy before, because each bulb had divided two or three times. I divided them, expanding my array of potted amaryllis. Now, instead of three pots of amaryllis I have five (some still with multiple bulbs). Plus I gave away a couple of bulbs. The newly repotted bulbs took longer to bloom than I anticipated, and one hasn't even put up a flower stalk. (It's a different variety, a little larger leaves and blooms, and has always bloomed later than the others.) But the blooms are just as lovely as ever.

This little phalaenopsis orchid was a gift I received one spring. It has blossomed
each year since with very little care. Although it's not blooming now.
You often can find amaryllis ready to grow and bloom (just add water!) during the holiday season. They're often given as gifts. While such gift plants often are treated as short-term plants, enjoyed while blooming, then forgotten and allowed to die, my larger amaryllis was a Christmas gift maybe 15 years ago. So with proper care, the gift can keep on giving.

Just follow the simple steps laid out in my previous blog about amaryllis and you can have amaryllis blooms for years and years. They also can be manipulated to bloom during the almost whenever you want -- winter, or spring and summer. Set them on your porch or even in the garden. A fellow Master Gardener has numerous amaryllis of various colors that she sets out in the garden (in their pots) each summer to add a tropical touch.

Many other plants can be grown in pots year-round. All of my potted plants spend the summer outdoors, some on the front porch where they recieve intense morning sun, others live on the screened in porch, where the elements are less intense. And I always have a couple outside our "back" door on the south. Some are year-round plants, but a few grow just until cold weather sets in.

And, as you'll see in this series, some garden plants also live indoors -- at least for a few weeks -- in winter time.

Tips for Houseplants: If you're a novice, pick hard to kill houseplants, even if they aren't as pretty as you'd like. Save the more finicky ones for later, once you've got some experience under your belt -- and have killed your share of houseplants. (It happens to all of us.)
-- Give them proper light. Most sold as houseplants (usually tropical species) survive on the minimal light usually found in a home. Some even like the dark corners. I had a pothos plant and one I think was an aglaonema, also called "Chinese evergreen" survive for years on just overhead fluorescent lights for eight to 10 hours a day only five days a week. It is recommended that you place plants along a wall opposite your windows, rather than directly in front of your windows. This doesn't fit everyone's floor plan, do what you can.
-- Water them enough, but not too much. Most houseplants die from overwatering rather than underwatering. With some exceptions, let at least the top two inches of soil dry out before you water again. Some plants, such as cacti and some succulents, can go completely dry. Water thoroughly, but try not to let a lot of water sit in the drainage tray for days and days and days.
-- Check routinely for pests and disease. Scale has been an issue on all my woody houseplants, plus on palms I've had. I will go into how to deal with scale and a few other pests in a future post in this series.
-- Provide proper temperature and humidity. Regular room temperature (something like 65-75 degrees and a little cooler at night) is sufficient for most house plants. Avoid placing them near doors and drafty windows where they will be hit by sudden cold drafts in the winter. Some plants can handle it better than others. Humidity -- good luck getting it just right in a heated or air-conditioned house. Some are more likely to be damaged by low humidity than others.
-- Give them good quality, well-draining soil and repot with fresh soil (you can mix old and new potting soil half and half) every few years. I even mix homemade compost in with my houseplant soil, and top dress them with compost each year, especially the larger plants. Most plants take regular potting soil, others require specialty soils.
-- Ask someone who's successfully grown your chosen houseplant for a while, and/or do some research to learn what conditions it needs to thrive, then provide them to the best of your ability. Sometime a plant that shouldn't live under the conditions will do so quite happily. The difference could how much love it receives. Occasionally tell your plants how beautiful they are. It couldn't hurt.

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