Garden Tips by Topic

Amaryllis ~ Growing from a Bulb ~ tips by Libby Moore
It’s that time of year when amaryllis bulbs are available to buy unpotted.. just the bare bulb. What a rewarding winter project to plant an amaryllis bulb and watch it flourish! Consider potting a bulb and giving it as a gift. Here’s how to plant and grow an amaryllis:

Pick out a bulb at your local garden center or supermarket. The bigger the bulb, the more stalks and flowers it will produce. Select a pot, preferably clay or terracotta, about 3 inches wider than the bulb. Be sure the pot has a hole for adequate drainage. Moisten a well-drained potting soil mix and fill the pot about half way with the mix. Put the bulb in the center of the pot, add soil around the bulb allowing about a third of the bulb to be exposed above the soil line. Make sure the soil is firm around the bulb. The soil level should be about half an inch below the rim of the pot to allow room for watering.

Be sure and water the bulb completely. Spanish moss or sheet moss may be added to the top of the soil if desired. Keep the amaryllis in a warm, bright window (70 – 80 degrees is ideal). Keep the soil from completely drying out – do not overwater! The bulb should show signs of growth within 2 – 8 weeks of planting. Rotate the pot when the amaryllis begins to grow to keep the growth balanced.

Once the flowers emerge, keep it away from direct sun and warm drafts from heating vents. This will allow the flowers to last longer. If needed, stakes may be used to support the stalk.

Libby Moore is a Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and a member of the Ashland Garden Club. She can be reached at

Care of the Amaryllis after Flowering ~ by Richard Jauron, Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University (This article was published originally on 1/7/2009)

Amaryllis bulbs are forced indoors for their large, spectacular flowers.  Some individuals discard the amaryllis after flowering.  However, it is possible to save the amaryllis and force it to flower on an annual basis.  The key to successful reflowering is proper care.

After the flowers fade, cut off the flower stalk with a sharp knife.  Make the cut 1 to 2 inches above the bulb.  Don’t damage the foliage.  In order for the bulb to bloom again next season, the plant must replenish its depleted food reserves.  The strap-like leaves manufacture food for the plant.  Place the plant in a sunny window and water when the soil surface is nearly dry.  Fertilize every 2 to 4 weeks with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer.

The amaryllis can be moved outdoors in late May or early June.  Harden or acclimate the plant to the outdoors by initially placing it in a shady, protected area.  After 2 or 3 days, gradually expose the amaryllis to longer periods of direct sun.  Once hardened, select a site in partial to full sun.  Dig a hole and set the pot into the ground.  Outdoors, continue to water the plant during dry weather.  Also, continue to fertilize the amaryllis once or twice a month through July.  Bring the plant indoors in mid-September.  Plants left indoors should be kept in a sunny window.

In order to bloom, amaryllis bulbs must be exposed to temperatures of 50 to 55 degree F for a minimum of 8 to 10 weeks.  This can be accomplished by inducing the plant to go dormant and then storing the dormant bulb at a temperature of 50 to 55 degree F.  To induce dormancy, place the plant in cool, semi-dark location in late September and withhold water.  Cut off the foliage when the leaves turn brown.  Then place the dormant bulb in a 50 to 55 degree F location for at least 8 to 10 weeks.  After the cool requirement has been met, start the growth cycle again by watering the bulb and placing it in a well-lighted, 70 to 75 degree F location.  Keep the potting soil moist, but not wet, until growth appears.  The other option is to place the plant in a well-lighted, 50 to 55 degree F location in fall.  Maintain the amaryllis as a green plant from fall to early to mid-winter.  After the cool requirement has been met, move the plant to a warmer (70 to 75 degree F) location.

Bearded Iris
Bearded Irises put on a floral display in late spring or early summer. By July, after they’ve bloomed, it may be time to tidy up the clumps, which get congested after four or five years. Dig up and divide their rhizomes, cutting away rot and weak growth and trimming leaves. For optimal growth and display, replant them with the leaves forming the three points of a triangle and the roots pointed toward the center. The rhizomes will be horizontal and the top will be seen just above ground level. (From Martha Stewart Living)

Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter Cactus?

Every year about this time, stores of all sorts sell something called “Christmas Cactus”, a showy plant with segmented foliage that arches out over the sides of the pot. The long, tubular flowers, which appear at the ends of the stems, are made up of many slender, pointed petals fused at the bases. Flower colors range from white through shades of peach, orange, purple, rose and red, with bi-colored varieties widely available. Continue Reading


If you burn hardwood in your fireplace, save the ashes to use for fertilizer in the spring. Wood ashes spread around berries and fruit trees sweeten the fruit; also good for lilac bushes. Best materials for a compost pile are grass clippings, pulled weeds, coffee grounds, ashes, egg shells, dead flowers, and manure. Add lime and turn several times during the season.   Never throw away any vegetable or fruit parings. Save them and toss them on the compost heap. Do not add any diseased plant material like powdery mildewed stems and plants.  (Garden Club of Norfolk Cookbook (GCNC), From the Garden to the Table, 2005)

Add a few drops of bleach in a vase of flowers to keep water smelling sweet. (GCNC)

Impatiens Problems Impatiens downy mildew Plasmopara obducens is a new disease for home gardeners in Massachusetts. This is a disease that affects all impatiens walleriana plants and is influenced by cool damp weather. It typically starts with a few leaves that appear slightly yellow or off color. Eventually the leaves and flowers will drop, resulting in bare stems with only a few tiny, yellow leaves remaining. These stems can become soft and the plant collapses, similar to frost damage.

Plants with this disease should be removed, roots, soil and all, bagged and destroyed. Do not compost infected plants or depend on fungicides. If left in the garden, there is a high risk that this disease will over winter and infect impatiens in future years.

Impatiens walleriana replanted into beds with a history of impatiens downy mildew are at a higher a risk of infection than planted into beds with no history of the disease, where airborne spores can still affect them. The downy mildew infecting impatiens attacks only Impatiens walleriana including wild jewelweed therefore, it is safe to plant other flowering or foliage plants in affected beds next season.

Alternative shade-loving plants, including New Guinea impatiens (impatiens hawken), begonias, torenia and coleus, can be safely planted in beds with a history of impatiens downy mildew. (Coleus is susceptible to a different downy mildew disease, but the downy mildew species that infects Impatiens walleriana cannot infect coleus.) Plan now for next year’s display. Note: Local growers may not be selling many Impatiens walleriana next year due to this problem.

For more information see the Impatiens Downy Mildew in Home Gardens fact sheet from Umass Extension.

Deadhead For Beauty And Health
Walk through your yard at least once a week and snip off dead, faded flowers from annuals. This is called deadheading and it will encourage annuals to keep on blooming. It will also prevent them from going to seed. So don’t deadhead hardy annuals that you want to reseed for a cottage garden effect. Examples, foxglove, angelica gigas, violas.

What is causing toadstools and mushrooms to grow in lawns and gardens? With an overabundance of rain, toadstools, mushrooms, and unusual fungi pop up in lawns and garden beds. Stinkhorns and the dog vomit fungus will often show up in mulched beds. These are all the fruiting structures of various fungi that are decaying wood, such as tree stumps, roots, or construction debris, below ground level. One common question is, “what can I spray to get rid of them?” There is no fungicidal treatment – if you are concerned about their presence because of children or pets getting into them, then keep them mowed or cut off. As conditions dry out, they should disappear. This information is from the Ohio State University’s Yard & Garden online Newsletter. The website has a wealth of information about plants and gardens and what is pertinent right now in our gardens.

Gardening For Pollinators
Follow these simple steps to create a pollinator-friendly landscape around your home or workplace.
Use a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall. Help pollinators find and use them by planting in clumps, rather than single plants. Include plants native to your region. Natives are adapted to your local climate, soil
and native pollinators. Do not forget that night-blooming flowers will support moths and bats.
Avoid modern hybrid flowers, especially those with “doubled” flowers. Often plant breeders have unwittingly left the pollen, nectar, and fragrance out of these blossoms while creating the “perfect” blooms for us.
Eliminate pesticides whenever possible. If you must use a pesticide, use the least-toxic material possible. Read labels carefully before purchasing, as many pesticides are especially dangerous for bees. Use the product properly. Spray at night when bees and
other pollinators are not active.
Include larval host plants in your landscape. If you want colorful butterflies, grow plants for their caterpillars. They WILL eat them, so place them where unsightly leaf damage can be tolerated. Accept that some host plants are less than ornamental if not outright weeds. A butterfly guide will help you determine the plants you need to include.
Create a damp salt lick for butterflies and bees. Use a dripping hose, drip irrigation line, or place your bird bath on bare soil to create a damp area. Mix a small bit of table salt (sea salt is better!) or wood ashes into the mud.
Spare that limb! By leaving dead trees, or at least an occasional dead limb, you provide essential nesting sites for native bees. Make sure these are not a safety hazard for people
walking below. You can also build a bee condo by drilling holes of varying diameter about 3 to 5 inches deep in a piece of scrap lumber mounted to a post or under eaves.
You can add to nectar resources by providing a hummingbird feeder.
To make artificial nectar, use four parts water to one part table sugar. Never use artificial sweeteners, honey, or fruit juices. Place something red on the feeder. Clean
your feeder with hot soapy water at least twice a week to keep it free of mold.
Butterflies need resources other than nectar. They are attracted to unsavory foodstuffs, such as moist animal droppings, urine and rotting fruits. Try putting out slices of overripe bananas, oranges and other fruits, or a sponge in a dish of lightly salted water to see which butterflies come to investigate. Sea salt provides a broader range of micronutrients than regular table salt.
Learn more about pollinators Get some guidebooks and learn to recognize the
pollinators in your neighborhood. Experiment with a pair of close-focusing binoculars for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. From:

Garden Planning
Plant your garden for blooms all season; add grasses and berries for winter. (GCNC)   Keep a journal of your garden noting what was successful and what never to repeat! You will be glad you did the following year. (GCNC)   Takes photos of your garden to record the changes during the season. It is amazing how quickly one forgets the color of spring bulbs once they have died back. An album of pictures taken over the years shows you how far both you and your garden have come and will bring back many happy memories. (GCNC)

You need three times as much fresh as you do dried.(GCNC)

House Plants
Put your house plants outside after the last possible frost which is usually the full moon nearest Memorial Day. Start them off in heavy shade and gradually move them to sunnier locations. Keeping them in dappled shade will keep them from any danger of burnt leaves and from needing frequent watering. (GCNC)

Caring for houseplants in the fall and winter  (HGTV Gardening Basics) 1. Mist your plants 2. Wipe dust off leaves and stems 3. Give plants lots of light. 4. Don’t fertilize. 5. Wait until spring to repot plants. 6. Back off on your watering schedule. Check the link for further information about each of the tips. After the Holidays Be sure to save your evergreen clippings and branches from your Christmas tree after the holidays. Use them as a cover for spring bulbs and perennials. This will help prevent frost heaving and hold mulch in place. The length of time your poinsettia will give you pleasure in your home is dependent on (1) the maturity of the plant, (2) when you buy it, and (3) how you treat the plant. With care, poinsettias should retain their beauty for weeks and some varieties will stay attractive for months.

After you have made your poinsettia selection, make sure it is wrapped properly because exposure to low temperatures even for a few minutes can damage the bracts and leaves. Unwrap your poinsettia carefully and place in indirect light. Six hours of light daily is ideal. Keep the plant from touching cold windows. Keep poinsettias away from warm or cold drafts from radiators, air registers or open doors and windows. Ideally poinsettias require daytime temperatures of 60 to 70°F and night time temperatures around 55°F. High temperatures will shorten the plant’s life. Move the plant to a cooler room at night, if possible. Check the soil daily. Be sure to punch holes in foil so water can drain into a saucer. Water when soil is dry. Allow water to drain into the saucer and discard excess water. Wilted plants will tend to drop bracts sooner. Fertilize the poinsettia if you keep it past the holiday season. Apply a houseplant fertilizer once a month. Do not fertilize when it is in bloom. With good care, a poinsettia will last 6-8 weeks in your home. (From University of Illinois Extension)

Hydrangeas should not be deadheaded until the following spring, as the new buds could be damaged by frost.(GCNC)

Blue hydrangeas like an acid soil, pink like an alkaline. Treat soil with aluminum sulfate for blue hydrangeas. (GCNC)   To dry hydrangeas, place them in a vase with a little bit of water. They will dry slowly and naturally and need no other effort. (GCNC)

Insect Bites (Antidote to Mosquito Bites)
Blue Dawn.  Just a little dab on the bite and the sting, swelling, and itch go away. (Submitted by Martha Richardson)

Lawn Care
Lime should be applied in the fall or early spring. (GCNC)

Clean tools and pots with soapy water and a little bleach before storing for the winter. This will kill any bacteria or spores and prevent the spread of diseases. (GCNC)

Poison Ivy
To get rid of poison ivy, combine two gallons soapy water and three pounds of salt. Spray several times. (GCNC)

Looking to control weeds in a new garden bed? Place damp newspapers before you ready your soil.(GCNC)

Winter Moths
Over the last decade, many Massachusetts communities, including ours, have reported millions of moths emerging around Thanksgiving and continuing throughout December. Coincidently, in the spring, these same communities have witnessed an astonishing number of small, green caterpillars defoliating maples, oaks and other deciduous trees. Many different deciduous plants are susceptible to damage from winter moth. These include: oaks, maples, cherries, basswood, ash, white elm, crabapples, apple, blueberry, and certain spruces such as Sitka spruce (Scotland), and heathers (England). Young larvae (caterpillars) wriggle into buds of apple, blueberry, cherry, crabapple, maples, oaks etc., in the early spring just before or at bud break. Winter moth was initially introduced to North America from Europe in Nova Scotia sometime prior to 1950. It exists throughout Europe but for the most part, it is not a problem there because it has a rich community of predators and parasites that keep it in check.

What Can you Do About these Moths? Pretty much nothing right now. The moths are around to mate, not feed. Tree bands are available but not generally recommended Starting at bud break (late March to early – mid-April), monitor expanding tree buds and developing leaves for caterpillars and manage early before defoliation can occur. Many caterpiller control options are available and some are less toxic to desirable insect species than others. The following resource can guide your choices. (Nov 2012 newsletter)

Spring Bulbs
When you see the flower stalk emerge from foliage in the spring, it is time to apply 20-20-20 fertilizer.

If your tulips lack blooms, it could be overcrowding. In the late spring or early summer, dig up bulbs and pull off the small bulbs around the main bulb and replant. (GCNC)

Plant bulbs in October for spring color
Planting bulbs in the fall is an easy way to guarantee beautiful colors in your spring landscape.  October is the appropriate time to plant spring-blooming bulbs in our region, and there are far more options than your traditional Tulips and daffodils.  In fact, some varieties are a better investment than others. (Briggs Nursery, N. Attleborough)

Recommended spring-blooming bulbs for our climate are:

  • Leucojum, whose dainty spikes of white bell shaped flowers resemble lily of the valley and open in April.
  • Allium, which are easy-to-grow bulbs that come in a broad palette of colors, heights, bloom times and flower forms.
  • Fritillaries, that often have nodding, bell-shaped flowers.
  • Scilla, which are actually perennial herbs that have blue, white, pink, and purple flowers that are known to bloom in both the spring and autumn.
  • Snowdrops, which are beautiful, yet incredibly tough plants that will likely be your first spring flower.
  • Muscari, that produce spikes of dense, blue, urn-shaped flowers resembling bunches of grapes in the spring. (Briggs Nursery, N. Attleborough)

Using Bulbs In the Landscape
For high impact, plant bulbs in solid masses or large sweeps.  To add color and interest to existing beds and borders, tuck bulbs between perennials and deciduous shrubs, where they will bring early color to otherwise dormant areas.  Bulbs also work well when planted underneath winter annuals such as pansies and violas, creating a layered effect when they come up to bloom in spring.  Similarly, fall bulbs can be tossed into container plantings to add a new dimension of interest in spring.

All bulbs prefer to grow in well drained soil, except Leucojum, which grows quite happily in heavy, moist soil.  In addition, bulbs perennialize well in sunny areas and under deciduous trees.  A general rule of thumb for planting bulbs is to set them at a depth two to three times the size of the bulb – this means small bulbs are only planted 3″ to 4″ deep, while larger bulbs like daffodils are planted at a depth of 8″.  A slow release or organic fertilizer can be worked into the soil at planting time or applied in spring when bulb leaves begin to emerge.  After planting, cover the soil with mulch to moderate soil temperatures and prevent weeds from coming up. (Briggs Nursery, N. Attleborough)

Bulb Care
Do not fertilize your bulbs with bone meal. It attracts animals. Use Bulb Tone when planting bulbs. Bulbs must not touch any fertilizer so scrap it into the soil before placing bulbs in the ground. Use turkey grit (can be bought at Agway) under tulips and on top of the soil. This prevents animals from digging them up. From Cathy Felton (I Love Bulbs Workshop at the 2014 Garden Club Federation of Mass. 2014 Fall Conference).

Tool Care
How to Keep your clippers Looking Like New
Soak your clippers up to their handles (all the metal parts) in a can of kerosene lamp oil. This can be bought at the Christmas Tree Store. It is clean and keep them from rusting. You will also know where your clippers are if you place them in this can after each use! You can also wipe down all shovels with kerosene oil or even soak them in a bucket filled with oil. From Helga Frazzette (Floral Mechanics Workshop at the 2014 Garden Club Federation of Mass. 2014 Fall Conference).

Dull skin means it is past harvest; best when skin is glossy. (GCNC)

Plant nasturtiums near radishes. They deter pests and radishes love them. (GCNC) Tomatoes Plant tomatoes near basil to deter aphids. Avoids planting near potatoes. (GCNC)  Green tomatoes can be ripened by placing near ripe apples or bananas. (GCNC)

During dry spells water garden deeply and infrequently. Plants will grow a deeper and stronger root system. Do not water during the heat of the day, wait until the evening. However, do not water late in the evening. Wet plants can become magnets for fungal diseases. (GCNC)   In areas with water restrictions, pick the most drought resistant species.(GCNC)   Use soaker hoses. They conserve water and get the water to the roots of the plants instead of evaporating in the air. (GCNC)

New trees like heavy less frequent watering. This provides a better root growth. (GCNC)