Amaryllis in the Morning

'Exotica' amaryllis
‘Exotica’ amaryllis

I’ve been the recipient of several homeless houseplants over the past couple of years, so I’m hesitant to add too many more to my collection. But when the folks at Longfield Gardens offered me (and several other garden writers) a free amaryllis kit this fall, I was happy to give it a try, and am surprised by how truly stunning the amaryllis is turning out to be.

The kit came with a whopping big bulb, a cute tin container, some soil, mulch and instructions. Back in November, the kit arrived, and I potted it up on Nov. 17. Per the instructions, I gave it a pretty thorough watering, and that was probably the last time I watered it. In a few weeks, the bloom stalk appeared and it grew so fast that I started to measure it. One day it was 11 inches, then 12-1/2, then 17. It topped out at just over 20 inches without the blooms.

amaryllis plantI was hoping the bulb would bloom in time for Christmas, but it started blooming about a week later. The bulb was located in my kitchen sink window, which is the sunniest spot I have in December, but possibly not as warm as the bulb would have liked.

The blooms are a delicate cream color with streaks of yellow and apricot. I’ve been posting a few shots on Instagram and it’s fun to see how the Instagram filters change the look of the bulb. (The photo above is without any filtering.)

The blooms should last another week or so. There’s also a second stalk coming off the bulb which looks like it will bloom after this one fades. You can keep amaryllis bulbs for use the next winter. This involves removing the flower stalks and setting the bulb and its leaves in a sunny spot over the winter before moving it outside in the summer to build up the nutrition the bulb needs to bloom again.

For more information about forcing bulbs, check out the November/December issue of Northern Gardener. There is a fine article by Margaret Haapoja on which bulbs to force into bloom and how to do it.


Signs of Spring

Siberian squill ready to bloom
Siberian squill ready to bloom

Sunday’s gorgeous weather had me outside at last, flinging caution to the wind and raking a few spots in the lawn, cleaning out some of the beds I can reach from the sidewalk and looking for signs of life.

The Siberian squill, which have long been one of the plants I measure spring by, are just one day away from blooming and the miniature cabbage heads of sedum can be spotted under the leaf-mulch. I’ve been looking for them, but there’s no sign yet of the Iris reticulata that is usually the first plant blooming in my yard. Perhaps it is a victim of the long winter. It may still appear yet. Last year, it was April 22 when I first spotted them. They’ve bloomed as early as March 25 in the past.

With the forecast calling for decent temperatures and occasional rain this week, we could see a burst of bloom by next weekend. Here’s hoping!


First Bloom, More Snow

iris reticulata
This is the latest date I have ever recorded a first bloom.

A Facebook friend of mine wrote today that she is just plain numb when it comes to our weather here in Minnesota this spring. For my town, another 6 to 9 inches of snow is predicted for later today — yes, 6 to 9 inches on April 22! Last year, by this time, we had had several days in the 70s and 80s, whereas this year  we have not yet hit 60. If you live outside of the Upper Midwest, wrap your mind around that. According to the super-helpful Carleton College Weather Database, my hometown has not seen 60 degrees since Nov. 22, 2012 — five months!

But, no more complaining. We will endure. And, I have a bloom in my front yard. The Iris reticulata that is usually the first bulb to bloom in my front yard is up and blooming as of yesterday. April 21 is the latest I have ever recorded this first bloom. Last year, it happened on March 15! Here’s what I said then about past bloom times:

Last year, I first saw Iris reticulata in bloom on April 4; in 2010, I saw it on March 25; and in 2009, I recorded it blooming on April 16.

You can see how much variation there is in Minnesota, but having the earliest bloom time and latest in back to back years—and more than a month apart— is a bit disconcerting. The weather forecast calls for 60s and even 70s by the weekend, so I’m hoping that this will in fact be our last snowfall of the year.

First Bloom, More Phenology, and a Couple of Concerns

Today I spotted this lovely Iris reticulata, which has always been a harbinger of spring, blooming in my garden. This is the fourth time I have noted this bloom on the blog, and not surprisingly given our strange weather, the earliest. Last year, I first saw Iris reticulata in bloom on April 4; in 2010, I saw it on March 25; and in 2009, I recorded it blooming on April 16. So that puts us two to four weeks ahead of schedule — at least by iris time.

I should note that while this bulb is up and blooming, I don’t even see foliage yet for the Siberian squill I have naturalized in the lawn and in another bed. My neighbor’s crocus — another plant I monitor as a sign of spring — are also not blooming yet. In the past, these other plants were blooming about the same time as the iris.

I’m not sure what — if anything — to draw from that. It could be the lack of rain is affecting the other plants more than the iris, which is in one of the beds I water most as well as a place where we pile snow from the walk.

A day or two of 70s in March is not totally out of sync with “normal” for Minnesota. But, according to the weather dudes, it is likely we will have almost 10 days in a row of severely above normal temperatures — that’s just plain weird. (The average high for Minneapolis in March is 41, rising to 58 in April. Average lows are generally still in the 20s.)

I find the whole weather pattern disconcerting. There are big picture issues like increased numbers of severe weather incidents and, of course, the drought here. But there are also smaller ones such as how this early, extended warmth will affect my cherry and apple trees. If they bloom, then are zapped by a frost (remember, this is still Minnesota), that will be the end of the crop. I’m sure orchardists in Minnesota are watching their trees carefully, but what can you do to protect them from weather in the 70s? Perennials will likely recover, even if they are frost burned; and we can always plant more vegetables or just hold off until the “proper” planting time.

I’ve listened to some radio broadcasts with entomologists and horticulturists about the effect of an early spring on plants and insects and the experts seem to think the bees, the bugs and the plants can figure this all out better than we humans can. Bugs may hatch earlier (as noted in this video of boxelder bugs in Northfield) and some of them may get caught in a frost. Bees tend to time their spring emergence with the arrival of blooms. Some pests will probably thrive in the warmth, while others will struggle.

This post is a bit rambling, but I’m a bit lost on how to think about this warm, lovely, frightening spring. What are you seeing blooming in your yard? And, what concerns do you have about a too-early spring? Or, are you just enjoying the warm weather?

Tulips Up! And Some Phenology Notes

I left for a visit to the Chicago Flower and Garden Show on Friday and the front bed was devoid of greenery — just dirt and old leaves. Not surprisingly given our warm winter, I came home to lots of tulip shoots poking their noses above the soil.

Since I started this blog in the fall of 2007, this is the fifth time I have noted the arrival of tulip foliage and it is the earliest date for noticing it. However, it is not as early as I thought it might be compared to previous years. The latest date that I recorded tulip foliage being up was in 2008, when it arrived March 30. In 2009, the arrival day was March 15. In 2010, March 16 and last year, despite a lot of snow cover, March 19.

I find phenology — the study of nature signs — fascinating. Both my husband and I have noticed that the birds seem to be more present since this weekend, and each of us have seen red-wing blackbirds and robins around. Over at my friend Penny’s blog, you can see pictures of the swans and ducks that are coming through the area.

This blog has been a great way to make notes of what’s happening in my yard. What’s coming up in your garden?

First Bloom

Tulip checks out the late winter scene.

After a week in Florida, soaking up the sun and admiring the hibiscus and tropical plants, I was a little bummed to return to Minnesota brown — which is what this winter has been, despite more predictions for snow next week.

But I could not be glum for long, because there on my kitchen shelf was the first bloom of the season — a gorgeous orange tulip that I had forced in water. I planted several of these bulbs in a container to use outdoors later in the spring, but not all the bulbs fit, so I put this one in a glass vase on top of some glass beads I had left over from a craft project. I wasn’t sure it would bloom, but pretty soon there was a hairy clump of roots growing into the water and a nice green shoot coming up. I had been changing the water every day or two before I left for Florida and asked my husband (not usually a plant guy) to continue the routine while I was gone.

Tulip face

Over six days, the stem grew about twice its previous length and produced a lovely bloom. Just the thing to perk up a weary traveler!

If you are interested in forcing bulbs in soil or water, check out these instructions from the University of Minnesota. I did not put my vase in a cool, dark place for four weeks as instructed, but the bulb had sat in its packaging in the garage for a couple of months before I put it in water.

A Favorite Plant: Martagon Lilies

I was introduced to Martagons only in the past couple of years, but have really become  a fan of these unusual lilies. It helps that they like dappled shade, of which I have an abundance, and that they are rock-solid hardy in Minnesota. It helps that bees and hummingbirds love them and frequent the blooms in my garden. It helps that Martagons are generally hybridized by enthusiasts, so that each plant seems to be a work of passion rather than a marketing gesture. And, lastly, it helps that the flowers are upside-down.

What’s not to love about a plant with upside-down blooms?


What’s Blooming?

The sun is high enough in the sky so that even with the cool temperatures, plants are starting to bloom. It’s an exciting time of the year. Here are a few things blooming in my yard today. Except for the tulips, these are all larger photo files.

Some tulips are fading, but the later tulips are at peak bloom
Allium 'Purple Sensation' goes from this tight ball to a star-burst flower.
'Bali' cherry blossoms -- the first fruit to flower in my yard.
Wild strawberry -- a great plant for rocky areas.

Daffodil Days

Fritillaria bows its blooms in the cold.

The spring bulbs are slowly starting to bloom. On Sunday, I noticed the fritillaria, a small, but unusually colored bulb was blooming. Monday, the daffodils that brighten up my raspberry bed also opened up. In the dim light before sunset, they seemed especially cheerful. The tulips in front remain shut tight, but one pleasant aspect of this slow spring is that the Siberian squill are having a long bloom season. A few yards in the older part of my town are a sea of blue blooms this time of year.