Monday, February 14, 2011

Blooming Indoors

Flower shops are beginning to stir with the first signs of a far-away spring: they are stocking miniature daffodils and small pots of primrose.  While they have no longevity and will not re-bloom, their momentary cheer is worth a small investment.  Keeping old plants blooming is another story.

I have a lone orchid that continues to bloom.  When orchids first appeared on the market they were so expensive you had to decide between buying a winter coat or an orchid.  Now they can be picked up at Home Depot for the price of two tickets to a movie.  To coax them into continuing bloom they need orchid food, once a month if not more often.  Southern filtered light is best for them, and relatively little water.  Ventilation is critical. Keeping them behind windows painted shut decades ago will not work.

No matter how much you pamper them, most star performers will eventually expire. A Flowering Maple, Abutilon, that arrived as a tiny Christmas gift grew to a robust three feet tall and wide before it finally exhausted itself.  A huge apricot hibiscus succumbed to mites, and a languishing gardenia was finally given a decent burial.  I tried increasing the humidity with trays of pebbles and feeding it diluted coffee, but it continued to shed leaves and drop buds.

I’m left with a single Oxalis, a rarity on the market.  Mine is very old and indestructible.  There are several varieties; some are fibrous rooted, but mine, O. rengnelii, sprouts from underground bulbs, or corms.  The corms can live buried for decades, unwatered, but when given a drink of water and good light will revive like desert flowers.  White blooms grow in clouds several times during the year, accompanied by green, clover-shaped leaves.  When they become leggy, all you do is cut them down to the soil and, after a brief rest, they will start all over again.

Over the years I have fussed with amaryllis .  At one time I inherited a few huge pots, planted two or three bulbs to a pot and never given a period of dormancy.   They had grown to astonishing size and would bloom in the summer, just when they were not needed.  During the winter, when I would have loved the bloom, they had become nothing but giant foliage plants.

If you want amaryllis to bloom in the winter you must cultivate them strictly by the book. After this year’s bloom, keep them watered and bring them outdoors for the summer.  By summer’s end they will have lost their foliage and can be stored in a cool, dry basement until signs of growth reappear.  This takes about two months and presupposes some space outdoors and a basement indoors or at the very least, a closet.  By late December they will be blooming.   

In the absence of this, buy yourself one already growing at your local grocery store. Try and cultivate a Japanese aesthetic about appreciating the beauty of a single object, one at a time.

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