FOR ME, and maybe for you, too, January marks the beginning of spring. This is the time to sow seeds outdoors (even if you have 6 inches of snow on the ground, as I currently do), and to clip forsythia branches for indoor bloom. Then there are bulbs to force, African violets to propagate, geraniums to fertilize, and…well, just have a look at the chores:
Seeds. Order these from catalogs now, especially if you have specific colors or varieties of plants in mind. Among other things, I hope you’ll order Berlandiera lyrata, the “Chocolate Flower.” This bright yellow, cocoa-scented wonder will delight you all summer long. It’s a great plant to winter-sow.
Winter-Sowing. Plant your perennial and hardy annual seeds outdoors in containers now, and in spring you’ll have enough plants to furnish your entire neighborhood. This nifty method of seed-sowing is fun, fun, fun!
Forsythia. It’s not too early to force these branches. Cut sprays at varying lengths, mash the ends with a hammer, and submerge in a tub of cool water for several hours or overnight. Then arrange in a vase. In a bright but cool window, a brilliant bouquet of goldenrod-yellow will emerge in about 3 weeks time. I like to display forsythia with pink begonia semperflorens and purple and white Primula obconica in my parlor window (above). Here are my tips for forcing the branches of spring-flowering trees and shrubs.
African Violets. How these loathe the dry air that defines the heating season! To increase moisture, set the plants on a humidifying tray of pebbles and water. You might as well create new plants from leaves now, too. The directions (along with other valuable African violet care-tips) are here.
Amaryllis. Has the flower bud emerged on your new plant? If so, move it gradually to light and sun and heat (not more than 70F), and increase water as need indicates. Check your older stored amaryllis for signs of growth. Then renew the top layer of soil and provide water. Keep cool and dim until the flower-stalk is about three inches high. And be sure to read my amaryllis growing-guide.
Cyclamen. Take care that there is always water in the saucer (or bowl) beneath this plant. Provide food, too, if you intend to re-bloom the tuber next year.
Geraniums (Pelargoniums). Move rested plants back to sun and warmth (not more than 65F, please). As growth develops, water more freely and feed regularly with a high-phosphorous, low-nitrogen formula.
Hardy Bulbs. If, in early October, you joined me in a big bulb-potting campaign, you can bring the hardy Dutch-types (tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus, etc) out of cold, dark storage now. Set the bulbs in your sunniest window, keep temperatures on the cool side (55-65 degrees is ideal), and in about a month you’ll be rewarded with fabulous color and scent.
Boston Fern. Is yours looking a little…ratty? Then divide it into several small, easy-to-manage ferns. I use such divisions to bring green accent to the flowering plants in my music room window, as pictured above (the ferns are located between the too-tall hyacinths on the first glass shelf). How to Divide & Conquer the Boston Fern.
Poinsettia. To insure months of beauty, keep cool and just barely moist. How I grow and re-bloom my poinsettias.
Primroses. Fragrant malacoides and buxom obconica both require coolness and constant moisture. As with cyclamen, keep water in the saucer at all times. My favorite Primula for winter-bloom indoors.
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