May "In The Grow" - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

May “In The Grow”

Q. I purchased some tulip and iris bulbs on clearance in late November and never got to plant them in the fall. They were in an unheated barn over the winter, and I planted them March 1. Do you think any growth will appear this year or, if not, next year, or are the bulbs dead?
– Linda M. Laud

A. When we gardeners get to the garden center, we become eternal optimists. We’re just sure there’s enough time and energy and strength in us to accomplish great things! Unfortunately, most gardeners have found themselves with bags of bulbs long after the planting season is over.

You’ve already done the best thing by planting them in early spring. Any that are soft and squishy can be thrown out, but firm bulbs with no obvious signs of disease or decay can be planted as usual. If the bulbs received enough chilling over the winter (but not so much that the tissue froze), they might go ahead and flower this year, but if they do it would likely be a bit later than usual. Wait and see. You may see some foliage but no flowers. It could take them a year, or even more, to gather enough strength to bloom.

Q. Our daffodils came up this year, but only two sets flowered. Could you tell me why the rest did not? Also, our rhododendrons budded out and were ready to bloom, but the frost got them. The buds are still there. Should I break them off?
– B.V. Norwood

A. One of the great things about daffodils is that they keep increasing. That also means they get very crowded, which can reduce or eliminate flowering. If the clumps are old and full of healthy looking foliage, wait until the foliage yellows, then lift the clump with a spade or garden fork. You’ll see many bulblets attached to the original bulbs. Gently tease these off and replant each bulb and bulbet 8 inches deep and 10-12 inches apart. Some of the smallest ones may spend several years gathering strength and building up bulb size before they flower, but eventually you’ll reap quite a return on your investment. I planted 12 daffodils and lifted the crowded clump seven years later. After separating the bulblets, I replanted 144 bulbs! Other possibilities for a lack of flowering include too much nitrogen fertilizer or too much shade.

The rhododendron buds will be pushed off the plant naturally, and there’s no need to break them off yourself.

Q. Can you tell me how you get African violets to bloom?
– Sharon Lindauer, Forest Park Jr./Sr. High School, Southeast Dubois County School Corp.

A. African violets require quite a bit of light to bloom well. Thin, dark green leaves and long petioles (leaf stems) are indications that the plant is getting too little light. Avoid direct sunlight but put them in a north- or east-facing window. They grow best at 65 to 75 F night temperatures with a 10-15 degree increase during the day. Pulling a blind or putting paper between them and the window will keep them from chilling at night. Growth and flowering will be slowed at temperatures above 80 F.

Increase the humidity by putting the plants on a tray filled with gravel, perlite or sand. A shallow layer of water in the tray will benefit the plants, and the gravel will keep the pots up above the water level.

Many stores sell African violet soil mixes. You can make your own by combining equal parts of soil, sphagnum peat and perlite. Keep the soil moist, but keep the leaves dry. Provide fertilizer during the growing season but taper it off in the winter months. Contact the Extension office in your county for more information and request “HO-10, African Violets.”

Q. We have a cactus that has grown large but never produced any lovely blossoms. How can I get it to bloom? It is not a Christmas cactus, although it is supposed to have large pink flowers, similar to a Christmas cactus but larger. I’ve heard it called a “spring” cactus. I give it water once a week and have fed it some in the past. I have repotted it twice, too.
– Leah Nitz, Greensburg, Ind.

A. It’s probably an Easter cactus (Rhipsalidopsis). These are often confused with Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti but actually belong to a different genus and have different requirements. To coax it into bloom, your Easter cactus requires a chilling period.

During the winter, give it a period of rest by keeping the plant in temperatures from the high 40s to the low 50s until the buds set. Then, increase the temperature to the mid 60s. These are not our normal household temperatures, which explains why your plant has not set any buds. At temperatures over 70 F, bud formation is highly unlikely.

The plant is a tropical-type cactus and is not quite as drought tolerant as the name infers. However, it is a succulent plant and can store a reasonable quantity of water in the leaves. Water thoroughly when the top half of the soil in the pot feels dry to the touch. Discard the excess water; do not water again until the top half becomes dry. The length of time between waterings will vary with the air temperature, amount of light, rate of growth and relative humidity. Fertilize monthly during the growing season.


Two readers wrote to inquire about transplanting large shrubs. One is a 4-foot azalea and the other is a 3-foot snowball bush. The smaller and less established a shrub is, the greater the chance of successfully transplanting it. They can be transplanted any time during the year, but the best time is in early spring or early fall. This lets them become established without dealing with the temperature stresses of summer and winter.

When digging up shrubs, try to remove as much of the root ball as possible. Also maintain as much soil-to-root contact as you can. Replant them in the new location, mulch and water well. Pamper them through the next year, and expect a reduction in growth and flowering for a while.


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