More gardenia tips; get bulbs chilling - Albuquerque Journal

More gardenia tips; get bulbs chilling

Tracey FitzgibbonDear Readers, I answered a letter about a suffering gardenia in my column on Oct. 25 and I want to offer far more info that was kindly offered me by D.K. on the care and tending of gardenias.

D.K. writes that they came from ‘gardenia country’ a long time ago, and always have one growing on their east-facing covered patio. It sits on the edge of the patio where it gets sun until about noon, but no afternoon sun. No south-facing exposure either. D.K. waters it as soon as the soil feels dry to the touch.

For every half-gallon of water it gets, D.K. adds two tablespoons of white vinegar. (Since our water can be on the alkaline side of the spectrum, the vinegar counteracts that.) They do fertilize with an acidic fertilizer as suggested, but one with added iron will be much appreciated by any gardenias. D.K. dilutes and uses the fertilizer per the manufacturer recommendations. It’s been inside now since mid-October where it receives bright light. The spot is sort of cool, but not cold. It doesn’t get as much water now, but again, it is never allowed to get too dry. Also, D.K. never puts it back outside until the end of April, to be sure that the weather is acceptable for it.

So there you go! Great advice on the care and tending of gardenias from one among us with gardenias in their blood. Thanks D.K.!

Q. You mentioned forcing bulbs a few weeks ago when talking about bulbs in general. I’ve never forced bulbs before and want to do it right. Will you explain the process for me? – S.C., Albuquerque

A. Since this is one of my favorite things to do, it’ll be my pleasure. Forcing bulbs is the term used when getting a bulb to grow at a time when it usually wouldn’t.

First, the bulbs you choose will lend to your success when forcing bulbs. I look for varieties that by nature tend to stay short. There are plenty of varieties that grow to a mature height of about 8 inches and that is a good height. Taller varieties can be troublesome since they will require a support system of sorts.

Take the daffodil variety King Alfred. At maturity, grown outdoors, they can easily be 12- to- 18-inches tall. A container of 18-inch tall daffodils could very easily flop over. You can create a support system with twine or ribbon wrapped around stakes, but I have never liked that look.

Then there is the type of bulb you choose. Daffodils are the most used, but you can find short varieties of tulips to force. Hyacinths work well too. My advice is read the packaging and remember “shorter is better” when indoor forcing.

Any bulb you choose will need to be chilled before you force them. So go shopping soon and get them into the vegetable crisper of your fridge to get them ready. It’s best they get chilled for at least 3 weeks, so I’m behind the curve, so to speak.

You’ll need to choose between the two ways to force the bulbs. There is the dirt method, or the water-pebble method.

The dirt method is just like planting a houseplant. The container should drain, so you’ll need a saucer for the container to sit on.

First, place a shallow layer of potsherds or pebbles to keep the soil in the pot. Then add a layer of fresh potting soil tamped down fairly firmly. Next place your chosen bulbs on that surface and wiggle them into the soil to “cement” them in place. Continue filling the container with soil, tamping it snugly around the bulbs until just the top third of the bulb is showing. Water the container making sure the whole kit and caboodle is dampened, then find a really bright, yet not too warm spot, for the container.

In the “old” days when we all had mammoth-sized TV’s that emitted large amounts of heat, I’d set my containers on top and allow them to get warmed, encouraging the roots to develop. As soon as I noticed signs of growth from the bulb, they’d get moved to a cooler spot so they wouldn’t grow too fast. I like to turn the pots, a quarter- to- half-turn every few days so the growth doesn’t aim towards the light source. You’ll want to keep the soil damp but not soggy. Within days you should see leaves followed by bloom stalks and voila, you’ve got a cheery display of bulbs “dirt forced.”

In next week’s column I’ll continue with the water- pebble method.

Meanwhile, get those bulbs chilling and Happy Diggin In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to


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