Frequently Asked Questions

February

I know that the price of roses spikes astronomically for Valentine’s Day. What is a good alternative?          

Roses, of course, are absolutely beautiful, but their life expectancy can range from 3-7 days – more than a week would be extremely unusual. A Phalaenopsis (or Moth) orchid can easily last from a month to three or four. The individual flowers last for weeks and weeks, and they bloom sequentially on that long, arching spike. So, from first flower opening to last one finishing is a long, long time. And unlike the rose bouquet that was pitched you can toss the orchid when it’s done or keep it growing to bloom another year. They’re minimal care as they only need indirect light, occasional watering and perhaps monthly fertilizing.

How do you properly clean a bird-feeder?

It’s important that you disinfect your feeder every two-four weeks based on weather and the level of “wing” traffic it’s receiving. It’s not just about looking good, but about keeping the seed fresh (we’ll reject rancid seed, like the old stuff stuck in the bottom) and reducing the possibility of transmitting diseases.

First, wear gloves. Given the type of “residue” on a feeder you should be disinfecting, rather than just washing. The majority of serious birders recommend soaking in a 10% bleach, 90% water bath for at least 3 minutes. Then rinse very thoroughly. Make sure it’s completely dry before you refill. Thanking you in advance, “The Birds”.

Why can't I plant directly into a container that doesn’t have drainage holes?

We strongly urge people not to plant long-term plants directly in those containers. It’s too difficult to gauge correctly whether the plant is desert-dry or floating . Use those containers to mask the green or black plastic growers’ pots. That way you can slip the potted plant out, take it to the sink or shower, water, let it drain and put it back with no fear of under- or overwatering.

If the plant is too bulky to lift make sure the decorative pot is enough larger in diameter that you can at least see the bottom to see when water starts seeping out the drain holes of the inner grower’s pot. You can either put bricks or substantial shims in the bottom to raise the plant up and out of drainage water. Or you can buy a cooking baster and use that to bulb syringe the drainage water out and into a bucket. 

TAKEAWAY: Know that any time a root system stands in water for more than 30 minutes it’s losing oxygen and the roots are starting to die. Think of it as “organ failure” for plants.                                        

Can you simplify the basics of terrarium care?

Since glass magnifies the light transmission you want no more than bright, indirect light. Yes, even in the winter, no direct sun. If, for example, you have an area that makes you squint naturally at the brightest part of the day the light is probably too strong. For open containers (that is, no top) water as needed. Closed systems (where there’s a top and it’s basically a recycling chamber) check visually and water lightly when the soil surface looks dry. Avoid excessively hot sites or really any temperature extremes. Fertilizer is rarely, if ever, needed because you don’t want to encourage excessive growth.

For closed terrariums humidity-lovers like ferns, orchids, bromeliads, air plants and carnivorous plants are great subjects. Notice that cacti and succulents aren’t included in the closed terrarium list. If you’ve got a burning desire for them, an open-topped container that dries out and has lower humidity would be a smart choice.

I haven’t done the seed-starting “thing” in years now. Why should I start my own seeds?

 Some things we would consider:

  • Seeds are already available for sale. What are the unique, unusual varieties that seeds are available for, but the plants you desire probably won’t be? 
  • Variety is quite new, seeds are available, but plants may not be for a year or more. 
  • Flowers of certain things may be only available as mixed colors (as plants), but you may want a specific color and seed is available separately for that color. 
  • You control how the plant was grown. You know how “clean” it is going into your garden. 
  • You control the timing. You can “back into” when to start the plants so you have them at exactly the time you want to plant them in the garden. This especially true to have young summer transplants of “cool season/ fall crops” where the plants are never available early enough to mature for fall harvest before winter strikes!

I received instruction in your store last fall on forcing hyacinth bulbs. They’ve been in the crisper of my refrigerator since mid-October, with no ethylene-producing fruit or veggies. I was told they needed 10-12 weeks of cold to trigger flowering. By my count it’s 14 weeks and I’m anxious to smell hyacinths. What now? 

Good for you. Now pull the bulbs from the crisper (they don’t have to be potted to achieve the required hours of chilling) and pot them. Shallow containers are preferred as the root system will be minimal. Put them bulb-to-bulb, almost touching each other and the rim of the pot. Cram them in, you want a good show. The bulbs may be showing the start of a green shoot in the neck of the bulb which means they’re rarin’ to go. The top of the bulbs should be just below the soil surface. Water thoroughly, place in a cool, dark place for a few weeks while roots start forming.

Water next when you see the foliage/flower buds starting to emerge from the bulb. That means they’ve started rooting. Now you can move them to bright light and a warmer room, watering thoroughly, but sparingly, until they finish flowering. Generally, they’ll be getting lower light and more warmth in your home than outdoors so they usually stretch (meaning they start leaning/falling over). Prepare to perhaps stake them, but to have the fragrance indoors in the winter is well worth it.

I’ve seen lists for houseplants for many different needs- high light, low humidity, etc. I travel a lot and am often gone for weeks at a time. Aside from cacti and succulents, what tropicals are forgiving of drying out very thoroughly between watering? 

A good list might include: Cast Iron plant (yes, it is appropriately named), ZZ plant, Yucca, Ponytail Palm and any of the many, many Sanseveiria (commonly called either Mother-In-Law’s Tongue or Snake Plant).  

I’m going to be starting seeds indoors. Having never done it before I’m wondering if all those claims about having very clean containers and sterile seed-starting mix are overblown. How would you answer that question? 

Those recommendations are absolutely based in fact- not fiction. There are a number of baa-a-a-a-d fungal organisms just waiting to attack innocent little seedlings before they have a chance to grow to the transplant stage. Clean starting media is as important as sanitary containers. So, if you’re going to be reusing old containers follow these steps:

  • I prefer plastic to terra cotta as I think the porosity of clay pots makes it more difficult than plastic to scrub clean and get rid of soil residue, salt deposits and disease spores. So, whatever you’re using Step I is to remove all surface soil and gunk with soapy water. Scrub is the operative word. Do your best to make them look like new. Yes, I do save my plastic and try to get second, third and fourth uses out of them rather than send them off to be recycled. Rinse thoroughly removing the soap residue and allow to dry thoroughly. 
  • Here’s where the recommendations are all over the board. I’ve read recommendations of as little as 2 T. of household bleach per gallon of water all the way up to 2 cups per gallon. The 2 T. recommendation was well substantiated….  
  • Soak for 15-20 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with water only.                                   
  • I’ve always had good results with off-the-shelf seed-starting mixes. 

Is it too early to consider dormant pruning? 

End of February/early March is a great time to prune a number of plants- but NOT all! At this time of year the food reserves are still stored down in the root system and lowest portions of the plant. Therefore, rejuvenation of many species of old, overgrown deciduous shrubs could be considered at this time with minimal stress to the plant. Even yews (no other evergreens, though) can be pruned back even to bare stems to try and get them fitting in spaces they may have overgrown. There are methods and techniques to do this properly. So, do your research, ask us and don’t make that first cut without a horticulturist’s confirmation and blessing. Remember the “but NOT all” statement above. Like an extreme haircut there’s no going back after the fact.  


Tony Fulmer

Chief Horticulture Officer