January is perfect for being bookworm

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Betsey Thomson

The Well-Tended Garden by Betsey Thomson

January is a good month to catch up on serious garden reading; books that I’ve bought but haven’t had a chance to completely peruse.

I did finish Andrea Wulf’s “Founding Gardeners. The Revolutionary Generation Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation,” a follow-up to her wonderful book “The Brother Gardeners.” If you like history and are curious about how our gardens came to be, those two books are fascinating.

I never would have thought that while working on our constitution George Washington was rearranging his Mount Vernon gardens, or that John Adams was experimenting with manures for use at his homestead in what is now Quincy, Mass.

I almost cooked my Christmas cactus. I placed it on the windowsill while cleaning up geranium droppings and forgot about it. The flowers fell off, and the stems started to shrivel and turn yellow. It may like bright light but definitely not full sunshine.

Pinky is now in a cooler spot, resting easy and getting a diluted low nitrogen feeding. Those cacti really come from the jungle, not the desert as the name suggests. I now have them blooming at Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This is the first year that I haven’t had an amaryllis. If you do, keep them in a cool location to help prolong the blooms. If the foliage turns yellow, don’t panic; just set them in a cool and bright location.  Please don’t put them in a south window as I did the cactus. It Amaryllishelps to let the soil dry out between watering as rot is a major killer of those plants.

When it has finished blooming, cut off the scapes — flower stems — but don’t remove the leaves because they are needed to nourish the bulb. Set the plant in a sunny, warm spot and feed with a low nitrogen food. Sometimes the bulb has had roots removed prior to being potted up so it is important to increase any left by using a very low or no nitrogen plant food.

When the weather warms, place the plant outside in a slightly shaded spot but don’t re-pot. Amaryllis likes to be in tight quarters and if given too much soil, it will grow foliage like an elephant plant but no flowers. Come September, move it to a cool location and stop watering.

When the leaves yellow and sort of shrivel, cut them off at the top of the bulb. Remove about an inch or so of soil and replace it with fresh soil and a bit of bulb fertilizer. Keep the soil damp like a sponge but don’t fertilize. In a few weeks, the flower bud will appear then the foliage. Start watering and feeding it, and enjoy it for another holiday.

The botanical name for amaryllis is hippestrumThat translates to horse star, making it applicably named.

Betsey Thomson is a University of Rhode Island lifetime master gardener. Contact her at betseythomson@verizon.net.

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