GRROOMS GARDENING: Ready for April showers and April flowers | Local News

We had warm, sunny days and cool, pleasant nights. We experienced a bout of wild weather about once a week in March. Heavy rain, high winds, with a few hot days in the mid 80’s gave us Lion and Lamb days through March.

Wave after wave of wildflowers have been blooming since January and will continue as we are only three weeks away from spring, the blooming season has only just begun. Dogwood trees only seemed to bloom for a short time this year, possibly due to rain and high winds knocking the petals off.

The wisteria was abundant and very fragrant, the smell carrying far into the humid night air. And, of course, it’s everywhere; because it grows wildly in our climate. The wisteria we see growing in tall trees, cascading over pines, and covering old buildings is an invasive vine imported because of its beauty, fragrance, and hardiness.

Wisteria floribunda, comes from Japan. The second descriptive word of the botanical name (floribunda), the word of species, always written in lower case and which follows the word of genus (Wisteria), always in upper case; signifies abundant growth and as it lives up to its name. The other non-native wisteria is W. sinensis; it is a Chinese native vine; the two imported wisteria come from Asia.

Wisteria frutescens, the native American is rarely seen except in plant catalogs and gardens. Its growth is slower and the flower clusters are smaller. It is a more civilized vine and does not need to be pruned every month or so to keep it under control.

I have always admired tree wisteria. A dedicated gardener kept the vines, all the sucker shoots and all the root shoots cut for 11 months to achieve the beautiful umbrella shape covered in lilac/purple petals hanging in grape-like clusters. A well defined specimen, even the foliage looks pretty all year round due to its shape.

A few patches of small white lilies, commonly known as Easter lilies, due to their white color and flowering time, appear. They are part of the genus Zephyranthes, they are often grouped together as zephyr lilies, and include many small, single-flowered lilies including the pink-flowered Z. candida, rain lilies; and Z. pedunculata, fairy lilies.

The zephyr group is perennial like most bulbs, only reaching six to eight inches in height. The single flowers grow on a spike that extends a little above the foliage, the foliage is narrow and medium green. Bulbs can tolerate moist sites and multiply over the years.

The best sites to see them are in the wide ditches along the road between Valdosta and Lakeland. The area is often under water if we have rainy days close together.

The other best site I’ve been to is several miles off the Quitman Highway, the flowers are in the ditches, the platform is built above ground, and the railroad is elevated on a trestle. Again, this site is under water for several weeks during rainy periods. Lilies grow in colonies and you can see a dozen or a hundred in a small area. Small lilies grow in many other places, but often in smaller numbers.

Many older, well-established lawns and gardens will have a small group or two scattered about. They bloom early and the foliage grows until late summer, storing up energy for the following year’s bloom before it fades away.

Amaryllis bloom in many yards around the city and county. They produce huge lily-shaped flowers at the top of their scape (leafless stem that contains flowers), a scape will have up to six flowers per scape. Four flowers are considered perfect, others are even better if the size is maintained.

All flowers are in many shades of red, pink, coral and white; all the flowers of a stem will all be the same color and the same pattern, all the stems of the same bulb will be identical. Some flowers have wide flared petals, other bulbs may have smaller, more closed petals, more like a true lily shape.

It’s fun to pollinate the flowers, possibly collect the seeds and plant them within two to three weeks of harvest, the sooner the better. To pollinate a flower, choose two flowers that you like; generally large flared petals, strong bulb growth, a strong upright scape to support the flowers and good color. Each flower has reproductive organs unless it is a double flowering type, their pistol and stamen have been made into petals for “double” petals.

From the center of the flower, a cluster of yellow pollen-tipped, stalk-like male reproductive organs grow; they are shorter than the single pistol, the female organ accepting pollen which also grows from the center of the bloom. When ready to be pollinated, the gun will turn upwards and grow into three small lobes, it is then ready to accept pollen produced by other plants. Now is the time to pollinate your amaryllis flowers.

Pinch or cut off two or three pollen-tipped stamens and brush or brush the tip of the gun with pollen. When you see the yellow dust on the gun, you have pollinated the flower. Always use pollen from another plant, the offspring will have traits from each parent, some plants are not self-fertile. Use fresh pollen, not old, faded flowers; the pollen is alive and its strength can fade in about three days.

Do not pollinate all the flowers of a stem, about half is enough; you don’t want to weaken the bulb by draining too much of its food supply to grow seeds.

After pollination, a seed pod will develop where the base of the flower grew. Within weeks, a walnut-sized green pod appears at the top of the scape, one pod for each pollinated flower. The pod will grow and mature to a tan color, cracks along the seams of the pod will appear, weather permitting, allow them to mature for a few days, if it is windy or rainy, once as the pod splits it can be cut off near the top of the scape, leave a second pod if not ripe, they may have flowered within a few days of each other.

Let the pod continue to dry for a few days indoors, the seed should easily fall out of the pod if brushed with your fingers. Do not seal in a plastic bag, the seeds need to breathe and dry out completely. The seeds are silky, paper-thin black discs with a moist inner true seed, i.e. the part that germinates.

If you pollinate your amaryllis flowers and they set seed, the offspring will be hybrids and may have surprising colors or patterns. It’s fun to see what unusual flowers you’ll get when the seeds grow into bulbs and bloom. I have enjoyed hybridizing amaryllis for many years. One-year-old picotees came out of a cross; they are white or pale pink flowers with contrasting veining and a border around the edge of the flower in a deeper color. This color pattern is so pretty to me.

I lost about 400 bulbs to the evil amaryllis weevil over ten years ago and of course they ate the nicest ones first, maybe they tasted better. Don’t have that many now, but try to protect them from that awful weevil.

The adult pierces the side, shoulder or bottom through the foliage to get inside the bulb and lay its eggs there. When the eggs hatch, the larvae begin to eat the bulb; they are short, whitish and fat, like a maggot. By the time they destroy the inside of the bulb, it has developed a very bad smell, like that of a small dead animal. The worms eat all but the papery shell of the outer few layers and the basal plate at the bottom.

Use imidacloprid in granular form and apply it to the soil around and on the bulb’s throat. This systemic insecticide will protect for about four months, then another application will be required. Lowe’s is the only place in town I know that has it; last year the cost was $10 for 10 books. This will kill or repel the adults and you will never have bulb-destroying larvae. The worms also kill Lycoris radiata, red spider lilies that bloom in the fall.

I think I’m running out of space and wandering too much. See you in a few weeks.

Susan Grooms lives and gardens in Lowndes County.

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