Question: I received a blooming florist cyclamen as a gift. How do I care for it? Can I plant it outside?
Answer: Neither Georgia winters nor summers will allow us to grow florist cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) outdoors. It does not tolerate freezing temperatures and needs to be dry in the summer when it is dormant.
While it is growing and blooming, your florist cyclamen prefers cool temperatures and bright, indirect sunlight. Ideal daytime temperatures are 60 to 65 degrees F. and night temperatures are best at around 50 degrees F. Avoid placing your cyclamen near heat vents. Most homes and offices are hotter than the cyclamen prefers. High temperatures will also cause the cyclamen’s flowers to fade and die more quickly.
While blooming, your cyclamen prefers to be kept moist but not soggy. Water when the potting soil feels dry, and always water along the edge of the pot or from below to avoid causing the tuber to rot. Do not leave it sitting in water, however.
Most people treat florist cyclamens like poinsettias and discard them after they bloom or begin to go dormant because it can be difficult in the home environment to produce a compact, high-quality blooming cyclamen plant. Typically, light levels are not high enough and temperatures are not cool enough which results in weak plants with smaller, lighter-colored blooms and leaves that have elongated petioles.
However, if you enjoy a challenge, give it a try. Here are some tips: Stop watering your cyclamen when the leaves start to turn yellow. It wants to go dormant. Place it in a spot where it will receive no water or direct sunlight. In September, or earlier if leaves have appeared, begin to water it, and place it in a bright location. If its original pot is small, repot the tuber in a larger one with fresh potting soil, leaving to top half of the tuber exposed. Maintain the cool temperatures the cyclamen prefers. It will grow leaves and set buds for a new season of growth. Good luck!
Q: For the past few years, I have not been able to find ‘Porto Rico’ sweet potato slips. Where can I purchase some?
A: While it is still early, ask your local garden center or feed/seed store if they intend to carry slips of the ‘Porto Rico’ variety this spring. Perhaps they did not know there was a demand for this variety. Perhaps they can even special order them for you. Also, your county Extension agent may know a dealer or grower that you were unaware of in your county or a nearby county that may carry them. If you cannot find them locally, here are a few mail-order suppliers:
Steele Plant Company, P.O. Box 191, Gleason, TN 38229. Phone: 731-648-5476 (www.sweetpotatoplant.com)
New Hope Seed Company, P.O. Box 443, Bon Aqua, TN 37025. (www.newhopeseed.com)
Park Seed, 3507 Cokesbury Rd., Hodges, SC 29653. Phone: 1-800-845-3369 (www.parkseed.com)
Burpee Seeds, 300 Park Ave., Warminster, PA 18974. Phone: 1-800-888-1447 (www.burpee.com)
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, P.O. Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117. Phone: 540-894-9480 (www.southernexposure.com)
Q: When is the state’s next auction of rehabilitated horses?
A: Saturday, April 16, at the Mansfield Impound Barn, 2834 Marben Farm Rd., Mansfield, Georgia 30055. For more information, contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Equine Health Office at 404-656-3713. At this time we estimate 12 horses will be available for loving homes.
Q: I saw orchid plants at the grocery store that had intense blue flowers. What kind were they? I had never seen blue orchids, or any flower, that blue before.
A: That blue you were seeing was not the orchid’s natural color. The plant had been injected with dye. The most commonly dyed orchid is the moth orchid (Phalaenopsis).
True blue is a rare (and highly sought) color in flowers, hence the dolled-up orchids. Some people like the vibrancy and the novelty of the dyed flowers. To others it is a matter of gilding the lily or, in this case, orchid.
Whatever your opinion, the dye job is temporary. When the orchid sends up a new stalk of blooms, the flowers will be their natural color (white or purple).
Q: What are “tommy toes,” the little tomatoes I remember from childhood?
A: Small or cherry-like tomatoes are sometimes called “tommy toes.” There is actually one tomato variety named ‘Tommy Toe,’ although any of cherry types may be called tommy toes, and the common name may predate the named variety.
Tommy toes are a favorite of children as they produce a lot of fruits, ripen quickly and are easy for little hands to pick. Their small size and their funny-punny name may make them more enticing for children to eat.
Q: Is laurustinus a good shrub for Georgia?
A: Yes. Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) is a species of evergreen viburnum that is becoming more popular in Georgia landscapes due to its durability and attractiveness. It is especially valued for producing clusters of charming pink buds and bright white flowers in winter and early spring. It likes well-drained soil and will tolerate full sun to half shade. It may benefit from having afternoon shade in hot areas of the state and protection from winter winds in cold areas.
Laurustinus can be used as a screen or hedge as well as a specimen plant. It combines well with other viburnums, Japanese cleyera, purple lorepetalum, white or pink flowering quince, glossy abelia and many other shrubs.
Q: I heard it is time to order “summer bulbs” or to start looking for them at garden centers. What exactly is a summer bulb? Is it too early to plant them?
A: “Summer bulb” is an umbrella term for bulbs or plants with bulb-like structures such as corms, tubers, tuberous roots or rhizomes that are planted in the spring. Sometimes they are called “spring-planted bulbs.”
A few examples are gladiolus, dahlia, canna, calla, caladium, crinum, crocosmia, sprekelia, lilies, tigridia and tuberose. It is too early to plant them now, but it is not too early to order them or to visit your garden center as some of the best and rarest varieties sell out early.
Q: I have transplanted some old daffodils from the family homeplace. They were planted there years and years ago. Where can I find out what variety they are?
A: Because many daffodils look similar and there are many of them, it can be difficult in some cases to make an accurate identification. To further complicate things, there can even be variability within a named variety. It is best to compare your mystery flower with others and note all its characteristics including bloom size and proportions, bloom time and flower color as well as other traits of the plant such as height, leaf width and hardiness.
You may find some guidance at the upcoming Daffodil Day at Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery (www.oaklandcemetery.com) Saturday, March 19. The event is free and lasts from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sara Van Beck, a lifelong gardener widely regarded as one of the country’s foremost daffodil authorities and author of Daffodils in American Gardens: 1733-1940, will be a presenter at the event. Other experts will be giving presentations, and members of the Georgia Daffodil Society will be answering questions. More activities include garden walks, a cut flower display and a craft and story time area for children. Oakland Cemetery is a true garden and is home to rescued daffodil collections from across north Georgia and a perfect place to view historic flowers in a historic setting.
You should also visit the website of the Georgia Daffodil Society (www.georgiadaffodilsociety.com) and become a member of the group. On the website you will find a handbook, “A Short Field Guide to the Most Common Historic Daffodils in the Deep and Coastal South,” that may help you on the journey to discovering the name of your old daffodil, and the society is filled with knowledgeable daffodil enthusiasts who will want to help.
Try to attend the society’s annual daffodil show Saturday, March 12, noon to 5 p.m. at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, 9135 Willeo Road, Roswell, where you may see daffodils that are relatively recent introductions and some that were introduced to cultivation decades or even centuries ago.
Check out suppliers of heirloom bulbs such as Old House Gardens (www.oldhousegardens.com, 536 Third St., Ann Arbor, MI 48103. Phone 734-995-1486). They can supply the introduction dates of varieties and sometimes a dose of history along with the bulbs they sell.
We also recommend a trip to Gibbs Gardens (www.gibbsgardens.com) in Ball Ground this spring. They have planted more than 20 million daffodils of more than 100 different varieties. Although the garden’s focus is not historic daffodils per se, it is impossible to leave without learning something and without a greater appreciation of all daffodils, new and old.
We are glad you are preserving your old daffodil; if it survived as long as it has, it is a good selection for your area as well as a piece of family history. If you cannot find its name, keep loving it anyway. After all, who doesn’t love a little mystery?
Q: What are chicken backs used for? I saw some for the first time at the grocery store this week. The price was reasonable, but I didn’t know what to do with them.
A: Use them to make chicken stock, broth or soup. If you don’t have time to cook them now, they can be frozen for use later. You can also make stock and freeze it for later use. A handy tip for freezing stock is to freeze it in ice cube trays and then store the individual cubes in a freezer bag. That way you can have small amounts of stock available when preparing dishes without having to thaw an entire carton or trying to chip away what you need.
Q: Is there a difference between a dogwood and flowering dogwood? Does one flower more than the other?
A: Most of us simply say “dogwood” when we are referring to the beautiful native tree that graces our woodlands and gardens with large, cross-shaped flowers in the spring. Its botanical name, Cornus florida, means “flowering dogwood.” People use the name “flowering dogwood” to distinguish Cornus florida from other species of dogwoods that may be found naturally in our landscape or introduced from other parts of the world.
Some of the other dogwoods you may encounter are kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), silky dogwood (Cornus amomum), alternate-leaf/pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), red twig dogwood (Cornus alba), red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) and yellow twig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’). Although each of these has its virtues, none is as beautiful as our native flowering dogwood.
Q: What is shoepeg corn?
A: Shoepeg corn is a type of corn with small, narrow kernels resembling the wooden pegs cobblers once used to attach the upper part of the shoe to the sole. The most common variety of shoepeg corn available today is ‘Country Gentleman’, an old (introduced in 1890), white variety that is noted for its sweetness and for its lack of rows. Its kernels are not arranged in neat rows but are irregularly packed tightly together on the cob. Most sources consider the lack of rows as a defining characteristic of shoepeg types, but others do not. Another old variety, ‘Pencil Cob’ corn, is sometimes listed as a shoepeg type. However, its narrow kernels are arranged in rows on its notably pencil-thin cob.
Q: When is Arbor Day in Georgia?
A: In 1941, the General Assembly set the third Friday in February as our state Arbor Day. This year that falls on February 19. National Arbor Day is the third Friday in April.
To learn more about the benefits of planting trees and the many choices of trees we have, visit your local nursery or garden center.
Q: I saw a large butterfly on a sunny afternoon last month. It was fairly large, dark brown and had a band of pale yellow on the outer edge of its wings. What kind is it and what is it doing out in the middle of winter?
A: You saw a mourning cloak, one of our most beautiful and interesting butterflies. Most species of butterflies overwinter either in the caterpillar stage or in the pupa stage. The mourning cloak is unusual in that it overwinters as an adult butterfly. It finds a sheltered spot and hibernates. During warm periods in winter, the mourning cloak may become active. When cold weather returns, it goes back into hibernation.
The caterpillar of the mourning cloak is known as the spiny elm caterpillar. In our area it feeds on elms, willows, hackberries and Eastern cottonwood. Adult mourning cloaks prefer to feed on tree sap, especially that of oaks. They also feed on rotting fruit and only occasionally on flower nectar.
If you get a chance to see a mourning cloak closer or for a longer time, you will see a row of light blue dots on the inside of the yellow band at the edge of the wings.
If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the department’s website at www.agr.georgia.gov.