Sharon, out near Warrenton, writes: “I enjoyed the spicy scent of a lovely pot of paperwhites over the holidays. But what do I do now that the blooms are gone? I read on a website that it isn’t possible to save the bulbs, that they will never bloom or grow again. Is that so? Is this beautiful green thing doomed to the compost heap?”
That’s what even bulb-forcing experts do with theirs, Shar. Although they are a type of daffodil, they’re not frost hardy, so you can’t plant them outdoors — although you could in a really warm clime like Florida or Southern California. And you can’t force a second bloom from any bulb that rooted in water. So, to try and get a second run from paperwhites, you first have to grow the bulbs in soil.
Then it would take at least two full years of expert care — fertilizing the green growth after the flowers are gone, exposing that growth to bright light, giving the bulbs a carefully timed rest period, growing them out again just for the green growth to try and recharge the flowering portion of the bulbs, feeding and then resting them again-before they could possibly be strong enough to bloom a second time.
I’m exhausted just thinking about it!
Grow an oak and you’ll get acorns
Angus in D.C. writes: “I have a problem with ‘oak tree nuts’ or ‘squirrel nuts’ in my lawn. I have an oak tree in my yard, and when the fall season arrives, the seeds also fall — onto my lawn! Is there a way to stop the tree from bearing seeds? What can I do?”
Sorry, Angus, those acorns are a sign that your oak is healthy and happy. The only thing you can do to prevent them would be to cut down the tree, which I certainly don’t advise. Your best bet is to buy a yard vac that’s powerful enough to suck up the acorns and use it to collect them as they fall. This would prevent squirrels from digging up your lawn to bury them for the winter; and it will also cut down on the number of mice, voles, deer and other acorn-loving wildlife stopping by your place for a snack.
In fact, studies suggest that promptly cleaning up fallen acorns will lessen the number of ticks on your property by cutting down on the number of visiting deer and mice, which are actually a bigger source of ‘deer ticks’ than deer.
Water is the best pesticide for indoor plants
Oscar from Bethesda writes: “I have two potted kumquat plants that do great out on our deck during the summer. However, every year when I bring them into the house for the winter they develop small dark red and white particles on the leaves. Although I see no evidence of spiders there are also some fine webs. Can you please tell me what these dots are and how to solve this problem?”
Super easy, Oscar, all houseplants should be sprayed repeatedly with sharp streams of water before coming in for the winter to prevent such hitchhiking pests. For now, take them to a sink or tub and wash them well with plain water. Either shoot the leaves with as strong and sharp a stream as you can generate or hold them under or next to the running water while you gently scrub the leaves — both sides — with your fingers. You can use a little dishwashing soap if you like, but it’s not necessary, water alone is the best pesticide.
Then start misting the leaves every morning. Those little webs are signs of spider mites, and that means your indoor air is too dry for the poor plants. Misting the plants daily will make the mites disappear.
Let ornamental grasses wave over winter
Laura, down on the water in Solomons, Maryland, writes: “We recently bought a house with several stands of “grass plants” — pampas grass, or whatever they’re called. I’ve seen them cut back elsewhere to a flat top about six inches high. I just don’t know when to do it — in the spring, in the fall, or still this winter?”
The generic term for these impressive and fast-growing plants is ‘ornamental grasses’, Laura. And you should always let them stand tall over winter — it’s better for the plant’s survival — especially on the water, where the plants need all their biomass as protection against the often fierce winds. And they add height to what can otherwise be a dreary winter landscape.
Wait until you see the new green growth in the center of the plants in spring and then don’t give them that ill-advised (and ugly) crew-cut. Follow the natural shape of the clumps and trim back the browned out leaves in a symmetrical manner. Just be sure to wear long sleeves and heavy gloves, those leaves can be razor sharp.
Learn how to choose and care for your trees
“Casey Trees” sounds like the name of a landscaping or tree care company, but it’s actually a non-profit group dedicated to helping folks in the D.C. area take better care of our priceless trees. They offer lots of free workshops on tree identification, selection and care. Attend the right ones and you can become a Citizen Forester, helping to plant the right trees in the right places, and caring for them and existing trees throughout our region.
Two great ways to start are with their Trees 101 and 201 classes, which will be held at their D.C. headquarters on 12th St NE on Saturday, Jan. 21, and Saturday, Jan 28, beginning at 9 a.m. All classes are free and even include refreshments and/or light meals — but advanced registration is required.