How do I grow amaryllis year-round without a resting period? How do I get rid of the gnats on my plant? What is this weird plant in my backyard?!
Each month, Birds & Blooms readers send in their burning questions to gardening expert, Melinda Myers, who is a nationally known, award-winning garden expert, TV/radio host and author of more than 20 books.
Got a gardening question for Melinda? Submit your questions here! They may appear here or in a future issue of the magazine.
Question: I would like to grow amaryllis year-round without the fall resting time. What are the light, water, and fertilizer requirements? —Caryl Baetjer of Unionville, Pennsylvania
Melinda: If you ask several gardeners this question you will likely receive several different recommendations for re-blooming amaryllis. Most do involve a rest period. Here’s what I suggest. Remove the flower stalk once the flowers fade and add a flowering plant fertilizer. Move the plants outdoors in summer for best results (a sunny window works, too). During the warmer months, amaryllis plants generate the energy needed for new growth and flowers. In the winter, move it to a slightly cooler, brightly lit location. At this point, your plant likely has just a few leaves, so water sparingly. If you are lucky, new flower stalks appear in January or February. The key is finding a method that works best for you, your growing conditions and the plant. (Read more: Grow the Biggest and Best Amaryllis)
Question: This succulent has me stumped. What kind is it? —Betty Fowler of Redding, California
Melinda: All the little plantlets, or small plants, that grow on the edges of the leaves inspired one of this plant’s common names, mother of thousands. It is also known as devil’s backbone and alligator plant, and botanically as Bryophyllum daigremontianum. As a succulent, it grows best in full sun and well-draining soils. When the plantlets drop to the soil, they root and grow. It’s not a problem indoors, but when grown outdoors in frost-free areas, the plantlets may become a nuisance. And beware: it is toxic to people, cats and dogs. (Read more: Drought Tolerant Succulent Superstars)
Question: I received a plant as a gift, and along with it came gnats! Insecticidal soap didn’t work. Watering less seems to help, but as soon as I water, the gnats are back. Do you have any pointers? —Peggy Haskin of Racine, Wisconsin
Melinda: Fungus gnats are those annoying insects that look like small fruit flies flitting around the house. Controlling immature fungus gnats, which are wormlike larvae that feed on organic matter in the soil, eliminates the problem. Fortunately, there is an organic option. Bacillus thuringiensis israliensis (Bti) is a naturally occurring bacterium that kills the fungus gnat larvae, mosquitos and black flies. Mosquito Bits, a Bti product, has been approved for controlling fungus gnats and is available at garden centers, retail outlets and online. Just sprinkle the bits on the soil surface and water. When the fungus gnat larvae feed upon the Bti, they die. Best of all, the product is safe for pets, people, and wildlife.
Question: I bought a croton several years ago because I liked the different colors in the leaves. Now my plant is doing well, but it generates big green leaves. Why aren’t they colorful? —Larry Smith of Hudson, New Hapshire
Melinda: Crotons display the best leaf color when grown outdoors or in a sunny window indoors. All plants contain three pigments—chlorophyll (green), carotinoids (yellow and yellow-oranges) and anthocyanins (red and purple). The carotinoids and anthocyanins mask some or all of the green chlorophyll in plants with colorful leaves. In low light conditions the green chlorophyll pigment becomes more pronounced than the other two pigments. Move your plant to a sunnier window and you should see an improvement in the leaf color.