Q. My Alstroemeria plants in the ground have thrived so far over the winter. They are lush and green but no flower buds. What should I do now to assure blossoms in the spring?
A. You have no reason to worry about your Alstroemeria (al-stro-MAIR-ee-ya) flowering in the spring. In fact, they will probably begin budding and flowering again any day now.
I have several Alstroemeria, also known as Peruvian lily, growing in a lightly shaded garden that have been flowering throughout January.
The larger your collection of Peruvian lilies, the wider calendar coverage, in terms of bloom time, you will see. I have several dozen plants, and it seems that at least one of them is always flowering. They generally do not need fertilizer to bloom, although they benefit from organic soil amendments and mulches and prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Leaves may become chlorotic in alkaline soil, where they may require supplemental iron and other micro-nutrient supplements.
In the Valley, Peruvian lilies must be protected from hot sun. As for watering, if they are properly situated, they should not require more than two hose soakings per week. Given too much sun, their foliage turns pale green.
To keep individual plants blooming over a long period of time, never use a pruning shears to remove stalks of spent flowers. Instead, pull the stalks out, in their entirety, by hand. Peruvian lilies have two-inch-long trumpet shaped flowers in pink, purple, magenta, orange, yellow or various combinations of the above, occasionally brightened with white, and petals may also exhibit black or brown freckles. Yellow and orange (Alstroemeria aurea) types grow up to 4 feet, but the other colors are about half that size and the recently introduced dwarfs less than one foot tall. The main problem faced by Peruvian lilies is thrips, a tiny insect that munches its petal margins. I have yet to find a remedy for this pest but do not think it takes away from the overall beauty of the flowers, especially when a bunch of them are grouped together in a bouquet.
Peruvian lilies, by the way, are known for their outstanding longevity as cut flowers, never failing to last less than a week when placed in water in a vase.
While Peruvian lilies are not usually associated with the drought-tolerant pantheon of plants, their South American habitat stretches from the snow line of the Andes Mountains to the desert. Due to their resilient underground tuberous or rhizomatous organs, they are capable of surviving weather extremes and are appropriate for water thrifty gardens.
In fact, you can have a garden of constant color, without having to resort to trips to the nursery every month or two, and without having to be bothered by watering restrictions, by confining your plant choices to several noteworthy herbaceous perennials – that is, plants that may be cut to the ground and then, owing to their underground structures, sprout new green growth within days of having been obliterated from view.
Three noteworthy plant groups, whose color spectrum rivals or surpasses that of Peruvian lilies, come to mind: daylilies, flag irises, and canna lilies. To appreciate the diversity of these groups, I urge you to do a Google images search on the Internet. You will also find dozens of fascinating varieties of these plants through Internet and mail order vendors. Herbaceous perennials are easily shipped due to their sturdy bulbous structures and will reliably take up permanent residence in your flower beds.
Although people do not think of them for their brilliant color, hellebores are the herbaceous perennial of choice for the shade garden. Their colors are usually in the cream to pink spectrum, but Barry Glick, through an intensive breeding program on his West Virginia flower farm, has introduced some strong red cultivars, as well as many interesting color combinations, to the trade. You can see and, if you wish, order many fascinating hellebores by visiting Glick’s Web site at www.sunfarm.com.
Q. Could you please address the issue of what tomatoes grow best in our area?
– Sid and Peggy Malcolm
A. I once interviewed a gentleman who had been growing tomatoes for more than 50 years in Canoga Park. His favorite varieties were ‘Celebrity,’ ‘Better Boy,’ ‘Big Beef,’ the heirloom ‘Brandywine’ and the orange- skinned, yellow-fleshed ‘Golden Jubilee.’
If you are a beginner, I would suggest growing cherry tomatoes, as long as you have a trellis to back them up.
All types of cherry tomatoes, including the golden, pear shaped varieties, are easy to grow.
I would also like to address your question to readers: Which tomato varieties do you recommend for Valley growing?
It is a good idea to start planting tomatoes in the garden as soon as the cold weather is gone in another month or so.
That way, they should be flowering and fruiting by early spring before hot weather returns. You can plant tomato seeds now in Styrofoam cups on a sunny window sill or wait until you see seedlings available in six-packs at the nursery. If you plant seedlings outdoors now, make sure you put flower pots or nursery containers over them each night to prevent frost damage.
Tip of the Week
Many ferns, and all ground cover ferns, spread by rhizomes and are appropriate for the drought-tolerant shade or semi-sunny garden. What you may not know is that the trunk of a tree fern is actually a vertically growing rhizome. Sometimes, all the fronds of a tree fern disappear and you might think the plant is dead. Think again.
You can detach the top six to eight inches of the trunk, plant it in a pot of peat moss mixed with topsoil, and rejuvenate it. Or sometimes a tree fern has grown 8 or 10 feet tall and may only have a few fronds at the top. In this case, wrap the trunk just below the fronds in moist peat moss and enclose the peat moss in thin plastic. In due course, you should see roots begin to grow under the plastic. Cut the trunk below the newly formed roots and plant your detached “tree top” in a pot or in the ground.