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Dear Master Gardener,

Is there a beautiful flowering houseplant I can buy to cheer me up during the doldrums of winter? I would like to find something different from the usual cyclamen, kalanchoe or Christmas cactus.

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ANSWER: You could purchase a clivia, which is an elegant plant with showy clusters of red-orange trumpet-shaped flowers and arching, narrowly lance-shaped dark green leaves. They can also be found in yellow; however yellow-flowered cultivars are rare and expensive. Clivia are very easy to grow as a houseplant. They can mature to a height and width of two to three feet so they need a wide, heavy pot that won’t tip over. Also, keep in mind that they like being root-bound. Grow them in bright filtered or indirect light. During the growing season, water clivia freely, letting it dry out between waterings; water very sparingly in the winter. Fertilize monthly at half strength during the growing season and stop once the buds start to form. Clivias need a six to eight week rest period in the fall in order for flower buds to form, so you will need to place your plant in a cool place where night temperatures will drop to 50 degrees or lower. When your clivia is done blooming, remove the stalk at its base. Clivias do contain poisonous alkaloids, so place your plant out of the reach of children and pets.

Dear Master Gardener,

Someone told me about a way to start seeds outdoors in the dead of winter. How is this done?

ANSWER: Winter sowing is an easy, inexpensive, earth-friendly way to get a head start on next summer’s garden. Instead of starting seeds in the basement using growlights, seeds are planted in a couple inches of soil in plastic containers, taped shut and put out in the snowbanks.

How can that work? Seeds are amazing little energy packets that in nature know exactly when to sprout in order to survive. Winter sowing makes use of this survival instinct, but helps it along by creating mini-greenhouses. An added benefit is sturdier seedlings and no damping off disease. Greatest success will come with seeds of hardy annuals, perennials, herbs and even trees.

Take empty milk jugs, bakery clamshell containers, or any clear plastic lidded containers and cut a few slits in the bottoms for drainage. Slice milk jugs almost all the way around, just below the handle, leaving a “hinge.” Add a couple inches of dampened potting soil and plant the seeds according to packet directions. Label well (on the bottom where the sun won’t fade it), make some small holes in the lids for air, tape the containers shut with duct tape and set them outside. On top of the picnic table might save them from nosy dogs and out of afternoon sun will keep the seedlings from overheating.

When the time is right the sprouts will appear. Freezing and thawing won’t matter, the seeds know and the lids provide extra protection. Check periodically to make sure the soil hasn’t dried out and gradually enlarge the air holes as temps increase and seedlings get taller. When the garden soil has warmed, transplant as usual and recycle the plastic.

Crow Wing County Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension Service. All information given in this column is based on research and information provided by the University. To ask a question, call the Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1000, extension 4040 and leave a recorded message. A Master Gardener will return your call.

February garden tips

• Are you planning to start annual flowers under fluorescent lights? Most don’t need to be started until about April 1. Others, such as pansies, violas, wax begonias, heliotrope and coleus need to be started in mid-February. Assemble seeds, pots, trays, a timer, lights that can be raised and lowered, etc.

• If you have planted ornamental grasses in your garden you know what good winter interest they provide. If you haven’t done so, make a point of noticing them on a winter walk or drive through neighborhoods and consider adding some to your yard.

• A Valentine bouquet can be kept attractive longer by trimming off foliage that will be submerged in water and placing in a clean vase of lukewarm water to which you have added preservative. As the water level drops, add more water and preservative. When water becomes cloudy, remove flowers, make fresh diagonal cuts in stems, and add fresh water and preservative.

• Keep blooming amaryllis plants in a bright location. When they quit blooming, remove spent blossoms and fertilize at half strength monthly. Plant them outdoors when all danger of frost has passed. With faithful summer watering and fertilizing and letting them go dormant from September through December, they should reblossom for years.

• Find reliable garden information on our website http://wwwextension.umn.edu. For more information search on Google, specifying ‘edu’ as the domain name to view other northern university websites.

• Discard bulbs that have been forced for winter bloom once their flowers are spent. It is unlikely that they will absorb enough light energy to rebloom.

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Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
(218) 855-5889
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