Coastal and Tropical South

October, 2005
Regional Report

Favorite or New Plant

Prickly Pear Cactus
Also known as devil's tongue, Opuntia humifusa, is a low-growing, spreading succulent cactus native to our region. Seldom used in landscapes, it forms colonies with showy yellow flowers up to 4 inches across in late spring. The common name, prickly pear, refers to the yummy, red, bristly, pear-like fruit. Native Americans ate the fruit, pads, buds, and flowers raw, cooked, or dried. Modern aficionados make delicious jelly from the fruit, but the dramatic texture of this plant is what makes it deserving of more attention in the garden.

Clever Gardening Technique

Forcing Tulips
They call it "forcing" in horticulture school, but the process to bring tulips and other flowers into bloom at a particular time doesn't take much force. In our regions container growing can be the most reliable route to beautiful tulips. While paper white narcissus can be potted in marble chips, and hyacinths will grow with only water touching their bases in classic glasses, tulips need a well-drained potting mix.

Plant them in clay pots with just their pointy noses sticking up above the soil at the rim of the pot. Don't let the bulbs touch each other, but put as many in as possible for the best show. Water the pots thoroughly, then put them in a cool, dark place, such as the refrigerator crisper. An unheated shed or the space under a porch works well, if the temperatures at night are around 45 degrees F, as is the case in many areas in October.

Keep bulbs in cool storage, watering regularly, until roots are visible in the drainage hole of the pot and/or the bulbs begin to sprout leaves. Then bring them into a warmer, brighter environment, such as a protected porch, for two weeks (55 degrees), and finally into more warmth and light (about 65 degrees is ideal) as the stems elongate and the buds color up.

Use this rule of thumb for timing their bloom: October forcing will produce flowers for December decorating and gifting. Later planting actually goes faster by several weeks, so tulips forced in late December are often in bloom by late February, just in time for displaying in the late winter/early spring garden.

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