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Ask a Master Gardener: Caring for an amaryllis bulb

Amaryllis belladonna flowers. Photographed in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. By Bidgee (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Dear Master Gardener: I received an amaryllis bulb as a gift, how do I pot it and care for it?

Answer: Plant the amaryllis in a pot just slightly larger than the bulb. The roots should be crowded. Fill the pot three-fourths full with a sterile, well-drained potting mix. Put the bulb in pointed end up with half the bulb showing. Water and move the pot to a cool, bright location, such as a sunny window in a cool room with temperatures around 60-65° F. Keep the soil moist but not wet. New growth will soon appear; hopefully it will be a flowering stem. When the plant has finished blooming, remove the flower stem so the bulb's energy goes to rejuvenating the bulb, not producing seeds. Keep the plant in a sunny window. Keep it watered and fertilize it with a flowering houseplant fertilizer solution. After all danger of frost, you can move the potted bulb outdoors. Make sure the pot has drainage holes. Water and fertilize as needed. Bring it back indoors before the first fall frost. Allow the plant to go dormant by storing it in a cool location and withholding water for eight to ten weeks, then top-dress or repot. It will take four to eight weeks to rebloom.

Dear Master Gardener: I bought a beautiful cyclamen and was wondering how to take care of it, so I can keep it as a houseplant. Also, will it rebloom?

Answer: Florist's cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum), with their bright red, pink and white flowers, are popular plants to buy at Christmastime. A cyclamen is a tuberous plant that flowers during the winter months. Cyclamen prefer cool temperatures and bright indirect light. Ideally daytime temperatures are 60-65 degrees and nighttime temperatures are around 50 degrees. Avoid placing a cyclamen plant near heat vents, as this will cause the soil to dry out too quickly. Cyclamen prefer to be kept moist. If you care for your cyclamen properly, it should bloom for about four weeks. Removing spent flowers will also help to encourage more flowers to develop. When you deadhead, grab the spent flower stem securely and pull it off completely from the crown of the plant.

It can be difficult to get a cyclamen to rebloom, but it is possible. According to Clemson University Extension, keep the soil from completely drying out during the dormant period. Then, place the dormant cyclamen in a shady place until new leaves emerge. In mid-September, when new leaves start to grow, move the plant to a bright location and water the soil thoroughly. Continue to water it regularly and fertilize it monthly with a liquid houseplant fertilizer. With proper light, adequate moisture and cool temperatures, cyclamens will rebloom by mid-winter.

Dear Master Gardener: The leaf tips of my palm plant are dried and brown. What's wrong with my plant?

Answer: Dried, brown leaf tips or leaf margins on palms are the two most common problems facing indoor palms and both are related to how they are watered and fertilized. Palms need to be kept relatively moist. In spring and summer when the days are longer and the temperatures are warm, water your palm as soon as the soil feels dry a little below the surface. Let the soil get slightly drier in winter. It is important that potting soil drains well and containers have drain holes. Water palms thoroughly, then spill off excess water that collects in the saucer below the pot. Fertilize lightly from late winter through early autumn when houseplants are usually growing the most actively. A buildup of fertilizer salts in the soil will result in brown tips and edges, especially if you allow the soil to get too dry between waterings. If you are unsure about fertilizing, it is better to err on the side of too little rather than too much. Keep palm fronds clean because spider mites are attracted to dusty foliage and can become a serious problem quickly, especially in winter when the relative humidity in homes is low.

December Garden Tips

• Fill winter containers with evergreen boughs, shrub branches and berries.

• Try to keep roses and other perennials covered with snow—it's the perfect insulator against cold.

• Check stored vegetables, tubers, and bulbs; remove any spoiled ones immediately.

• Inspect house plants for insect pests; treat with insecticidal soap spray, if necessary.

• Water indoor plants whenever top few inches of soil start to dry. Water so the excess water runs out of the bottom of the pot. Pour off any water that collects in the saucer.

• Do not try to remove wet heavy snow from evergreens; you could do more harm than good. Evergreen limbs remain supple through winter and will bend under the weight, but hopefully will not crack.

• Instead of salt and de-icers for your steps, walks and driveway use sand when possible. The salt is harmful to plants and turf. Cheap clay kitty litter works, too.

• Be sure newly purchased indoor plants are well protected for the trip home. Exposure to icy temperatures for even a few moments may cause injury.

• Holiday poinsettia plants do best with sun for at least half the day and night temperatures in the 50s or 60s. Keep plants away from drafts, registers and radiators and let the soil dry only slightly between watering. Be sure to punch holes in decorative foil wraps to prevent soggy soil conditions.

• Take photos of your property to decide what needs changing before snow cover obscures your view.

• Attend the free garden workshop, Shakespeare's Gardens, taught by a Master Gardener on Tuesday, Dec. 12, from noon-1 p.m. at the Brainerd Public Library. This presentation will feature an overview of the gardens and the plants that played such an important role in his life and that he so aptly described in his writings.

University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. All information given in this column is based on research. To ask a question, call the Master Gardener Help Line at 218-454-GROW (4769) and leave a recorded message. A Master Gardener will return your call.