Starting new collection - indoors or outdoors?

Rythen.June 19, 2014

This starts out with a sad story. Last year was my first year growing hippies. I had a collection of 8 bulbs in Illinois where I lived, and sent 6 of them south to Florida when I moved down there. Turns out I need to move back north now, but I don't have any hippies to send back. Four of them caught the dreaded mozaic virus and had to be destroyed, and I'm afraid the other two might have contracted it as they were all growing in pots near one another for months. I didn't lose anything irreplaceable, but it was still sad to have to get rid of such healthy bulbs. They really took to the sun and heat well, and one started growing an offset!

Anyway, I decided to just start over with new bulbs this fall. It's not really much of a concern right now, but next summer when the bulbs need to recharge I'm wondering if it's best to put them outside (in pots), or if a west-facing window would be sufficient indoors. I've heard that east and south windows will work, but nothing about west. I don't know if there are reservoirs of this virus in zone 5 or not, but I really don't want to lose my bulbs again by putting them out where grasshoppers and other bugs will potentially chew on them. Has anyone used any kind of insect repellent on their hippies with success? Or grown them outside in colder climes?

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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

You can use a systemic insecticide outdoors. I use the Bayer 2 in 1. I think there are also 3 in 1s that fertilize, fungicide and insecticide. You need to be careful with chemicals in the house! One of the members on the forum lost a huge number if bulbs inside to the narcissus bulb fly, so they aren't safe inside. Chewing insects are not frequent in the house. Sadly, the virus is very widespread...some are just living with it.

I think a west window could potentially be too hot, but my greenhouse kitchen window faces west and seems to serve the purpose; however, I cycle plants in and out of it. North and south windows would provide less harsh light.

Good luck this fall!

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 9:38AM
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That was me, Kristi... I had a huge bulb collection growing indoors in windows and under lights, and I thought I would be pretty safe keeping them this way... but lo and behold, the little NBF buggers sneaked in through faulty screens and decimated my Hippeastrums, leaving me with less than 20 out of the huge number of bulbs I did have.

I decided to simply use a bit of preventative, in the form of a systemic, and resign myself to the fact that we can't always have everything the way we want. Some things are out of our control, and that's okay.

I live in IL, zone 5/6, and I've found that taking my potted bulbs outdoors in spring, after the danger of frost is past, is the very best way to achieve optimal growth and flowering... not to mention the production of offsets.

The only real problems I see are the occasional slug or snail nibbling on the leaves, but that's easily taken care of. I either ensure the pots aren't sitting directly on the ground, or I remember to apply the systemic in due time.

When my plants are indoors, I prefer either eastern or southern exposures, but a west window would do if that were the only light access I had. Or, one could use grow lighting.

Good luck with your move... and here's to a nice new collection of bulbs! :-)

Coincidentally, I'm actually in the process of moving right now, myself. My husband and I are moving from Central IL to a more northern area of the state to live with our son and his family. It's great to be able to interact with our kids and grandkids, and not miss a moment of seeing the little ones grow up!

I'm taking my meager bulb collection with me, and I'll be changing up how I schedule their growth and flowering due to space issues. Instead of allowing them their own natural schedule, I'll probably be forcing a dormancy and scheduling blooming time to try to coincide with seasons. We'll have to see how it all works out.

I will add that medium (soil) has played a key role in my own success growing bulbs, the NBF not related, and has helped me avoid rot and fungal issues because of its larger particle size, its ability to avoid perched water tables within containers, its ability to 'breathe', etc...

I mix my own medium using fir bark particles, granite chips, and coarse perlite... all approximately the same size... which beautifully allows for errors in watering.

There are many schools of thought on mediums, and others would disagree with my choice... but it has served me well in all types of plants I grow, from orchids to cacti to bulbs and beyond.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 12:34PM
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Thank you both for the replies! Jodi, I am moving back to central IL! Small world. Have you encountered the mosaic virus in any of your bulbs? Also, I would like to try your medium because I have terrible mold problems indoors. Where can I acquire fir bark and granite? If there's a local supplier I wouldn't mind a bit of a drive if it helps out my bulbs. I was going to use what Telos Rare Bulbs uses to grow H. vittatum, which is 1:1:1 pumice, perlite, and peat.

My current apartment has two west facing windows and one north that gets no sun. I have a small patio outdoors that gets dappled afternoon sun. For the past few months I was growing my bulbs in full sun in Florida and they seemed fine with those levels of heat, enjoying it I'd even say. Leaves were very green and healthy until the mosaic virus set in...

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 4:16PM
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I've seen bulbs with Mosaic Virus, but I don't recall having to deal with any, myself. I could be wrong, though... my memory is horrible, and I've been a gardener and bulb collector for a long time. Regardless of the problem... whether a disease or pest damage... it's still pretty devastating to lose a collection of plants. I know how you feel, to be sure.

I would be happy to share information on the medium(s) I use. I've linked the most important article to read at the bottom of this post. It will explain the concept of the mediums I use, which is most important of all. And it includes recipes for two mediums... the Gritty Mix, which is used more for indoor plants... and the 511 Mix, which a lot of people use for container grown veggies, trees, and other plants grown outdoors in pots.

After struggling with moisture retention issues in potted plants for years, and especially pertaining to my bulbs, I was so thrilled to come across a discussion that tackled the issues of simple science and basic physics... or, what really happens under the soil surface in pots, and how we can better control moisture and nutrition and other variables in a containerized environment.

The fir bark isn't too hard to locate... I use either the small bags of Repti-Bark, available at pet stores (some people say the bark is too large, but I believe the larger bags contain larger pieces)... or I look for a plain fir bark mulch that is comprised of small pieces. The good folks over at the Container Gardening Forum will be happy to direct you or make suggestions if you can't locate an ingredient.

The granite chips I use are available at most farm oriented stores, like Rural King or Farm & Fleet. It's labeled Gran-i-Grit, and it's for chickens. It's nothing but crushed granite.

I also use coarse Perlite, available at most garden centers.

I make certain to sift or screen all ingredients before using to remove dust, and to remove particles that are too large or too small. The article discusses all aspects of use, but if you have any questions, either myself or any of the regulars over at the Container Gardening Forum are most pleased to help. They're a great group of folks!

You can substitute some of these ingredients for others if some are hard to locate. A lot of people use Turface, lava rock pieces, pumice, etc... some use premixed bonsai medium... once you understand the concept and have worked a little with the basic recipes, you'll get a feel for what you can substitute.

The important thing to remember is keeping particle size consistent throughout the mix. What you're trying to achieve is a sharp-draining, aerated environment in which you have better control over watering, control over feeding, etc... you're trying to avoid errors in watering, and having too much moisture hung up within the interior of the pot. And using a more inorganic type of medium ensures longer life of the medium, and it ensures a better balance of PH and other issues.

With a well made Gritty-type medium, you could water daily and not run into issues... and improper watering is the most common reason plants fail in a pot environment.

The 511 Mix uses a slightly more moisture retentive recipe that includes peat. You might want to experiment and see which mix you like better, depending on your own individual micro-environment.

As I said before, it's the CONCEPT of the mixes that's most important to understand... how they work, why they work... why they make good sense to use, etc...

It's important to remember that there's a slight learning curve when switching to a sharper-draining medium... you'll want to keep a closer eye on watering and feeding. And when mixing a batch, you'll want to make certain the ingredients are pre-moistened so they can readily absorb moisture once you pot your plants in it.

I can keep my bulbs potted in the Gritty Mix for 2 or 3 years before I have to repot and/or refresh those ingredients. I can feed a continuous weak solution of liquid fertilizer plus a micro-nutrient during active growth and not worry about burn or using too little fertilizer. And most important, I don't have to worry about over watering. Under watering may be part of the learning curve in the beginning, but if you're diligent in checking your plants, you won't have issues.

And for me, another great thing is that I can use these Mixes for every plant type I grow... from cacti to orchids and everything in between! I actually have a Dendrobium and an Anselia orchid growing in Gritty Mix, all my bulbs are in it, as are my other house plants and container plants, such as a Plumeria, a Hoya, an Epi Cactus, a Chalice Vine, some seedling cacti I grew, and every other plant I have. I adjust for moisture retention for individual plant type sometimes, or the size of a pot, using a slightly different mixture of ingredients, but the basic concept remains the same.

I spent decades wrestling with moisture issues in containers, and I thought that the gardening industry was pretty much on the side of consumers... but then, after doing some research and learning about the Gritty type of mediums, I realized that the gardening industry is no different than any other... they exist to profit. The higher the turnover in plants, and the more purchases consumers make, the better the profit.

And the Gritty mediums, in my experience, help lessen that turnover. I've experienced less plant loss, I don't have to repot as often... so I'm actually saving money.

As I said earlier, there are many schools of thought on soils/mediums and what constitutes the best in container growing... and you'll find many arguments on the issue of soils within various forums... but I found information via the articles written by the author of the one I linked below, Tapla, that make perfect, logical sense in a very easy to understand, scientific way. I've been a huge fan of Tapla's writings for a long time, now. The man is an expert bonsai grower, speaks publicly on the subjects of gardening and container growing, and has a very solid reputation here at GardenWeb.

In any case, there's no harm in reading and doing a little poking around to see what other growers think about the concept of a larger particled, sharper draining, more aerated medium for use in potted environments.

I hope you enjoy the article, and I hope it gets you thinking about what is generally accepted versus what you'll know after reading! It changed the way I grow, for sure... and I'm much happier now that I have better control over what's happening under the surface of the soil in my pots.

It's a lot to take in all at once... but the more you think about it, and the more you work with this type of medium, the more you'll see what we're all excited about at the Container Gardening forum, with regard to those who use these mediums!

I wish you the best in your move... and the best with new bulbs! And if you have any questions, I'd be happy to try to help... sharing knowledge is what makes gardening and growing fun, and so worthwhile! And knowledge is the key to success!

There's no such thing as a "green thumb". Gardening isn't about having luck... it's about having knowledge. A green thumb is nothing more than applied knowledge.

Happy Gardening!

Here is a link that might be useful: Container Soils - Water Movement and Retention XIX

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 10:55AM
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