Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Easy Steps Using Pineapple Lilies (Eucomis) in a Floral Arrangement

Pineapple Lilies make long-lasting cut flowers.  The stems and flowers are waxy with good substance.

Materials Needed:
Volcano-shaped, flat bottom bulbs.
  • An uneven number of flowers are best to create balance in your floral arrangement. The entire flowering stem of a Pineapple Lily (Eucomis) can be used as a cut flower because the leaves emerge in a rosette from the top of the volcano-shaped bulb, rather than along the stem like true lilies (Lilium).  Consequently, removing the entire stem will not harm your bulbs in any way - in fact you might be encouraging them to make more offsets as well.  These are long-lived plants and you'll be able to pick stems each year.  Gather your flowers the evening before and place in a cool spot using only fresh tap water.
    See the spotting patterns?
  • Pull out the stems - rather than cutting - and you will have a neat white end at the bottom that is naturally “sealed” like the middle stem shown in the photograph. 
  • Gather interesting branches from your garden - Branches and twigs will help keep the flowers upright in the vase and add intrigue to your arrangement.  If possible, try to choose shapes that curve aside and are not strictly vertical.
  • Jar of glass beads – used to safely anchor the base of the stem in the bottom of the container.  Wire “frogs” are not recommended because the bottom of the stems are soft and will become mushy if overworked or repeatedly "pinned".  Glass beads are gentle on the stem edges and are quite attractive when used in a clear vase.  Choose either clear or a complementary color to show off the finely decorated stems to advantage.
  • Choose a heavy glass or pottery vase to increase stability and to visually balance the large size of the flowers in the arrangement, but not so large that it will be hard to change the water without using a siphon hose - a trick used for massive floral arrangements.
  1. Add glass beads to a depth of about three inches or more, depending on how transparent your container is – use more beads if you want them to be a highly visible part of the arrangement.  However, many Eucomis have interesting speckled stems which are pretty on their own, so take a critical look at the stems and then decide how you want the beads to fit into the overall "look". Add foliage, such as Fennel, Salal, Hosta leaves, Cryptomeria japonica (Dianna's favorite filler because it will last a month or more in water) or other conifers that will soften the overall effect and last a long time.
  2. Add supporting structure, a few interesting bare branches will make a difference – in the arrangements pictured the branches are from an alpine conifer that experienced winter kill.  Balance the branches carefully; positioning one branch swooping to the side and slightly forward is always a good move.  Each single element or layer (foliage, branches etc.) you put into the vase should look balanced on its own.  Step back to look at your work, or leave it for a short while and upon return you'll likely discover a new perspective.
  3. Add stems of Eucomis cut to varying heights with the tallest in back if you are making a “one side only” composition.  If you need to cut the stems to make them shorter for your vase, they will tend to get a bit soggy on the cut edge over time. *See note below.
  4. Adjust the individual elements to make the design pleasing.  Try rotating the stems in place to align the angle of the flowers rather than switching their positions.  Be certain to add flowers or more foliage in the back of the vase to round it out.  Even though the back side might not be as visible, a fluffy amount of foliage all around the rim will help make the transition from vase to flowers more pleasing, plus people tend to “peek” behind arrangements to see how they are composed, so don’t give away your secrets!
  5.  Fill container to within one or two inches of the rim with plain tap water.
  6.  Photograph your work.
  7. Change vase water regularly. Eucomis stems last a very long time – up to a month, longer as the seed pods develop - so the water needs to be changed at least once a week.  Place a folded heavy bath towels at the edge of your kitchen sink, using it as a soft base to steady the vase and tip most of the water into the sink.  Replace with fresh water and reposition the flowers if necessary.  This is especially important if you needed to cut the stems because those edges will tend to dissolve over time.  
*NOTE: Do not use flower conditioners; Pineapple Lilies do not need the prepared solution, plus it could reduce the longevity of the stems which are thick and fleshy.  The waxy/rubber-like stems and florets are probably 90% water, with a network of fibrous cells holding them together – as observed from Dianna's unsuccessful experience in trying to dry the flowers for use year-round.   Enjoy Pineapple Lilies in their season, the stems and florets shrivel away to paper thin when dried.  However, that infuriating trait will make it easy to collect seed if you hang them upside down for several months with a collection box underneath to catch the falling seeds.

These other arrangements used pottery urns and wooden “accent” spirals, found at a local market to tie in the solid black color of the vases.  Dip the ends of any wooden or dried material into melted wax to keep them from decomposing while you enjoy the Pineapple Lily arrangement for several weeks; this will also preserve them for reuse in the future.  Eucomis are only available in spring; check our website for information on varieties.  When the "add to cart" button is visible, they are available to order.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pineapple Lilies for late bloom have REALLY long-lasting flowers.

Eucomis 'Can Can' - facing East
Tropical-looking but Hardy
   Lovely succulent leaves with waxy florets on the stem open over a long period of time in the garden or as a cut flower - so long in fact that a quick rinse under the faucet might be in order to remove dust accumulation.  Other than artificial stems, how many other garden flowers need a light dusting - or a bath - every once in a while in the house?

To make an exciting floral display indoors, we cut the entire stem just as the bottom flowers are beginning to open, as shown to the left.  Unlike our regular lilies, there are no worries about the bulbs being damaged by cutting too much stem.  All of the leaves of Eucomis or Pineapple Lilies are produced from a whorl at the top of the bulb and the stem is delightfully bare, making cutting an entire flowering stalk just fine.  All the buds on the stem will open in turn from the bottom up, and then as the top ones open, the bottom individual florets mature into seedpods which are attractive on their own merits - extending the show by another 3 weeks or more.  In vases, water should be changed every few days to keep stems fresh and other flowers or greens replenished as needed, or desired.  Do choose a heavy bottomed glass or pottery vase because the weight and length of these stems can be rather imposing.  These are not flowers for the faint of heart floral designer - a floral arrangement involving Pineapple Lilies will demand front and center attention - not be content tucked into a corner. As a bonus,  the fragrance of some hybrids resembles a very light coconut scent.  (Our next Blog Post on Monday will feature a simple "how-to" Eucomis arrangement.)

Eucomis 'Rueben' - Aren't those "topknots" cute?

In our temperate maritime climate here in the Northwest corner of Washington State, our Pineapple lilies take 5 or 6 hard frosts into the mid twenties to finally flatten down the foliage and stop growth for the season.  At that point, if your area is colder than USDA Zone 6, to prepare them for winter you can pile a wheelbarrow load of shredded leaves at least a foot thick for an insulating mulch.   For assurance in very severe climates where the soil may stay frozen over a foot deep, dig the bulbs instead – cutting off the leaves just above the bulb top – and store them indoors at above freezing temperatures  and  “dry” over winter. 

Although our farm has copious amounts of rainfall/snow over winter, 50-75 inches of rain between October and April alone, alternated with normal freezes down to the low teens with an occasional single digit;  we do not mulch our Eucomis at all in the open field.  Our winter temperatures do not seem to harm the bulbs, but with our high rainfall the soil would stay too wet if we mulched the plants and the bulbs would certainly decay.

Eucomis 'Tugela Jade'
Eucomis 'Meguru' showing purple centers.

(Maturing too late to ship across country in the fall, these Pineapple Lilies will next be available in our Spring 2012 Catalog and Reference Guide.  You can read more about these amazing flowers on our Eucomis page on the B&D website

Monday, September 19, 2011

Digging Lily Bulbs with Antique Potato Diggers – Gently and Quickly

For those of you who read the previous post last Thursday [scroll down or use link] and have wondered, “How did those two lily bulbs become planted in the wrong place anyway?”  It’s probably not what you imagined at all.  Definitely not squirrels – which can sometimes happen in city landscapes with newly planted bulbs – as there are too many coyotes for the shy tree dwellers to take a chance in our open field.  Nor is it random acts of mischief; our property is well monitored.  But rather, it is a simple case of mechanics.

We use an assortment of old-fashioned but quite serviceable iron potato diggers, some of which date back to the early 1900’s – parts of them, anyway – to gently harvest our lily bulbs in fall.  The machine shown on the right just dug 800 row feet of potatoes for the neighborhood over the weekend.   "Modern" embellishments to this model include rubber tires from the 1940's (technology at its finest and gentle on the driveway) plus a converted Model A car transmission to neatly attach to our tractor’s PTO (power take off) shaft.  These two simple changes are more innovative than at first glance.

In the early years, 3 to 4-inch deep “fins” on the wheels rotated the wire link “belt” while a team of 4 horses pulled the machine through the field and the two photos of this Dowden digger show the fins quite nicely.  The fins are not retractable, so pulling the digger out of the field and into a pasture or driveway tears up the ground, making a mess. 

Common to all harvesters is a sharply pointed shape that digs underground as the tractor moves through the field to lift lily bulbs (or potatoes) up and onto the traveling belt, which sits on an assortment of oval shaped gears to “shake” soil and weeds away.  In the past, we've even used these machines to dig daylily and iris clumps, which is much easier than hand digging if you need to dig quite a few plants.

If the field soil is dry it works like a charm and bulbs are easy to pluck off the belt, but if there has been rain then the clumps of soil, roots, weeds and bulbs can be somewhat cumbersome and much hand labor is involved to gently separate our lilies from the soil.   Smaller bulbs and bulblets attached to old stems may fall down between the bars and either become buried back into the soil or simply take a ride around and around within the mechanism.  When the next variety is dug, that wayward bulb - if not noticed - could end up in the next batch of lilies to be planted.  What happens to the bulbs and bulblets that fall through the bars?  We rotate crops after harvest, otherwise all of those stem bulblets and small bulbs that fell back to earth would happily grow and cause all kinds of trouble – popping up everywhere.  We find very few out of place lilies, mostly because the belt is checked between varieties for strays.

At the end of harvest Bob “sweeps” the field with the tractor; piling old stems, weeds and clumps of stem roots into a corner of the field into a giant compost pile.  The field is then tilled and usually left bare over winter because there aren’t enough warm days left to sow a cover crop so late in the year, especially if the last lilies are dug in November between rain and freezing temperatures.  In early spring there are usually a few stem bulblets and cosmetically damaged bulbs left in the fields that begin to grow, but they are sacrificed as the soil is again tilled and a grain crop is sown.  Midsummer, before the grain stalks begin to toughen, everything is tilled back into the soil along with any lily bulbs that survived.  Despite the tumbling of soil during tillage, a few bulbs will endure the process and pop up in a row of their cousins, which leads us to hand digging any rogue lilies during the blooming season. 

(Yes, those rogue bulbs generally are moved to Dianna’s garden if they can be removed without damage.  For years, Bob’s mother would pick up every little scrap that was discarded in the field or on the packing room floor until there was no more room in her city garden.  The next season, a new row of pots would line the front sidewalk.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Green stems on lily bulbs mean - don’t dig quite yet!

The Vine Maples on our farm are beginning to turn lovely shades of red and orange and we'll soon be digging our main crop of lily bulbs.  Lilies need their leaves to build up the bulb for next year's bloom and much activity is happening underground after flowering.  A few out-of-place lilies in the test rows have been gently transplanted (while still green so we could I.D. them) into Dianna's garden in order to save them for continued observation.  Once their stems are mature, lily bulbs do not come out of the ground with their names stamped on the side, so it was necessary to move them while the bulbs were still depleted from flowering.
 (Go to Emergency Transplanting if you also need to move lily bulbs out of harm's way before the stems have begun to yellow, which indicates they have returned to dormancy. For normal digging and transplanting after lily foliage has turned from green to yellow, go to Fall Transplanting)

The two Asiatic lily bulbs with green stems shown in the photographs were blooming as an upfacing orange variety in a row of 300+ ‘Hiawatha’ - which are a deep red, outfacing Asiatic.  In a commercial planting it is not feasible to simply tag a stem; they have to be hand dug early because tags can be lost when bulbs are mechanically harvested and the mature stems become separated from their respective bulbs.  Furthermore, if that row is being used for propagation (scaling) then you have just multiplied the number of incorrect lilies in the field.
To produce a magnificent stem above ground, lily bulbs use stored food in their scales (segments that make up a lily bulb) and gradually become smaller and smaller until they are only a fraction of their original size when the flowers are ready to open.  This is why you need to provide another dose of fertilizer (low nitrogen formula like veggie or rose food, 5-10-10 or similar) during bloom; your lilies need more nourishment to reset themselves for next year.  Bulblets – genetic copies of the parent bulb – are produced underground along the stem and also require nutrients.  Ideally, the first application of fertilizer each season is spread around the new sprouts when they are just a few inches tall, but if you have not fertilized at all this year and the stems are still quite green, go ahead and give them just a light feeding.   

A midsummer application of organics is beneficial to lily bulbs and is a perfect last minute solution in fall if you have not fertilized at all during spring and summer.  By adding a nice, fluffy one inch layer of manure  (POOpeas™ for instance) or compost around each stem, you are putting the food right where the lilies can access it; natural rainfall or watering dilutes the organics into the soil and takes it directly to the feeder roots where the bulb can utilize the fertilizer.  The basal plate roots under the bulb will take up nutrients as well, but their primary job is to anchor your bulb into the soil.  Basal roots are permanent, but at the end of the growing season stem roots will decompose along with the matured stem and are produced new each year - thus the need for yearly feeding.  

Any guesses as to why the bulblets look pink in this photo but not the first?  They are in fact the same bulbs, but the photo showing the complete stem with green leaves was taken shortly after digging and washing; the other photo was shot late the next day.  The sun caused the color change and is the reason why your lilies can have varying bulb colors even within the same variety.  Lily bulbs on top of the field totes during harvest will take on a slight pink cast, so if you should have two bulbs in a package that are not the same color, it could simply be that one was exposed briefly to sunlight and the other was hidden in the shade.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Winter Care of Potted Lily Bulbs

Protect your bulbs  from "freeze-thaw" conditions and excessive moisture this winter. 

Potted lily bulbs need to be insulated from rapid freezing and thawing over winter.  Failure to protect bulbs during temperature swings, combined with too much rainfall, may result in a total loss. Although your lilies can be perfectly hardy in the garden where ground temperatures fall and rise slowly over many days, unprotected pots can freeze solid within one hour.   

We like using the double-walled containers, shown in photo and sold by Costco in spring for all of our bulbs, not just the lilies.  If stored under our porch roof and kept on the dry side the lilies winter over just fine down to zero degrees.  In colder areas, strategies may include packing pots tight against one another and surrounding them in sawdust or hay after the ground freezes, placing them into a root cellar, or wrapping the pots in fiberglass insulation and storing them in an unheated garage .
Do not bury pots in the ground without also covering them with plastic or a board because they will not be able to drain excess water properly, especially in early spring.  In the ground, the drain holes will rapidly become plugged and the pots will act as a sump, catching rather than draining away excess moisture.  It is the sudden and deep freeze/thaw cycles combined with saturated soil that causes damage to lily bulbs. If potted lilies are caught outdoors and are frozen solid, try keeping them frozen with mulch or insulation for the remainder of winter, allowing pots to naturally and slowly thaw in spring. One of our Alaska customers has good results with placing her containers under the house in the crawl space; the small amount of heat from above keeps the lilies from a deep freeze.

In the Pacific Northwest, winter comes and goes; we might be sunny and warm one day and frozen the next with rain, sleet, snow or hail in between. The most important thing you can do with varying weather patterns in a maritime climate is to not allow containerized lily bulbs to become saturated. Simply placing pots under an overhang, deck or covered porch out of direct sun is sufficient for most areas that rarely go below 15 degrees F. in winter. Placing pots on their sides on the north side of a shed or garage also works rather well to protect them from winter rain in milder climates, just remember to set them upright when sprouts emerge.  However, this only works with established potted lilies because the stem roots just under the surface keeps the soil from escaping; don’t try it with newly potted bulbs!  We’ve also had good luck with simply mounding dry peat on top of large half whiskey barrels – the dry peat tends to first repel - then absorb - excessive rainwater between storms.  In spring we removed the peat when lilies first start to emerge in the garden.  You might have a few pale white shoots, but they will quickly start to turn pink after a few days of light.

Please remember that our guarantee for winter hardiness does not cover potted lilies, so be sure to protect your lovely lilies over winter or transplant them into the garden this fall.

P.S.  The photograph shows the trial conducted this summer on the Intermediate height Gladiolus we are offering next spring in the printed catalog and on-line.  Shorter growing than the old fashioned types, they are nice in large pots for portable color or planted in the garden.