Stone-mulching, a technique that dates back before Roman times, is demonstrated here with a mulch of leaves followed by stones applied beneath  this rhododendron. The goal is to protect the shrub from drying winds, heaving rain and snow, and to support soil life. 

Since winter is tippy-toeing ever closer with each passing day, in today’s column I’ll be touching on an outdoor topic and an indoor gardening one. The outdoor topic will be a teaser in that I’ll talk about it more fully as I gain experience.

Let me back up a bit. Twenty-plus years ago, when I was teaching an Organic Gardening class at Kodiak College, a student gave me a copy of “Stone Mulching in the Garden” by J.I. Rodale. Published in 1945, Rodale lays a case for the importance of using stones in the garden as a way to preserve moisture, protect the surface of the soil from heavy rain, absorb heart, and so


Mulching with stones is nothing new. It’s a gardening technique that was understood by such eminent writers as Palladius and Pliny and commonly used back in Roman times.

Lately I’ve been distributing compost and leaves around the base of shrubs and perennials such as rhododendrons, lilac, and purple coneflower, and then anchoring the leaves down with slabs of our local, gray rock.

Should be interesting. I’ll keep you posted as I measure differences in soil temperature and note changes in plant growth.

And now for the indoor gardening piece. This morning, an email popped in from Burpee Seeds. Time to order Amaryllis bulbs. And would I like a copper-covered stake to support it?

While I usually purchase my Amaryllis from local vendors, it brought me up short: Yes, it IS November and if you’re like me, bright colors keep the darkness of winter at bay. So let’s do a crash course on Amaryllis. (And what is the plural form?)

These baseball-sized bulbs are normally sold in a colorful box. Think of them as an exotic winter house plant that, as soon as you add water, grows quickly. Like magic, it sends up tall stalks topped with huge trumpet shaped blossoms.

Green leaves appear; then a stem, followed by three or more enormous white, pink, red or striated flowers. All the actors appear as if on cue, the result of careful timing back on the bulb farm where the plants are “forced” into a state of readiness.

Most of us think of Amaryllis as just big red trumpet flowers, but Dutch breeders have worked overtime to develop many more variations to choose from — red-and-white striped, for example. Now there’s pink, peach and coral colors too. ‘Picotee’ is snow white with a thin red line on the margin of each petal.

Another group is the nymph series, which produces shorter, stockier stems that are less top heavy when in bloom; an issue for very drafty homes or where there’s a mischievous cat about. Nymphs also look nicer in smaller apartments, even desks. Some nymphs have double flowers and more petals that look like a camellia blossom. The plant breeders couldn’t stop there. One type of amaryllis, called “Cybister,” has spidery, orchid-like flowers.

But how do you care for an amaryllis?

If you’re a lucky recipient of an Amaryllis, and it did NOT arrive pre-potted in a pot, place it in a container with two inches of general purpose potting soil all around. Leave about one-third of the bulb exposed at the top. FYI: If you bury it completely, you’re likely to get more leaves than flowers.

Water the soil until moist or at least until the water drains out the bottom. Blooms will emerge in a month or two and can last for weeks. Most amaryllis bulbs provide two flower stalks the first year.

You can also find waxed Amaryllis bulbs. Apparently, the pear-shaped bulbs require no soil or water. The freestanding bulbs (dusted with faux snow) can be displayed anywhere, in a bowl, on a flat surface, or nestled among other holiday decorations.

Once an Amaryllis flowers, set the plant anywhere in the house. Keep the plant away from heat sources such as wood stoves, vents and registers. And just remember, the warmer the room, the faster the flowers develop and expire.

You can work this to your advantage: To coax plants into blooming quickly in time for the holidays, put the pot in a sunny window. To delay flowering, keep it in a cooler spot.

Meanwhile, I’m headed out to load up on more rocks. Maybe I’ll pick up a few extra small ones to circle ’round my Amaryllis bulb.


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