Springtime How-Tos from Biltmore’s Experts
"Often, folks don't really know how to properly care for plants they receive as gifts," said Biltmore Director of Horticulture Parker Andes. "In the spring, potted azaleas are popular, and by taking a few simple steps recipients can go on enjoying them indefinitely."
To save your azalea, the first thing you need to do is determine whether it is cold hardy. Ideally, there will be a tag on your plant so you can simply look it up at the library or online. The Azalea Society of America has an informative site at www.azaleas.org. If your plant is cold hardy, then pick the perfect spot and get ready to transplant.
Fortunately, azalea roots grow close to the surface of the soil, so you won't need to dig a huge hole. As a matter of fact, if you plant them too deep, the roots will suffocate. Plant azaleas about an inch higher than they are in the pot. You can keep your plant indoors until it's finished blooming, but don't wait too long – azaleas are best planted in mid-spring after danger of frost, but before really warm weather.
- Can be a basket, ceramic bowl, brass dish, or wooden box; anything deep enough to hide the pots and give you room to create.
- If you use an open-weave basket, line it first with sphagnum moss so the foil and mechanics won't show.
- Best to use plants with similar requirements such as light, water, humidity, and temperature.
- Use some tall and low plants, some upright and some spreading or vining to add interest or depth.
- The size of the plant or pot is determined by the size of your container; 4" pots are easy to handle and to keep watered. Pots of various sizes can be mixed, but will change the ease of care.
- All pots should have drainage holes; soggy roots will rot.
- Best to use natural materials: nests, rocks, bark, twigs, lichens, gourds, berries.
- Be creative! Consider where the arrangement will be placed: buffet – candles or fruit; table – ornaments or figurines.
- Soak all plant materials well and allow to drain.
- Line the basket carefully with florists’ polyfoil. This foil is moldable and has a plastic coating on one side. Use two layers of foil (wicker can punch a hole in the foil) as you want to create a watertight container.
- Use floral foam (oasis) to stack and wedge the pots into position. The foam will not only secure the pots, but will absorb the water that drains from the pots and will raise the humidity.
- Arrange the plants in an uncontrived manner; you want a rambling, natural, fresh, simple feeling. Don't crowd, and do vary height or depth of pots in the container.
- Consider ease of watering when placing the pots. If too close to the edge of the container, water could spill over. If the pots need to be close to the edge, be sure the pot is slightly lower than the edge of the container. Plants toward the center can be elevated; runoff water will be caught in the container or liner.
- Place moss over all oasis and pots to cover your mechanics. Create interest with mosses by using different textures. You may use dried or living mosses. Brush moss debris from foliage with a small paintbrush.
- Put your Olmsted Basket in place and accessorize!
- Water with care as required by each pot; feel the soil. Some plants may need to be removed for watering or to be replaced. Just pull out, water, replace, and remoss.
- These small landscapes are to be used indoors. Rain could drown your work. The pots have drainage, but the basket does not!
- By carefully choosing plant materials, using care in watering, and moving your basket to improve light conditions, your design can be very long-lasting!
- Cut and condition the flowers from your garden. Place in buckets of deep tepid water, each variety in a separate bucket.
- Prepare containers by crumpling a small piece of chicken wire to fit the opening and push down into the container until secure.
- Begin by placing the greenery to create a framework of stems from side to side and back to front.
- Place the tulips following the shape established by the greenery (euphorbia), grouping by colors (orange, red, purple, pink, yellow, green parrot tulips), placing the larger flowers lower in the design. This creates enough structure to hold the more upright stems to build up the center of the design.
- Continue placing the tulips to fill out the mass of the design. Add some random color for accent through the design.
- Add extra greenery if needed to soften the edges of the arrangement.
- Pick a sunny spot for your butterfly garden, preferably one protected from wind by a wall, fence, trees, or other tall plants or shrubs. Ideally, select a spot that will be undisturbed but will provide opportunities for viewing the butterflies.
- Try to incorporate a variety of plants into the garden, including some that are indigenous to your region. Butterfly bush, Joe-Pye weed, phlox, red salvia, bee balm, zinnias, and coreopsis may be good choices. A number of written guides, available at bookstores and libraries, provide information about plants that will attract specific species of butterflies.
- Add a few host plants, like parsley, dill, or butterfly weed, to encourage butterflies to lay their eggs. Don't become alarmed when the larvae begin eating the plants.
- Provide a source of moisture for the butterflies. Although they prefer mud puddles, bird baths or a sponge dipped in a shallow bowl works very well.
- Try to keep your butterfly garden free of pesticides. Instead, introduce natural controls such as ladybugs.
- When plants are still very young, try using a very ripe piece of fruit to initially lure the butterflies to your garden.
- Extend the active season for the butterfly garden by choosing a variety of plants with overlapping seasons.