Monthly Archives: September 2015

Paperwhite Narcissus – An Indoor Bulb

The paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) is  a type of daffodil that can be forced to bloom indoors during Colorado’s winter.

It is usually available in garden centers as soon as the spring bulbs are for sale.   The bulb can be planted in potting soil, or nestled in pebbles or glass marbles.  The pebbles help you arrange the bulbs and keep their “heads” above water.  You could use sea shells, plastic building blocks, plastic figures or animals — try anything that is waterproof.  The roots will grow down into the pebbles.  Pull the pebbles out of the roots when the bulb has finished blooming.

If you decide that a different container would work, the bulb will not suffer at all if you take it out and rearrange it.  You can also buy Paperwhite Kits with a pre-planted container.  All you do is add water.

The plants can grow to more than a foot tall.  Tie them loosely to a stick or tie them together as shown in the photo below (© Colorado State University Extension, Planttalk 1322.)    If the bulb receives bright, indirect sunlight it will not get quite as tall and “leggy”.

I like to put the bulb, marbles and water at the bottom of a tall glass cylinder. The vase contains the leaves and keeps them from toppling over. Once the bulb has bloomed you can choose to cut the bulb off the bottom and arrange the flowers in another vase.

Paperwhite narcissus

It takes 4 to 8 weeks for the bulbs to bloom.  In my experience they bloom quicker in the Fall and more slowly in late Winter.  If you start a new bulb every few weeks you will have continuous flowers.   The bulb blooms only once so throw the bulbs away when the flowers wilt.

WARNING: Their fragrance is very strong.  If you don’t like it – give it to the first visitor to admire the scent.  Or put them in a common area with a sign that says “Free” or “These flowers need a new home”.  You might make someone else’s day! 🙂

For more information go to the Colorado State University Extension Service, Planttalk #1322.

Interested in Becoming a Colorado Master Gardener?


We are now accepting applications for the 2016 Colorado Master Gardener volunteer class.  We are also recruiting Colorado Gardener Certificate students who take the classes without volunteering.  The application dealine is October 21, 2015 and weekly Wednesday classes run from January 13 through March 23, 2016.  For more information about the program, please visit our website:

If you would like an application, please call 720-813-5272 or email  If you live outside of Denver, please see this link for the CO Master Gardener Program in your county:

A Summer Garden Full of Drama

This year’s gardening season had enough drama to sell out a theatre. There were the performances that played out on the big screen, like waiting to see which trees and shrubs would bounce back from November’s flash-freeze. And there were the dailies, wondering if the wild weather would end the season before it even began. Instead of Splendor in the Grass, my garden was more like something from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Ambush bugThis was the first summer I’d ever seen oddly shaped insects called ambush bugs on the brown-eyed Susan flowers. I didn’t know what they were when I first spotted them and had to do some research. These members of the assassin bug family have perfect yellow and brown camouflage that allows them to hide on plants and flowers. When an unsuspecting insect lands, they attack quickly and use their sharp pincers to hold the unfortunate while sucking the life right out of it. Ambush bugs (subfamily Phymatinae) land in the good bug category when striking and killing flies; the bad bug category when they happen upon a honey bee.

Funnel Web spiderI’ve seen many orb weaver spiders in my garden through the years, but this summer was the first time I had the chance to watch a funnel web weaver at work. I’m glad these spiders (Agelendiae) are some of the good guys. They capture their prey with a sheet-like web that features a tunnel retreat where they lie in wait for their prey. When a flying insect hits one of the barrier strands suspended above the tunnel, it falls into the sheet below. That’s when the spider dashes from inside the tunnel to drag its dinner inside.

Grasshopper hidingOne of the bad critters in my garden this year had a voracious appetite. Grasshoppers were practically everywhere in my garden, some hiding in plain sight. They gnawed on the long sedge leaves, feasted on flowers and tore through the beautiful foliage on my eggplants. Fortunately, they left the tomatoes and squash alone. Because I didn’t want to use insecticides or traps in my garden, I suffered through the worst of the invasion before their numbers started to dwindle.

Hollyhock weevilAnother bad bug appeared in my garden in the form of hollyhock weevils (Apion longirostre). These tiny insects enjoyed crawling up the tall hollyhock stalks and eating the leaves, seeds and buds of one of my favorite perennial flowers. These evil weevils use their long beaks for chewing into the flower buds so they can lay their eggs. Then the grubs feed on the seeds which can spell the end to hollyhocks in the future. I spent many enjoyable summer mornings picking these destructive pests off the plants and crushing them with my fingers. Damaged pods have to go, too.

squirrel damageThe ugly damage left behind by furry four-legged pests doesn’t bother me as much as having insects eat the garden. Squirrels are so entertaining that I don’t mind sharing a few cherry tomatoes or baby butternut squashes with them. I think it’s a fair trade for a front-seat at one of the best garden shows around.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener

Plant Spring Flowering Bulbs Now – You’ll Thank Yourself Later

yellow tulips

Photo courtesy of Jodi Torpey,

Like many gardening tasks, tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and other spring bulbs demand our patience. Plant now and next spring you’ll  reap the rewards of abundant beauty. It’s a good lesson in delayed gratification!  Here are a few tips to insure success.

When to Plant

Mid to late September is ideal as the bulbs have time to develop a strong root system before a hard freeze, but can be planted into October if weather permits. Garden centers have the best selections in mid September so if needed, purchase early  and store in a cool, dry place until you can get them in the ground.

Where to Plant

You’ll want a mostly sunny location with good drainage as bulbs can rot in soggy soil. Consider where you’ll enjoy the blooms the most and what other spring flowering perennials or shrubs the bulbs will compliment. Perennials such as  pure white candytuft, (Iberis sempervirens),  lavender or pink creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) or stunning basket of gold alyssum (Allyssum sempervirens) pair nicely with mid-season bulbs. You may find some great deals on these spring blooming perennials at the local garden center right now, or divide some plants already in your beds.  Some bulbs bloom simultaneously with flowering shrubs such as forsythia (early bulbs), lilacs (mid to late bulbs).

After blooming, bulb foliage should be left on the plant to die back and re-nourish the bulb. This foliage can be camouflaged by emerging perennials or annuals, so it’s good to plan for this step now.

How to Plant

Bulbs are planted with their necks up and their hips down; a good rule of thumb is to plant 4 times the height of the bulb. Amending soil with organics such as spagham peat moss or compost is recommended. Bulbs, like most plants, won’t thrive in compacted soil.

Iris Reticulata courtesy of Jodi Torpey,

Iris Reticulata courtesy of Jodi Torpey,

Research at CSU has shown that in our region, Super Phosphate is the most effective fertilizer for bulbs and should be applied at the root base and in the loosened soil below the bulb so that the nourishment can be absorbed. Further, CSU’s studies indicate that bone meal is not effective in our soils, although it is frequently sold alongside bulbs.

For thorough information on soil prep, care and a planting depth chart visit

Fall-Planted Bulbs and Corms and PlanttalkColorado Bulbs:Spring Flowering

What to Look For When Selecting Bulbs

There are a wide variety of pre-packaged selections of tulips, daffodil (narcissus), hyacinths and alliums to name just a few.

Giant Alliums courtesy of Jodi Torpey,

Giant Alliums courtesy of Jodi Torpey,

When buying packages of bulbs, be sure to  inspect the them to insure they  are firm, uniform in size and large for the type (compare to the open bins of like bulbs is a good idea) and unscarred. Many bulbs are sold from boxes so you can make your own selection. By mixing early, mid and late bloomers of varying heights, colors and textures, you can have a spectacular start to next year’s gardening season. Just be patient.

Submitted by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener