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Forcing bulbs to flower ahead of time

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By Debby Looney, gardening expert

It is apparently only a matter of 13 weeks until Christmas is upon us and forcing indoor bulbs requires precision timing!

One of my favourites are Amaryllis, properly known as Hippeastrum which are tall, striking, red or white Lily type flowers we all associate with Christmas. For many years I bought them as cut flowers but now prefer to grow the bulbs. They will be available from the end of October onwards as they must be planted between five and eight weeks before they are needed which is usually, but not necessarily, Christmas.

When you go to buy the bulbs, size is everything. Unfortunately the larger the bulb the higher the cost, but if you buy cheaper smaller bulbs the flowers will also be smaller and weaker. A decent sized bulb for an Amaryllis should be about 15cm in diameter. Place it in an adequately sized container – there should be about 5cm between the edge of the pot and the bulb. Fill the pot with multipurpose compost leaving the neck and shoulders of the bulb above the soil. Place in a bright spot, but away from heat and direct sunlight. Water moderately until growth starts and then start feeding with a liquid feed such as Baby Bio every second week. By Christmas it should be in full bloom. When the flower fades, stop feeding and give it less water until the foliage has turned yellow. Then stop watering altogether as it goes dormant. The bulb can remain in the same pot for about three years, at which point it should need a larger pot.

KICKSTART

Most bulbs need a period of cold weather, ie. winter, to kickstart them into growing. When forcing bulbs to flower ahead of time they need a period of artificial cold, such as a fridge, for a certain length of time which can vary from type to type. Therefore, always buy ‘prepared' bulbs as only these are suitable for growing indoors and have been treated to a cold spell. Hyacinths would be the most popular. I absolutely love the scent. I start planting them now, in two week intervals so that I have a continuous display for about six weeks. Gloves are recommended as hyacinth bulbs can cause skin irritation. Plant in free draining compost or preferably bulb fibre if you can get it. As with all bulbs used for indoor display, they can be planted close together but not touching each other or the sides of the pot. Ensure the top of the bulb is just visible. Keep hyacinth in a cool dark place such as a garage for about 10 weeks to allow root formation. At this point a shoot should also have grown. Place the pot in a bright spot indoors and about four weeks on they should be flowering. There are also special cases and pots available for hyacinths - I really advise having a look on the Internet and getting creative!

Other bulbs, such as grape hyacinths (muscari), dwarf daffodils, paperwhites, crocus and snowdrops can also be used for an indoor display. As with the hyacinths, these bulbs need 10 weeks of cold, dark conditions which mimics nature to trigger root growth and subsequent flowers. Using old teacups, teapots, soup bowls and even gravy boats can be an attractive way of displaying indoor or outdoor arrangements. Lining glass jars or vases with moss – the nice side facing out - before filling with compost is another way to create a cost effective yet pretty pot. Tie a festive ribbon around it and you have a lovely gift. Remember that press full of old mismatched and unwanted Christmas crockery? Well, plant them up – they will make great gifts too!

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Jobs to keep gardeners busy

The weather is glorious at the moment, so I thought I would put together some jobs to keep every gardener busy! Winter bedding is now available – so plant up containers and pots to keep everything cheerful this winter! Conifers such as Goldcrest and Elwoodiis are an excellent choice for a centrepiece, as are Cordylines, […]

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The weather is glorious at the moment, so I thought I would put together some jobs to keep every gardener busy!

Winter bedding is now available – so plant up containers and pots to keep everything cheerful this winter! Conifers such as Goldcrest and Elwoodiis are an excellent choice for a centrepiece, as are Cordylines, Phormiums and topiary plants such as Buxus and Bay laurels. Heathers give colour all winter, as do ornamental cabbages. Winter pansies, violas and Batchelor’s buttons are all in stock now, and will provide colour for months, Cyclamen are beautiful – but beware! They do not like getting too wet, so ideally use them in pots and window boxes which do not get too much rain.

Bulbs provide a welcome splash of colour in the early spring, at a time when things are looking grey and grim. Choose from an extensive range – tulips, daffs, crocus, snowdrops – to name but a few. Planting mixtures of different varieties can lead to stunning displays in a pot, for example, plant in layers: tulips at the bottom, then daffs, hyacinth, crocus and anenomes for a long lasting pot of colour. In the garden plant bulbs in informal clusters of uneven numbers to give a natural looking display. Alliums are particularly trendy at the moment, these ornamental onions are available in pinks, white and yellow.

PRUNING

Pruning is one of those jobs which can give immense satisfaction. All old flower heads, the straggly growth of herbaceous plants and branches of unkempt shrubs can go into the compost heap. Pruning equipment can be confusing for the new gardener, so here are a few guidelines: there are two types of secateurs, bypass and anvil. The anvil secateurs is used for dead wood, but the bypass secateurs can be used for live as well as dead wood. The hedge shears are used to prune large shrubs or hedges, but is best for soft or thin growth. Loppers are used to prune trees and thicker branches and have long handles. These also come as anvil or bypass. Some of these are geared, these take the strain and strength needed out of the job, an excellent invention!

As the days get shorter and wetter, moss will start to grow again. Treat paths before they get slippy, with a product such as MossOff. Try to keep fallen leaves off lawns as they contribute to poor growth of grass and strong moss growth. A leafblower makes the job easy – especially a cordless one!

Lawns benefit from a final treatment in the autumn with a product such as an Autumn Lawn Feed and Weed or Viano Recovery from the producers of MO Bacter. These products both treat the roots of the grass, making the plant itself stronger for the winter. They do not cause excessive growth.

Finally, if there are empty beds in your vegetable garden, consider sowing a green manure such as winter rye or red clover. These will prevent weeds from taking over as well as enriching the soil with nitrogen. In the spring they can be cut down and dug into the soil, providing essential organic matter.

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Take the stress out of a career change

By Niamh Dwyer, Chairperson of the Kerry Branch of Guidance Counsellors People change career for a variety of reasons. For some people the desire to change comes from feeling unfulfilled or stressed in a current role or the need for more flexibility and autonomy as circumstances in your personal life evolve. Other people are prompted […]

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By Niamh Dwyer, Chairperson of the Kerry Branch of Guidance Counsellors

People change career for a variety of reasons. For some people the desire to change comes from feeling unfulfilled or stressed in a current role or the need for more flexibility and autonomy as circumstances in your personal life evolve.

Other people are prompted to change because of ambition to develop professionally, the desire for more meaning or purpose, job security or to earn more money.

Whether career change is forced upon you through organisational restructuring or is an active choice you are making, it can bring a mix of emotions. Among them is the fear and a lack of confidence on how to navigate the change effectively and the feeling of overwhelm associated with not knowing where to start. Conversely, it can be a time of great excitement about the possibility of taking on a new (and maybe very different) role or opportunity. Either way, drawing up a career action plan that breaks down the process into manageable tasks will help to ease any stress associated with career change and save you time and energy in the long run.

UNLOCKING YOUR POTENTIAL

Start by thinking about where you are now and where you would like to be – what are your priorities and non-negotiables and what are the practicalities you need to consider? To dig deeper do a self-assessment audit of your transferable skills and competencies, your career values and character strengths. Journal your career change journey by recording anything interesting you find out about yourself or career areas you are interested in. Some people like the idea of drawing up a career vision board as part of the process. Set clear goals and a specific timeline for yourself. As you gain more clarity, write out what your ideal job specification might look like, this will guide your job search. Explore options to up-skill or retrain if you feel this is helpful or necessary. Do a spring clean of your CV so that it reflects you accurately and favourably. Reach out to people in your network who may be able to assist you as you navigate this transition. Think about possible side projects you could work on to explore different areas before taking a big leap. Set up or update your LinkedIn profile, it is an important part of career development. Practice interview skills, you want to be able to perform confidently when they come around. Think about this process as unlocking the potential of your ‘career brand’ so that you and prospective employers have a strong sense of who you are professionally, what you value and what you bring to the workplace. Doing this work will enable you to approach your job search and career change with renewed confidence. It will take some time but it will be worth it!

Niamh Dwyer is a Guidance Counsellor in Scoil Phobail Sliabh Luachra, Rathmore, and Chairperson of the Kerry Branch of Guidance Counsellors. She is also a Careers Advisor – For details see www.mycareerplan.ie or follow @mycareerplan on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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