Tag Archive: Bulbs

  1. South African Bulbs for Indoor Growing

    Lachenalia aloides

    Lachenalia aloides var. quadricolor is beautiful and flamboyant.

    Most Cape bulbs follow the seasonal rhythms of their native land, beginning to push leaves in late summer or fall (whether watered or not), and flowering at their appointed time in late fall, winter, or early spring. Their flowers also tend to share a certain likeness, with many species bearing heads of narrow, tubular, brightly colored blooms on stout scapes – the better to attract and accommodate the long-billed, brilliantly hued sunbirds that pollinate them.

    DisplayImage.ashx

    An almost indestructible house plant, Veltheimia bracteata thrives in bright indirect light. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Veltheimia bracteata (commonly known as forest lily or cape hyacinth) beautifully exemplifies these Cape bulb traits. Handsome in their own right, the lustrous, wavy-edged, strap-shaped leaves (with perky wavy-edged margins) emerge from fleshy, tennis-ball-sized bulbs in late summer. In midwinter, red-hot-poker heads of tubular pink flowers develop on fleshy purple-flushed scapes that slowly elongate to 18 inches or so. Flowering peaks about Valentine’s Day, but continues for several weeks before and after. An almost indestructible house plant, Veltheimia bracteata thrives in bright indirect light, relatively tight quarters, and a porous potting mix (such as Fafard® Professional Potting Mix with RESiLIENCE). Shallow planting (with the “shoulders” exposed) suits the bulbs well. Plants prefer a dry, shady summer rest after the foliage begins to flag in late spring.

    Showy, tubular blooms also make a frequent appearance in the genus Lachenalia. Lachenalia aloides is perhaps the most flamboyant, flaunting proportionately large golden-orange blooms that nod on 10-inch scapes in mid- to late winter. Some forms of this species take the flamboyance one step further, adding horizontal bands of crimson, yellow, purple, and green to the floral color scheme. Variety quadricolor is one such dazzler, with orange-based blooms that shade to yellow at their midriffs and purple-red at their tips. Flowers of the cultivar ‘Nelsonii’ have brilliant red buds that turn lemon-yellow with lime-green tips as they expand. Purple splotches ornament its stems and leaves, another characteristic of many forms of this striking species. Other highly ornamental species include Lachenalia bulbifera, with lipstick-red flowers that open around Christmas, and Lachenalia rubida, whose freckled, rose-pink, late fall blooms are the earliest in the genus. Lachenalia hybrids are also now available, most notably in the form of the African Beauty Series (including ‘Namakwa’, ‘Rupert’, and ‘Romaud’).

    1760FF Pro Potting Mix 2cu RESILIENCE FrontAll of the above lachenalias prosper in containers. Shallow planting (one inch deep or so) in a porous potting mix is best, with moderate watering during the growing season. Lachenalias like it cool and sunny while in growth, but should be moved to a dry, shady location when dormant.

    Lachenalia fanciers often find themselves drawn to the many species that flower in less gaudy but equally seductive hues (sometimes with fragrance thrown in). The flowers of Lachenalia viridiflora, for example, are of a luminous, other-wordly turquoise-green, making for a singular late fall to early winter display. These lesser-known and lesser-grown Lachenalia species can be somewhat tricky in cultivation, but all are worth the effort.

    Not all Cape bulbs fit the tubular mold. Haemanthus albiflos is a striking example, brandishing white, up-facing shaving-brush flowers on short fleshy stems in fall or early winter. The leathery, tongue-shaped, evergreen leaves are also attractive. This drought-tolerant species is practically indestructible if shallowly planted in a porous potting mix in a bright but not too warm location.

    Oxalis obtusa

    The palest pink Oxalis obtusa is one of many beautiful Oxalis fit for indoor growing.

    North American gardeners tend to think of Oxalis species (commonly known as wood sorrel) as horticultural thugs. Many Cape Oxalis, however, are of a far more rarified (and less invasive) plane, featuring jewel-like flowers and lush, ornamental foliage. Oxalis purpurea deserves a place on every cool sunny windowsill in need of winter color. Its numerous varieties flower in a rainbow of colors, from white to rose-pink to raspberry-red to lemon-yellow, and its rich green “shamrock” leaves are sometimes suffused or blotched with contrasting colors. The cultivar ‘Ken Aslet’ – distinguished by felted silvery leaves and brilliant yellow flowers – is usually sold as this species (but probably belongs under Oxalis melanosticta). Also invaluable for winter bloom are lilac-flowered, fuzzy-leaved Oxalis hirta; candy-striped Oxalis versicolor (with white, carmine-edged petals); and numerous other Cape Oxalis. All flourish in a porous potting mix kept reasonably moist in winter and dry and relatively cool in summer.

    Look for these and other winter-blooming Cape bulbs in mainstream and specialty plant catalogs, as well as in local greenhouses and grocery stores. A touch of South Africa can do wonders for a dreary winter’s day.

  2. All About Tulips

    Tulipa red striped lily

    Lily-flowered tulips have pointed petals that open wide from vase-shaped buds. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    What would spring be without tulips? Their large, brilliant, jewel-toned flowers, often with playful markings at their centers, are just what we crave after the gloom and cold of winter. Those big bright bowls of color speak directly to our inner child (as well as to children themselves). And with the wide range of varieties available today, tulips can provide a continuous succession of garden brightness from early to late spring.

    Tulipa 'Girlfriend'

    ‘Girlfriend’ is a beautiful recently introduced hybrid of Tulipa vvdenskyi.

    Tulips have been seducing gardeners for centuries. Turkish sultans featured them in their palace gardens in the 15th and 16th centuries, growing numerous hybrids characterized by dazzling colors and claw-shaped petals. From there, tulips made their way to Europe, evolving into the blunt-petaled forms that we associate with the genus (know botanically as Tulipa). By the early seventeenth century, tulips were all the rage in sophisticated European circles, triggering waves of “tulipomania” that built and destroyed fortunes. Today, we’re fortunate to have thousands of tulip hybrids in numerous shapes and color. Further enriching our gardens are the many Tulipa species that have been introduced to horticulture in the relatively recent past. Horticulturists group cultivated tulips into sixteen “classes” depending on their flowering times, characteristics, and lineage.

    This vast horticultural treasure trove began with a handful of wild ancestors from Central and West Asia, regions where summers are hot and dry and winters cold and snowy. And even today, most garden tulips flourish in conditions that recall their lands of origin. They need sun and winter chill to bloom, and a relatively dry summer rest to perennialize. If you garden in the northern United States, and can offer sunny, not-too-damp conditions, tulips of all types will likely thrive – provided the pests don’t get them (more on this later).

    Tulipa 'Elegans Rubra'

    The heirloom cultivar ‘Elegans Rubra’ is an early lily-flowered tulip.

    Fittingly, tulip season begins just as spring officially arrives, in March and early April. Earliest of all are a number of elfin Tulipa species that are comparable in stature to the Dutch hybrid crocuses that bloom alongside them. Many of these pixies (e.g., Tulipa biflora) open wide in sun to reveal white interiors with central yolks of yellow. Perhaps the queen of the early-risers is Tulipa humilis, which blooms in a variety of eye-catching hues including purple, pink, and white, with contrasting eyes.

    A number of larger-flowered hybrids follow closely upon these earliest tulips. Kaufmanniana Hybrids (named after the species that sired them) typically have pointed, white or yellow, red-flamed blooms, with broad basal leaves that often bear showy bronze mottling. Single Early Tulips (such as ‘Apricot Giant’ and ‘Coleur Cardinal’) open their large, goblet-shaped blooms on short sturdy stems just as the Kaufmannianas are peaking, in early to mid-April. Then in the next few weeks comes a succession of other tulip classes, most notably:

    Fosteriana Hybrids (including the famed ‘Emperor’ cultivars), prized for their huge, brightly colored flowers on relatively compact stems.

    Greigii Hybrids, short in stature, with large cupped flowers and gray-green, maroon-splotched leaves.

    Triumph Tulips, marked by their elegant, sturdy flowers and strong tall stems that stand up to inclement weather. Most bloom in the pastel range and many have contrasting petal margins.

    Darwin Hybrids, combining the height of the Single Late Tulips with the immense brilliant blooms of the Fosteriana Hybrids, and flowering between these two parent classes.

    Single Late Tulips, blooming well into May in a wide range of rich colors, on stems that typically exceed 26 inches.

    Lily-flowered Tulips, named for their pointed petals that open wide from vase-shaped buds.

    Double Late Tulips (such as ‘Angelique’), among the last to bloom, with peony-shaped flowers in mid- to late May.

    tulicluslge

    Tulipa clusiana is well adapted to Southern and California gardens.

    Altogether, tulip hybrids and species provide more than 2 months of bloom and endless ornamental possibilities. Many species and smaller-flowered hybrids mingle beautifully with other late winter and early spring perennials, both in formal borders and in less formal settings such as cottage gardens. For bold splashes of spring color, nothing beats the large-flowered hybrids, whether in massed bedding schemes or grouped in mixed borders. Some species even naturalize well, persisting and sometimes increasing in garden conditions that are to their liking.

    Many tulips also “force” easily in pots, brightening the winter months (see “Forcing Bulbs for Winter Cheer”). Single Early and Fosteriana cultivars are among the best for this purpose.

    Outdoors, plant tulips in late summer or early fall in a sunny exposure (after first frost is often a good time). Fertile, not too heavy Natural and Organicsoil is best (amend sandy or clay soils with an organic compost such as Fafard Permium Natural & Organic Compost). Although often treated as annuals, tulips of all classes will usually return for several years of bloom if planted deep (6 inches or more below the soil surface). Deep planting also helps protect the bulbs from their chief bane – squirrels and other furry pests. Inter-plant tulips with rodent- and deer-resistant bulbs such as daffodils to further deter these herbivores.

    A few tulips will even bloom and persist where winters are “too warm” for them. Tulipa clusiana – often dubbed “lipstick tulip” for the red central bands that mark its outer petals – grows and flowers reliably in areas such as California, the Desert Southwest, and the Deep South. Others to try in these regions include Tulipa saxatilis and the previously mentioned Tulipa sylvestris. Tulips offer spring-long possibilities wherever and whatever the garden.

    Tulipa Ballerina JaKMPM

    ‘Ballerina’ is an award-winning, late-flowering tulip with lily-like blooms of orange and red. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  3. Forcing Bulbs for Winter Cheer

    Narcissus 'Sir Winston Churchill' JaKMPM

    So many beautiful Narcissus can be easily forced indoors. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Daffodils, hyacinths and tulips in winter? For many of us this would seem the stuff of fantasy, absent a visit to the florist. Yet, with only a modest investment of money, time, and effort, even a beginning gardener can know the joy of bringing these and other spring bulbs into bloom during the coldest and darkest days of the year. Forcing bulbs is that easy.

    Flower bulbs are little marvels. Those that grow in cold climates usually leaf and flower in spring, retreating from summer through winter to a tiny condensed underground storage organ known as a true bulb, corm, tuber or rhizome (we’ll just call them all bulbs here). Give them a warm summer followed by 2 or 3 months of chilly temperatures and moist soil, and they’re primed to grow and flower as soon as temperatures turn milder. By providing these cues, along with a nice pot, we can have them up and blooming indoors weeks (even months) before their outdoor kin make their appearances.

    These Narcissus bulbs are being forced in stones and water. (photo by Terrin)

    So what does it take to stage this little miracle? Aside from the bulbs themselves (which we’ll get to in a minute), you’ll need a container, some potting soil and a chilly place for the bulbs to cool their heels. Containers of various sorts and sizes will do fine, but wide shallow pots (sometimes known as “bulb pans”) are ideal. Look for something in the 6- to 8-inch-wide and 4- to 5-inch-deep range. Clay pots look especially nice and have the added advantage of not tipping as easily as plastic ones.

    I recommend a light, well-drained, quality potting mix such as Fafard African Violet Potting Mix, which is also perfect for bulbs and contains less added fertilizer. A fertilizer-enriched mix is not necessary, unless you’re planning to relocate the bulbs to the garden after they’ve bloomed.

    Now for the stars of your planting projects: your plants!

    Many bulbs “force” well. Perhaps the most rewarding are those that smell as nice as they look. Among these are numerous daffodils, including Narcissus tazetta hybrids like ‘Geranium’ and ‘Cragford’, the delightfully double-flowered ‘Cheerfulness’ and ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’ and ‘Sundial’ and other hybrids of N. jonquilla. Netted irises (Iris reticulata and hybrids) also offer beautiful flowers and a heady scent, as do many grape hyacinths and some tulips and crocuses. And of course there’s the bulb that practically defines floral fragrance – the hyacinth. Other bulbs worth trying include Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda), Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) and fumewort (Corydalis solida).

    Grape hyacinths -- including the ethereal Muscari pallens -- are among the best bulbs for forcing.

    Grape hyacinths — including the ethereal Muscari pallens — are among the best bulbs for forcing.

    Assemble all your materials in early to late fall (either on a potting table or just a kitchen counter festooned with newspaper) and you’re ready to go!

    Start by filling your container with enough slightly moistened potting mix so that the tips of the bulbs will be an inch or so below the container’s rim when set on the soil’s surface (large bulbs such as hybrid daffodils can be planted with their noses above rim level). Then place your bulbs on the soil, spaced closely but not touching. Fill the container to just below the rim with more potting mix, water until the drainage holes begin to drip, then move the container to a dark location where temperatures will remain above freezing but well below the comfort range of shirt-sleeved humans (40 degrees F is just right). An attic or attached garage may be suitable, but keep in mind that bulb-loving critters might be afoot. If no other place is available, the refrigerator will do nicely, as long as the bulbs don’t have overripe fruit as fridge-mates. Refrigerated containers are best kept in paper bags, to retard drying. Water the containers lightly if the top layer of soil dries.

    Some tulips are also fair game for forcing. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    And now you wait.

    At about 7 or 8 weeks, start checking for signs of root development. When roots are evident at drainage holes, or if bulbs offer significant resistance if gently twisted or tugged, your bulbs are ready to party. (The appearance topside of leaves or fat buds is a further sign that flowers are in the offing.)

    So let the show begin: Bring your container into a cool, shady room for a few days, to acclimate the prepped bulbs to “spring.” Then move it to a sunny – but not too warm – niche, and watch the miracle happen. Most bulbs will flower 2-4 weeks after coming into the light. Water when the soil surface dries.

    After they bloom, either discard them or plant them in the garden once the soil becomes workable. (If you replant them in your outdoor beds, just be patient: Your transplanted bulbs will likely be bloomless for a year or two in the garden before they flower again.)

    What better antidote for winter than a windowsill brimming with brightly blooming bulbs? You might even find yourself in the market for a spare refrigerator.

  4. Spectacular Summer Flowering Bulbs

    The Orienpet Lily 'Pontiac' is a subdued stunner.

    The Orienpet Lily ‘Pontiac’ is a subdued stunner. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    As perennial favorites, hardy bulbs are unexcelled at providing sudden swaths and splashes of vibrant color, whether in the open garden or in containers. And that goes for summer as well as spring (and fall and winter!).

    Consider the lilies, for example. The voluptuous, richly hued blossoms of these fleshy-bulbed perennials are just the thing for alleviating the dullness that sometimes descends on the post-spring garden. Early summer welcomes the typically flat-faced, upright, freckled blooms of the Asiatic Hybrids, which flower in warm hues of yellow, orange, red, and pink, as well as white. Numerous narrow leaves clothe their sturdy, 1- to 4-foot stems. Hundreds of Asiatics have been introduced over the years, including the famed ‘Enchantment’, whose orange, dark-speckled blooms still frequently appear in bouquets.

    Arisaema ciliatum

    Arisaema ciliatum has both fantastic flowers and foliage.

    Arriving somewhat later, the Oriental Hybrids carry the delicious fragrance and rosy-or-white, purple-flecked, often gold-emblazoned coloration of their two primary parents, Lilium speciosum and Lilium auratum. The large, waxy, bowl-shaped flowers with slightly backswept petals open on 2- to 4-foot stems, which are rather sparsely set with relatively broad, green to blue-green leaves. Nodding to outfacing flowers are the rule, but some cultivars have semi-erect blooms (including rose-red, white-edged ‘Stargazer’).

    Blooming alongside the Oriental lilies (but usually above them, on 4- to 6-foot stems), Trumpet Hybrids are noted and named for their huge, spicy-scented, funnel-shaped blooms. Notable selections include the African Queen Strain, which flowers in various shades of cantaloupe-orange. Prone to toppling because of their colossal proportions, Trumpets often need staking (or a sheltered position) to keep them upright. In recent years, the Trumpets have been interbred with the Oriental Hybrids to create a popular new class of showy-flowered hybrids, the Orienpets, which add to their usefulness by having flop-resistant stems.

    Among the many Lilium species well worth growing are Turk’s cap lily (Lilium martagon) – which has parented some beautiful hybrids of its own – and Eastern North American natives such as Canada lily (Lilium canadense) and wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum).

    Lilium 'Ladylike' JaKMPM

    The colorful Asiatic lily ‘Ladylike’ is in warm hues of red, gold and pink. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Whether species or hybrid, most lilies do best in full to partial sun and a fertile, humus-rich soil. Or grow them in deep containers fortified with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend. Unfortunately, all lilies have two potentially mortal enemies: viruses and the dreaded red lily beetle. Many hybrids and species shrug off viruses, but all are red-lily-beetle-susceptible, and any lily planting in a beetle-infested area will need protection, either by hand-picking or by spraying. Releases of parasitic wasps in Rhode Island have resulted in dramatic local reductions of red lily beetle numbers, so there’s hope that this bête rouge will soon make its exit.

    Lovely and varied as they are, lilies are far from the only valuable hardy summer bulbs. Other worthies include:

    Crocosmia hybrids, with long, curving midsummer spikes of dazzling, often fiery-hued blooms that attract hummingbirds. Although hailing from southern Africa, these sun-loving perennials include a few hybrids hardy to USDA Zone 5 (such as the smoldering orange-red ‘Lucifer’). Plant their crocus-like corms in rich soil that doesn’t dry out in summer.

    Allium obliquum

    The pale chartreuse-yellow drumsticks of Allium obliquum appear in early summer.

    Several species of Lycoris, East Asian bulbs which bear clusters of fragrant amaryllis-like blooms on tall, naked stems that magically arise in mid- to late summer. Far too rarely seen in gardens or catalogs, hardy Lycoris are most often represented by the lilac-pink-flowered Lycoris squamigera. Other showy hardy species include gold-flowered Lycoris chinensis; creamy-yellow Lycoris caldwellii; white Lycoris longituba; and white, rose-striped Lycoris incarnata. All produce strap-shaped leaves in spring, which die back months before the flowers appear. Hardy Lycoris remain almost unknown in American gardens, despite numbering among the most beautiful summer-blooming perennials. Their narcissus-like, fleshy-rooted bulbs store poorly, contributing to their obscurity. Purchase freshly dug or container-grown bulbs, and plant them in good soil in full sun or light shade.

    Numerous East-Asian species of Arisaema, the genus that also includes Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). Their hooded inflorescences range from bizarre to beautiful, and their spoked or lobed, compound leaves are often equally remarkable, and sometimes gargantuan. Perhaps the queen of the tribe is Arisaema candidissimum, which in early summer sends up a large, ivory-white, green-streaked hood surmounted by an enormous, broadly three-lobed leaf. The flowers cast a faint, sweet scent. These Asian Jacks tend to want more sun than the native, and less winter moisture. Mark the places where you plant their tubers; they may not break ground until late June.

    A host of ornamental onions. In most cases, summer-blooming alliums grow from slender, scallion-like bulbs and have persistent, grassy leaves (unlike the early-dormant spring-blooming species). Lovely but little-known summer alliums abound, including Allium ramosum, a white-flowered beauty which blooms earlier and self-sows much less rampantly than the otherwise similar garlic chives (Allium tuberosum); Allium togashii, an August-blooming pixie with bright lilac-pink heads; and the elfin, blue-flowered Allium sikkimense.