Gardening for the Near Future: Spring Bulbs

This time of the year is again the right time to plan a colorful display of flowers for next spring. If your garden failed to impress last spring, you can lay the groundwork for a more satisfying experience in the spring of 2019.

The early fall is the time to plant spring-blooming bulbs. A good selection of such bulbs will become available around mid-August to early September in local garden centers and from mail-order nurseries. Two categories of bulbs will be in the greatest demand and likely to be snapped up while some gardeners are just beginning to plan. These two categories are (a) the most popular and (b) the more unusual.

For a list of the most popular spring-blooming bulbs, visit the National Gardening Association’s website, garden.org and search for “The Top 50 Most Popular Spring-Blooming Bulbs.“ You will not be surprised to find several varieties of tulips and daffodils at the top of this list.

To learn about the more unusual spring bloomers, visit the website for Brent & Becky’s Bulbs, click on “Media” and open the file “Spring Flowering Bulbs Cultural Instructions.” This downloadable free publication includes both a long list of spring bloomers and detailed instructions for growing these plants, with particular information for the cultivation of tulips and daffodils.

Another good source of information for both popular and unusual spring bulbs, visit McClure & Zimmerman.

My garden includes a good number of daffodils (all the same cultivar) that I enjoy each year, but the more unusual bulbs are most appealing. This year, I am learning about fritillaria, a genus in the lily family, with about 140 species. The most popular is F. imperialis, called “The Crown imperial,” which is native to countries of the eastern Mediterranean region, e.g., Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. The plant grows over three feet tall and is available in several varieties that have blossoms of different colors. It grows best in full sun, in zones 4–7. The Monterey Bay area is in zone 9, so F. imperialis might be a risky choice for growing here.

Fritillaria meleagris, by Farmer Gracy

A better choice for this area would be F. meleagris, called the Checkered Lily, “Snake’s Head Fritillary,” or “Guinea-Hen Flower.” This plant, which is native to Europe, will grow in sun or partial shade, in zones 3–8, so our local zone 9 environments might be “good enough” for this plant. It will reach to only fifteen inches tall, so it’s not as striking as F. imperialis.

Another important group of spring bloomers that the bulb catalogs do not offer is the irises. That must be because irises grow from rhizomes rather than bulbs, and are offered by specialty growers rather than bulb growers.

I call attention to irises because I have a long association with the Monterey Bay Iris Society, which is preparing its annual rhizome sales. The first sale will occur on Saturday, August 4th at the Deer Park Shopping Center in Rio del Mar. The second sale will be on Saturday, August 11th at the Aptos Farmer’s Market, at Cabrillo College, Aptos. These sales are excellent opportunities to acquire iris rhizomes at good prices and to receive good advice from local enthusiastic gardeners.

If you already have irises in your garden, they should be dug and divided every three or four years for maximum blooms. I call attention to this task because my own irises are overdue for dividing!

Whether you prefer popular or uncommon spring bloomers, preparing for a delightful spring garden happens during the next few weeks. To begin, identify space in your garden where you could plant spring-blooming bulbs, then acquire the bulbs (or rhizomes) of your preference at local garden centers, mail order nurseries, or the local sale of iris rhizomes.

Gorgeous Irises on Show

A photo of a new iris caught my eye. I learned it is the recent accomplishment of a local iris hybridizer, Jim Cummins, who is a stalwart of the Monterey Bay Iris Society and long-time friend.

Cummins’ Iris Seedling

The iris is so new it doesn’t even have a name; it’s referred to only as “Seedling 14-21-C, TB”, indicating that it is a Tall Bearded Iris. The numbers suggest that this is one of a large number of seedlings.

Hybridizing irises involves a process that is essentially the same in hybridizing other plants. First, the hybridizer selects two plants that have desirable characteristics that would be good to combine in one plant. Characteristics might relate to flower form, height, plant vigor, color, beards, ruffles, or ability to re-bloom, i.e., produce a second flush of bloom.

The hybridizer then transfers pollen from the three anthers of one plant, the pollen parent, to the three stigmas of the other plant, the pod parent. These can be called the ”father” and “mother” plants if preferred. Some hybridizers will transfer pollen with a cotton swab, paintbrush, pencil or knife; others will use tweezers to actually remove the anther and bring it to the stigma. This simple process can be seen on YouTube demonstrations.

Detailed record keeping is important so that the parents of an exceptional new plant will be known.

Then, assuming fertilization is successful, the pod parent produces a seedpod. When it matures, the hybridizer harvests and plants the seeds, and waits to see what results.

Even a little familiarity with genetics suggests that this process is chancy. The progeny might be exactly what the hybridizer intended, or any of a wide range of other outcomes that are more or less successful. The hybridizer might propagate the best results, register a name with the American Iris Society, and introduce the plant into the commercial market.

The Cummins seedling 14-21-C, TB has noteworthy parents, ’Luxuriant Lothario’ and ‘That’s All Folks’.

Barry Blyth registered ‘Luxuriant Lothario’ in 2008. His description includes these comments: “Bright and showy for sure. Standards are buff apricot with a slight violet flush at midrib. Falls are bright lilac with a well-defined 3/8″ edge of tan to tan violet. Beards are muted burnt tangerine. Ruffled and waved petals.”

In 2005, William Maryott registered ‘That’s All Folks’, his last introduction before retiring. This plant has been described as follows: “Midseason bloom. Standards brilliant gold; falls white with gold blending to a wide muted gold band; beards gold. Honorable Mention 2007; Award of Merit 2009; Wister Medal 2011; American Dykes Medal 2013.” Local hybridizer Joe Ghio reportedly bred this plant and registered a sibling named ‘Pure and Simple’ in 2005.

‘That’s All Folks’ is a favorite of mine; I am developing a swath of its brilliantly colored blossoms, and planning a companion planting of an appropriate blossom color.

A large group of gardeners is hybridizing irises, and gorgeous cultivars by the thousands are available. A fine time to see some of the newest and best is at the annual Iris Show presented by the Monterey Bay Iris Society. This year’s Show will be at the Louden Nelson Community Center, 301 Center Street, Santa Cruz, on April 28th and 29th. The public is invited to attend the show from 1:00 –6:00 p.m. on Saturday, and from 10:00 – 5:00 on Sunday.

The Show offers an ideal occasion to see some of the finest flowers grown by local gardeners, and to make notes on plants to add to your own garden. Opportunities to purchase your favored plants will be at the Society’s annual sale of iris rhizomes on August 4th at August 4 at Deer Park Shopping Center in Aptos and on August 11 at the Cabrillo Farmers Market.

Choose your favorite irises now, shop in August, and plant in September.

Growing Dahlias

Dahlias are among the easier blossoming plants to cultivate in the garden. As natives of Mexico, they thrive in the Monterey Bay area climate and bring drought-tolerance as well.

As mentioned in today’s article about the upcoming sale of the Monterey Bay Dahlia Society, dahlias are available in many different blossom forms and colors and can be a fine addition to the garden.

This column offers basic practices for growing dahlias after you have selected tubers at the Society’s sale.

The first consideration is to select a location will full exposure to the sun and good drainage. Dahlias, like most flowering plants, grow best with six hours of sun each day, and in well-drained soil. Sandy loam is fine, but clay soil will require substantial amendment with organic material.

Dahlia with Bee

Dahlias can be planted any time between the last day of frost (which is not a concern in this area) and as late as mid-June. The local tuber sale is scheduled around the time when last season’s tubers are ready to be dug and divided, so the day of the sale represents a good beginning for the local planting season. If you are not ready to plant, store your new tubers temporarily in a cool, shady environment.

Most dahlias will need staking, so it’s a good practice to position a sturdy stake for each tuber, and to install the stake at the same time that you plant the tune. Inserting a stake later runs the risk of stabbing the tuber.

If you don’t want bare stakes in the garden while the plant develops, you could install a short piece of plastic pipe with the top at ground level next to the tuber, then, when the plant grows to need staking, insert a thin stake (bamboo?) in the plastic pipe and tie the plant to the stake.

Plant the tuber several inches deep, with the “eye” (the growing point) facing up. Some tubers might lack such an eye, and will not sprout, but well-selected tubers will have viable growing points. The eye can be difficult to confirm, so selection can require some experience in identifying tubers that are ready to grow.

Separate the tubers from each other by about two feet.

Protect the sprouting plants from snails and slugs. A good practice is to visit your plants in the night (with a flashlight) or in the early morning to remove any crawling pests that have discovered them. Regular applications of an organic snail control, e.g., Sluggo, also works.

Control flying pests with insecticidal soap or other organic pesticides.

Generally, soil with ample organic content will provide sufficient nutrients for dahlias. If your soil seems “lean,” regular applications of high-nitrogen, organic fertilizer would be helpful.

As each plant grows, tie it to a stake to ensure that it remains upright. The first tie should hold the main stalk loosely to the stake; later ties could connect branches to the stake.

Each branch generally will produce three buds. To produce large blossoms, many gardeners remove two of these buds when they appear. This disbudding process allows the plant to direct nutrients to the remaining bud, with positive effect. If you have several dahlias growing in the garden, you will still have lots o blooms.

At the end of the season, the top growth dies back, and the plant produces several new tubers. The gardener can remove the top growth, and can either dig and replant the tubers or leave them in the ground. In the Monterey Bay area’s moderate climate, dahlias grow quite well when simply left in the ground. After two or three years, they will become crowded and will benefit from dividing.

Enjoy your dahlias! They are wonderful additions to the garden.

Planning for Summer “Bulbs”

We are approaching the window for planting summer-blooming bulbs, so it’s time for planning

Summer-blooming bulbs might be called “spring-planted bulbs,” just to be confusing.

For clarity, geophytes, i.e., plants that have underground organs, are grouped in just two categories: spring-planted/summer-blooming, and fall-planted/spring-blooming.

Because plants often do not always follow our categories strictly, blooming seasons include early, mid and late bloomers. Good catalogs and labels will identify a plants bloom season, for reference in planning extended periods of color in the garden.

In the Monterey Bay area’s moderate climate, summer bulbs could be planted anytime between February and April. It’s now too late to plant spring-blooming bulbs.

Many gardeners call all geophytes “bulbs,” but they actually include several kinds of specialized storage organs:

  • True roots: tuberous roots (Dahlia) and storage taproots (carrot)
  • Modified stems: corm (Crocus), Stem tuber (potato), Rhizome (Iris), Pseudobulb (Pleione), Caudex (Adenium)
  • Storage hypocotyl or tuber (Cyclamen)
  • Bulb (Narcissus, onion)

Here is a sampling of popular summer-blooming “bulbs:”

  • African Lily (Agapanthus)
  • Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)
  • Canna
  • Cape Coast Lily (Crinum)
  • Dahlia
  • Ginger Lily (Hedychium)
  • Gladiolus
  • Lily – Asiatic, Oriental, Species, Hybrids (Lilium)
  • Montbretia (Crocosmia)
  • Peruvian Lily (Alstroemeria)
  • Windflower (Anemone coronaria)

Consider planting uncommon “bulbs,” to bring variety into the garden:

  • Chinese Summer Ground Orchid (Bletilla, a terrestrial orchid)
  • Glory Lily (Gloriosa superba)
  • Guernsey Lily (Nerine)
  • Indian Crocus (Pleione, another terrestrial orchid)
  • Pineapple Lily (Eucomis)
  • Rain Lily (Zephyranthes)

Planting guidelines for all geophytes: locate in full sun; select a well-drained bed (underground storage organs could rot in soggy soil); choose plants that are best for your climate; and amend with compost or aged manure for tallest, lushest and healthiest plants.

When selecting plants, check the storage organ for good health. This check can be done easily with dormant bulbs, which might be marketed in plastic baggies, and small potted plants can be lifted gently from their pots to examine their health. If the organ looks black, unusually soft, or otherwise troubled, leave it behind and consider shopping elsewhere.

Summer bulbs can be found now or in the next few weeks at local garden centers. As always, specialized mail order suppliers have online and printed catalogs with larger selections. Here are three to consider:

Brent and Becky’s ((877) 661-2852)

McClure & Zimmerman (800) 883-6998)

John Scheepers, Inc. ((860) 567-0838

Prepare now for color in the summer garden. As always, planting in odd numbers of three or more—if you have space—creates the most attractive displays.

Enjoy your garden!

Exotic Bulbs for Spring Bloom

As we proceed into autumn, the gardener’s thoughts turn to the gratifying display of spring bulbs.

If your garden already includes bulbs that bloom each spring, and you have all you want, relax and let nature do its thing!

If you want more blooms to brighten your spring, however, plant bulbs during the next few weeks.

The general rule is to plant bulbs before the ground freezes, but Monterey Bay area gardeners can only imagine a freeze to schedule bulb planting.

In this temperate climate, bulbs that do not require vernalization (dormant period chilling) are most convenient.

There are many bulbs in this category, including the popular narcissus, plus allium, colchicum, crinum, crocus, gloriosa lily, hyacinth, kaffir lily, muscari, snowflake, spider lily, and watsonia. Most of these are members of the large lily family (Liliaceae), which also includes the tulip.

Several species tulips require little chilling during their dormant period, including Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’, T. clusiana (Lady Tulip), T. saxatilis (Candia Tulip) and T. sylvestris (Florentine Tulip). All these produce demure, colorful blooms.

By contrast, hybridized tulips, with larger blooms and taller stalks, require chilling. Some helpful suppliers offer pre-chilled bulbs of hybridized tulips.

Bulbous plants are native to the globe’s five summer-dry climates, particularly the Mediterranean region, South Africa, and California. Adventuresome gardeners can have a great time growing spring bulbs from one or more of these areas.

Triteleia laxa

Triteleia laxa ‘Queen Fabiola’

Such projects require some research. The larger mail-order bulb suppliers offer at least a few bulbous species from faraway places, among the mainstream varieties, but their catalogs have inconsistent information about the country of origin.

Here are sources of bulbous plant information, by country of origin:

  • Pacific Bulb Society’s Wiki, a volunteer-written on-line encyclopedia of flowering bulbs, with photographs.
  • Telos Rare Bulbs, a mail-order nursery in Ferndale (on the California coast, near the state’s northern border), offers a great selection of native plants of California, South America and South Africa.
  • Mediterranean Area: Alpine Garden Society lists specialized books on bulbous plants, including Bulbs of the Eastern Mediterranean, by botanist Oron Peri. The bulbous plant cognoscenti are thrilled with this newly released book.
  • South Africa: The Color Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs (2002), by John C. Manning, Peter Goldblatt, and Dee Snijman.
  • Chile: Few bulbous plants are native to Chile, including Glory-of-the-Sun (Leucocoryne) and the striking—and rare—Blue Chilean Crocus (Tecophileae cyanocrocus). Both are available from Telos Rare Bulbs. For the short list, visit Chileflora (click on Seeds Shop/Life Form: Bulbous Plants) or Sacred Succulents (click on Rare & Beneficial Plants from Chile), a small, family-run business in Sebastopol, California.
  • Australia: Gardeners of the land down under cultivate several bulbous plants that originated in other areas, but apparently few if any that are native to Australia. (If you know of any, let me know.) The region’s popular Chocolate Lily (Dichopogon strictus) is attractive, but it’s tuberous, not bulbous.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 12.20.55 PMThrough a recent search of the Internet. I found a new book by Attila Kapitany, Australian Native Bulbs (2015). This book highlights eight native
species of bulbs, corms, and tubers, and “discusses many more.” It is available on eBay with shipping costs for the interested buyer to discover.

 

 

 

 

Cultivating exotic bulbs can be challenging, intriguing and rewarding, as beautiful and out-of-the-ordinary blooms appear in the spring.

***

Comments and Questions are Welcome

 

Plant Selection – Hyacinths

Q. I just purchased pink Hyacinth Orientalis bulbs from (Seattle) Costco, and am wondering if they will do well in my Seaside home?  I’m headed to Monterey in December.

I’m on a hill about one mile inland.  Some Smith & Hawken paperwhites I’ve planted over the years are hanging in there, but the USDA map says I’m zone 10A and the sources I’ve found say hyacinths are best zones 3 – 9, but may need chilling over zone 7.

I want them to be perennials, because I’m not always there in bulb planting season.

Should I plant them (I love the fragrance!!) or take them back as a mis-purchase from  a childhood memory?

A. The hyacinths should do fine in Monterey!

Hyacinths are spreading in my garden with no special care. I try to dig them up after the leaves wither and replant the bulbs for better distribution. They should be planted six inches deep, in a bed that receives at least six hours of sun daily.

Some cultivars might need chilling, but most do not. According to White Flower Farm, “most bulbs will root properly if the temperature does not stray too far above or below 40 degrees F during the rooting time.”

Q. Thank you for that information!

Nice to know you are available and so very quickly responsive!

Top Ten Tasks for Fall

Our gardens have had some rain—and a promise for more this season—so we can now pursue “regular” gardening and think other good thoughts!

There are no exciting new developments or flights of imagination in this week’s column. Instead, here’s a review of steps to take in the fall to ensure gardening success in the spring.

  1. Feed your soil. As plants grow, they consume the soil’s nutrients, so the gardener should restore the soil by adding partially decomposed organic material. For an inactive bed, dig in a three-to-four inch layer of compost; for an active bed, provide the same layer as a top dressing.
  2. Mulch your beds. Cover any bare soil in the garden with organic or inorganic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weed growth. For large areas, call your local tree service for a load of coarse wood chips, which break down slowly and are typically free.
  3. Plant spring flowering bulbs. There’s still time to create a delightful display. Online sources and garden centers are running low, but look for bargains. Even second-choice bulbs produce fine spring flowers.
  4. Wait to do clean up until spring. Leave faded perennials and grasses in place for now to decorate the garden and provide habitats for beneficial insects. Cut them back when you see signs of new growth in the spring.
  5. Plant perennials. Continue adding plants to the garden any time before frost. To avoid compacting the soil, let any rain soak in well before working or walking on the soil .
  6. Sow wildflower seeds. If you have enough garden space for even a patch of wildflowers, sow a small packet of mixed wildflower seeds. If you have a larger space, sow more seeds! This project is easy, inexpensive and very satisfying for the gardener, and great for the wildlife.
  7. Make notes on planting for fall color next spring. A little planning during the quiet days of the fall could support next spring’s installation of plants that will provide fall color and seed heads for the birds. A beautiful garden in the late summer and early fall requires a bit of study to identify and locate plants that will fit well into the landscape and put on a pleasing show.
  8. Control slugs and snails. The fall presents time for defensive action against the brown snail (Cantareus asperses), a significant pest in many gardens. Snails can reproduce on a year-round schedule, so the fall is a good opportunity for control only because other tasks are less pressing, and we want to give the new spring growth a chance to flourish. A reliable approach is picking snails by hand and dropping them into water with a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Other methods: lure them into shallow pools of cheap beer, or send your pet duck after them.
  9. Compost your tree leaves. Leaves that fall from your trees are not trash, but “gardener’s gold,” an excellent and free source of pre-compost. You might feel the need to rake your leaves into a pile (not everyone does), so the next steps will define your gardening priorities. One option is to wrestle them into trash bags, which is not a simple step on the way to the landfill. The preferred option is to shred the leaves to speed decomposition and add them to your compost pile. To shred the leaves, use a bagging lawn mower or a purchased or rented leaf shredder.
  10. Collect seeds. Watch for seed heads to form on your favored plants, cut the flowering stems at the base, drop them into a paper grocery sack that you have carefully saved, and let them dry for a week. They are then ready to sow in the garden, with or without the stems. If desired, separate the seeds from the chaff for storage or sharing.

You might know additional tasks that would ready your garden for winter, but these ten steps would be good preparation for a glorious spring season. Gardening is about the future.

Back to the Future Garden (Bulbs)

An important aspect of the art of gardening is working backwards, so let’s begin today by visualizing a stunning display of spring bulbs in your garden next April.

“Bulbs” include all plants that grow from bulbs, tubers, corms, or rhizomes. Plants with underground storage organs are correctly referred to as “geophytes.”

There are a great many plants in this category, with a stunning range of colors and forms. The large majority of geophytes are native to the world’s Mediterranean climate regions, which includes coastal California; they have evolved to thrive in climates like that of the Monterey Bay area.

For your spring vision to become real, you will need to plant your bulbs this year, in the early fall. You could plant as early as August, or as late as November, but a good time to target is September.

To have bulbs to plant in September, order them in July or August. You could buy bulbs later at a local garden center, but retailers necessarily stock mostly the very popular varieties.  Ordering by mail will let you choose from an enormous range of possibilities, and early orders are most likely to secure the largest, most productive bulbs.

If you acquire your bulbs before you are ready to plant, store them in a dry, well-ventilated place.

Before you buy bulbs, you should have a plan for planting. The easy part of planning for a display of spring bulbs is to identify space in your garden that receives—ideally—at least six hours of sunlight daily, and that drains well (no puddles!). There are also a good number of bulbs that will do quite well in partial shade, but if you intend to plant in a shadier area, select bulbs with that condition in mind.

Bulbs also can be grown successfully in containers, given sufficient sun exposure and very well-drained soil. Typical planting mixes are fine, but should be amended with horticultural sand, pumice, crushed lava rock, or other material to promote drainage.

Your design could mass your bulbs for a large display of one or several varieties, or place several small cluster displays among other plants in the landscape. The scale of your display will guide your decision on the number of bulbs to order. Growers usually recommend spacing for specific plants, but three times the width of bulb is generally OK. Wider spacing will provide room for increases.

The more popular species of bulbs that do not require winter chill to perform well include Daffodil, Crocus, Grape Hyacinth, Allium, Crown Imperial and Snowdrop (Galanthus). Others bloom their best after several days of chill: Tulip, Hyacinth, Siberian Squill, Anemone, Freesia (but some varieties will do fine without special handling).

Spring Bulbs

Click to Enlarge

 Good mail-order catalogs indicate which bulbs will grow well in Zone 9, which includes the Monterey Bay area, and offer pre-chilled bulbs.

To benefit from the full range of mail-order options, select some so-called “minor bulbs,” i.e., those not included among the most familiar species. Adventuresome gardeners leave the beaten path to discover the most interesting blossoms.

Yellow Foxtail Lily

Click to Enlarge

Caption: The Yellow Foxtail Lily (Eremurus stenophyllus) grows 4-5 feet high, with hundreds of star-shaped flowers. Photo: Brecks.com online catalog.

Good preparation of the planting area(s) involves removing weeds, loosening the soil, and digging in a three-inch layer of organic compost. If you have clay soil, dig in six inches of compost. This healthful exercise could be enjoyed after ordering the bulbs.

Bulbs are traditionally planted in random arrangements, following their natural spread. Planting bulbs in rows is so 19th Century.

The actual planting of bulbs in well-prepared beds can be quick and easy. The usual rule for planting depth is three times the height of the bulb. Stab a trowel into the ground, pull it toward you to open a planting hole, drop in the bulb, pointy side up, and cover.

If gophers or deer snack in your garden, put a handful of gravel at the bottom of the hole, and spray your bulbs in a bucket before planting with a repellent like Deer Off, Liquid Fence or Repel. You might need to plant in gopher baskets, which of course slows the process.

Start now to prepare for next spring’s pleasing display of bulb blossoms.

More

Visit Cindi’s Catalog of Garden Catalogs for many mail-order suppliers of bulbs.
The good ones include the following:

  • Breck’s Bulbs: click on “Spring Bulbs” and “Other Spring Bulbs” for minor bulbs;
  • Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, well-established grower, with a good search tool;
  • Bill the Bulb Baron, a local grower, with fields in Moss Landing;
  • Far West Bulb Farm, specializing in California native bulbs;
  • McClure & Zimmerman, offering a variety of uncommon bulbs;
  • Telos Rare Bulbs, species bulbs from exotic places;
  • Van Bourgondien Bros., good prices for larger volume orders.

Finally, visit the website of the Pacific Bulb Society for non-commercial information. Click on the link to “Pacific Bulb Society Wiki” for photos and descriptions by avid growers of geophytes.

Pruning and Moving Plants

Recently, with access to few hours of youthful energy, I pursued my gardening priorities. They were a bit early in the dormant season but too productive to postpone. Here’s a short list to encourage improvements in your own garden for the spring.

An Overgrown Shrub

A Glossy Abelia (Abelia ‘Edward Goucher’) had grown to seven feet, with long gracefully looping branches. It was an attractive, well-placed shrub that was crowding smaller plants. I had it coppiced, i.e., cut to the ground, to promote re-growth in the spring. This severe pruning method renews trees, particularly oak, hazel, ash, willow, field maple and sweet chestnut. It also works well with multi-trunked shrubs.

Plants in the Wrong Places

The Giant White Squill (Urginea maritime), notable for a huge bulb, is common in the Mediterranean basin but rarely seen in the Monterey Bay area. It is easy to grow, and can be moved at almost any time. Years ago, I planted a four-inch bulb where I later decided to reserve for California Natives, so I wanted to move it to the Mediterranean area. The bulb, which had grown to about ten inches in diameter, was easy to transplant.

Another wrongly placed plant was a Twinberry Honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata var. ledebourii), a California native. It had grown to about four by four feet, but in a place I later designated as the South Africa area, so it had to be moved. I learned that it too could be coppiced, so we cut it to six inches high and replanted it in the California Natives area. It could grow up to 10-to-12 feet high, so we placed it toward the back of a bed.

An Unruly Shrub

Wagner’s Sage (Salvia wagneriana) produces my favorite salvia blossom. The pink and white form has white bracts surrounding hot pink flowers, for a unique presentation. My plant grew rampantly to six feet high and ten feet wide. I had placed it in partial shade, where it thrived but didn’t flower very well. I also had failed to prune to maintain a smaller, denser form, so it had become rangy. Fortunately, it had also produced several seedlings. The solution was to shovel-prune the original shrub, transplant a couple seedlings to a sunnier spot for more blossoms, and schedule regular, late summer pruning for a more compact size.

Unwanted Shrubs

I have nothing against the Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), but I needed to move three of these Chinese or Japanese native plants to make room for the Twinberry Honeysuckle and other California natives. Lacking a good place for them, I coppiced and moved them into large nursery pots, for gifting to another gardener.

Consider seasonal improvements for your garden.

More

The Giant White Squill’s large bulb is proportionate to its leaves and its stalk of many florets (blooming in August). The bloom stalk can reach five feet in height.

Giant Squill - bulb

Giant Squill - planted

Giant Squill Blossoms

The Glossy Abelia responds well to severe pruning during the dormant season. The first  photo shows the result of coppicing a Glossy Abelia that had grown to seven or eight feet in height. The following photo shows the renewed growth of another Glossy Abelia that had reached a similar height, about six months after coppicing.

 

Abelia - coppiced

Glossy Abelia - renewed

Growing Gorgeous Geophytes

The fall season invites gardeners to plant bulbs to blossom in the spring and create bright swaths of color for the new gardening year.

Right now is an excellent time to design bulb bed(s) and select spring bulbs for the garden. There is a lot to consider.

One strategy is to favor the most familiar bulbs, choosing either old favorites or recent introductions. The most popular bulbs include Daffodils (Narcissus), Tulips (Tulipa), Hyacinths (Hyacinthus) and Dutch Crocuses (Crocus vernus). Garden centers offer many varieties of these plants: the long popularity of daffodils and tulips in particular has motivated hybridizers to develop a range of colors and interesting forms.

The next most familiar bulbous plants include Lilies of the Valley (Convallaria, from rhizomes), Spanish Bluebells (Scillas), Grecian Windflowers (Anemones, from tubers), Snowdrops (Galanthus), Dwarf Irises (Iris reticulata, from bulbs), and Grape Hyacinths (Muscari). There are many appealing options within these genera, as well.

Adventuresome gardeners can explore a long list of less familiar bulbs, each of which brings unique characteristics. Visit my website, ongardening.com, for links to additional options.

A different group of geophytes are summer-bloomers. This group includes Gladioli, Calla Lilies, Dahlias, Tuberous Begonias, and Crocosmias. They are planted in the early spring about the same time we plant tomato seedlings.

Other geophytes we enjoy are fall-bloomers, which are planted in the late summer: Autumn Crocus, Winter Daffodil, Guernsey Lily, Saffron Crocus, and some species of Snowdrops.

With planning, you could enjoy glamorous geophytes during much of the gardening year.

Some spring-blooming bulbs need a chilling period to bloom their best. Winter in the Monterey Bay area rarely provides a chill that is long enough and cold enough for these plants, so schedule six weeks of cold storage. The kitchen refrigerator will suffice except for larger projects, when gardeners will appreciate the luxury of a second refrigerator. Consider organizing a chilling co-op with gardening friends.

Many mail order bulb sellers offer pre-chilled bulbs to be shipped at the right time for local planting. A welcome service!

Here are the basics of planting bulbs. Choose a site that receives all-day sun, and drains well. Select larger bulbs of the preferred genus. Plant the bulbs at a depth that is about three times the bulb’s diameter, and take care to position them with the pointed end up.

Bulbs can be planted very close together and may be arranged in either formal or informal patterns. Fertilizers are not required, but a small amount of bone meal in the planting hole could help. For clay soil, add compost to improve drainage. Water to settle the soil then let the seasonal rains take over.

Prepare now for a spectacular spring.

More.

Information About Uncommon Geophytes

North Carolina State University

The Plant Expert

Pacific Bulb Society Wiki

Mail-order Suppliers of Uncommon Geophytes

Brent and Beck’s Bulbs

Odyssey Bulbs

Telos Rare Bulbs

African Bulbs

The Bulb Man