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

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 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

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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.

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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.

Gardening with Exotics

Many of the plants we enjoy in our gardens produce flowers. We also enjoy many plants for their foliage, but the flowering plants, called angiosperms, are the ones that attract our attention.

The angiosperms, which first developed about 245 million years ago, have grown to dominate the terrestrial ecosystems, exceeded only by the coniferous forests.

There are about 260,000 species of angiosperms, and the growers of the most popular garden species have produced countless selections, hybrids and cultivars. When we visit our local garden centers or flip through catalogs of mail order plants, we see most often those variations of the most familiar plants.

Some avid gardeners eagerly seek the latest introductions of roses, irises, petunias and other and take pleasure in being among the first in their communities to have the hybridizers’ newest achievements. Each year, when we might think that new versions of popular plants are not possible, we find unexpected colors, new color combinations, more vigorous or more floriferous producers, and plants that have been bred to be more resistant to pests and diseases.

These new introductions are often the most costly plants offered, reflecting both their appeal to consumers and the costs of development and introduction. The most enthusiastic collectors of the best and latest do not flinch and gladly pay the premium prices.

Gardeners who appreciate unfamiliar and interesting plants have alternatives to each year’s new crop of high-priced new introductions. The vast array of angiosperms includes many exotic, garden-worthy plants with gorgeous blossoms that are rarely seen in garden centers or catalogs, and are very much worth the time and attention of gardeners.

The local gardener’s search for exotic flowers will be most successful when focused on plants that are well suited for the special growing conditions of the Monterey Bay area. These include plants from the world’s “summer-dry” climate regions, including coastal California, the central coast of Chile, the southwestern coast of Australia, South Africa and of course the Mediterranean basin.

A wide selection of interesting plants is native to these areas, and will succeed in the Monterey Bay area with routine care.

One example of an interesting exotic from a summer-dry climate is the Giant White Squill (Urginea maritima), which is a member of the Asparagus family (Asparagaceae). This plant, which is from the Mediterranean basin, has an enormous bulb (perhaps the largest of any plant), and an unusual annual cycle. It grows in the winter: large leaves appear from November to about May, when they yellow and dry, and the plant goes dormant. Then, in late July, it sends up a dramatic flower spike, up to five feet high. Each spike has a raceme of hundreds of tiny white or pinkish-red flowers.

Click to enlarge. Giant White SquillClick to Enlarge Giant White Squill - CU Unusual plants that will grow w ell in your climate, can add a good measure of interest to your garden. Watch for exotic selections in your garden center or garden catalogs.

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The Giant White Squill has interesting characteristics.

  • All parts of the plant are toxic.
  • The flower stalks will continue to blossom after being cut, so you could bring a stalk indoors to watch the progressive opening of the blossoms.

For information about “uncommon and astonishing” plants, visit the website of Louis the Plant Geek. His website has information on many exotic plants, and includes photos of the Giant White Squill in leaf.

Gardeners oriented to reading could look for the book, Bizarre Botanicals, by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross (Timber Press, 2010). It could be in your local public library or book store, and is currently available on Amazon.com.

Wherever you find exotic plants for your garden, always favor plants that are suitable for your garden’s growing conditions. For most gardeners in the Monterey Bay area, remember that such plants are native to the Mediterranean climate region.

Be horticulturally adventuresome while increasing your chances for success!

Gardening in July

During this hot and dry month, the avid gardener should pursue seasonal tasks to keep the garden looking good and prepare for the change of seasons.

Irrigation should be a high priority to sustain plants that must have a ration of water during the drought. Pass by Mediterranean climate plants, which are accustomed to dry summers. A little moisture will perk up even these rugged individuals and extend their best days, but a better use of scarce water resources would target the garden’s thirstier specimens.

Roses, for example, could produce another bloom cycle during July if treated to a balanced fertilizer and watered deeply. Other candidates for regular watering are plants in containers, which can dry out fast.  First confirm that your water usage is within current restrictions.

If your garden consists mostly of Mediterranean climate and succulent plants, this year’s drought should not cause alarm. On the other hand, if you have a thirsty lawn, consider replacing it with plants of the summer-dry persuasion. The same strategy would be appropriate for plants from tropical, riparian or boggy areas.

Blossoms to enjoy in July include gladiolus, agapanthus and fuchsia, and fragrant Oriental hybrid lilies, e.g., pure white ‘Casablanca’.

Casablanca Lily

I am also enjoying blossoms of Chitalpa tashkentensis ‘Pink Dawn’ trees, which are crosses of catalpa and desert willow. They put on a show reliably around Independence Day, but opened a little earlier this year.

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The Corsican hellebores (H. argutifolius) have finished their winter-to-spring display, and leaned down their bloom stalks to drop seeds all around. The seasonal task is to cut stalks to their bases to make room for the new growth, which has already started.

The tall bearded irises also have finished blooming for this year. They will look best after the flower stalks are cut down, the leaves fade, and the rhizomes enter dormancy. Every four years, during the period from mid-July to mid-September, dig and divide the rhizomes to promote blooming for net spring.

In July and August, plant autumn-blooming blubs, e.g., autumn crocus (C. speciosus and C. sativus), meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale), and spider lilies: Lycoris squamigera with lilac or rose pink blooms and L. radiata with orange-red blooms.

Control cool-season annual weeds, currently going to seed: bindweed, chickweed, crab grass, knotweed, lambs-quarters, mallow, pigweed, purple deadnettle, groundsel, nettle, purslane, speedwell and spurge, as well as field grasses. Dispose of seeds in the green waste not in the compost bin! The invasive cheery yellow Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae) has already faded, leaving clusters of bulbs to sprout next spring.

Behind Schedule in the Garden

The garden does not wait for the gardener, but goes about growing, reproducing, aging and eventually dying whether or not the gardener meets the schedule of seasonal tasks.

My garden has proceeded this year on its natural cycle. As the weather has warmed, even the plants for which I should have cut back last year’s growth are producing abundant new growth

Salvias exemplify this failing. Best practice with salvias is to cut them to the ground in the late winter or very early spring, when new growth first appears. This practice rejuvenates the plant, and gives it a youthful look. When the pruning is done too late, it is very difficult to avoid cutting off the new growth and setting back the seasonal growth.

I cut back a few of the salvias in my garden, but left many more with their tired branches from last year.

Fortunately, perennial plants really do not depend on punctual gardeners. Salvias perform better when treated well, of course, but they will survive nicely even when neglected.

I was able to prune my roses at the right time. It is possible to let rose shrubs grow without annual pruning during the dormant season, but they will have a more compact form and produce more blossoms when cut back about one-third each year.

Fruit trees are another matter. Happily, I pruned my apple trees in a timely way: I cut back last year’s growth just before blossoms appeared on the trees. There are just four dwarf apple trees in my garden, but skipping this annual task would allow sprawling growth and reduce the yield.

I did not, however, spray my trees as recommended to discourage codling moths. I did read about the life cycle of those pests, and made life a little harder for the over-wintering larvae by raking the mulch away from the base of the trees.

Weeds also are responding well to our limited rain and the warming weather. They are growing very nicely! I haven’t identified all the several weeds that make my garden their home, but I can always spot the bright yellow flowers of sourgrass, which expands its territory in my garden each year.

Wikipedia (always helpful) has this comment about sourgrass: “Indigenous to South Africa, Oxalis pes-caprae, the ‘Bermuda buttercup,’ is an invasive species and noxious weed in many other parts of the world, including the United States (particularly coastal California)…”

Ideally, gardeners should pull this weed when it first appears, before it produces countless tiny bulbs. Sadly, I am behind schedule again this year.

This experience yields clear lessons for gardeners:

  • Strive to keep pace with Nature’s rhythm
  • Appreciate the ability of plants to thrive despite neglect, and
  • Take satisfaction in the seasonal tasks you do complete.

Enjoy your garden!

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Several books on year-round gardening are available through your public library, your bookstore or online. For example, a search of the Amazon.co website for “gardening year-round” yields 45 pages of books to consider. Many of the books listed focus on edible gardening; several also include ornamental gardening.

Before investing your time or money in a gardening book, make sure that it has information for your gardening environment. The most useful gardening information for gardeners in the Monterey Bay area will be specific to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9. Information in books oriented to “northern California” or “Pacific Northwest” will need interpretation for gardeners in Zone 9. Books intended for other parts of the United States or the world could still be helpful, but should be treated like exotic materials.

Still, given that awareness, some classic books on year-round gardening written by English authors can be very much worth reading. Examples, include books by Vita Sackville-West, Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd.

Whether written by American or English gardening experts, the date of publication is not important: Nature’s seasonal patterns have not changed significantly.

Here are suggestions:

The Four-Season Landscape: Easy-Care Plants and Plans for Year-Round Color (A Rodale Garden Book) (1994), by Susan A. Roth (Author)

Golden Gate Gardening, 3rd Edition: The Complete Guide to Year-Round Food Gardening in the San Francisco Bay Area & Coastal California (2010), by Pamela Peirce (Author)

Gardener to Gardener: Almanac & Pest-Control Primer (2000), by Vicki Mattern and Fern Marshal Bradley (Eds)

A Yardscapes Year: Ideas and Plants for Bay Area Gardeners (1999), by Mia Amato

The Western Gardener’s Journal: A Three-Year Almanac (1998), by Margaret Moulton

Some Garden Thugs You Want Around

A weed is simply a plant growing in the wrong place, while a garden thug is a plant spreading without apparent limit, and overwhelming other plants it encounters. Garden thugs could well be landscape assets, given freedom to expand. Here are three examples from my South African succulent bed.

Thug #1: Aloe maculata (Soap Aloe)

Aloe-maculata-Soap-Aloe

Some 550 recognized species are included in the genus Aloe. One of them, the Soap Aloe (its sap makes a soapy lather in water) is among the most popular Aloe species in California gardens. The plant forms a rosette about a foot wide, made of pointed fleshy leaves about eight inches long. In the spring it sends up a two-foot long stalk topped by orange-red flowers in a flat-topped cluster called a raceme. So far, so good, but it also sends underground suckers that soon create a dense colony. I lifted ten plants for this month’s garden exchange, then put another eight in the green waste.

Related species in my garden include A. arborescens (Torch Aloe), also a vigorous grower; A. plicatilis (Fan Aloe), a slow-growing small tree; and A. ‘Christmas Carol’  (hybrid), a smaller plant with vibrant red colors in the leaves. In this group, Soap Aloe is the real thug.

Thug #2: Senecio mandraliscae (Blue Finger)

Senecio mandraliscae

Senecio is one of the largest genera of flowering plants, with about 1,250 species that present many amazing forms. Blue Finger, which might be a hybrid, grows twelve-to-eighteen inches tall, with numerous four-inch long blue-gray leaves shaped like fat bean pods. It produces uninteresting white flowers in summer but the foliage is the main attraction. The leaves will drop easily from the plant, and root to form new plants. The spreading stems also quickly establish roots.

A nice-looking succulent plant and a welcome addition to the garden, but one that needs regular whacking to keep it within bounds. My other Senecios are S. rowleyanus (String-of-Pearls) (showing the variability of this genus) and S. haworthii (Wooly Senecio). There could be other thugs in this large genus, but Blue Finger certainly qualifies.

Thug #3: Cotyledon orbiculata (Pig’s Ear, Paddle Plant)

Cotyledon-LSCotyledon-CU

This striking succulent has gray-green fleshy leaves with red margins, and coral red, bell-shaped flowers on stalks in early spring. The leaves grow on stout branches growing any way other than straight. This attractive plant spreads over time, and is considered invasive in some parts of the world. The plant has medicinal uses, but its leaves are said to be toxic to livestock, poultry and dogs. It works well in containers, which might well be the best place for this plant.

These vigorous plants will prove you have a green thumb, but they require control.

Selecting a Landscape Tree

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”

This is one of many hoary bits of wisdom about gardening. Instead of reviewing more such bits, let’s consider how to select a landscape tree during this year’s dormant period.

The New Sunset Western Garden Book (2012)—always a useful reference—lists four categories of garden trees that not yield edible fruits: patio, shade, flowering and fall foliage.

Patio trees are primarily ornamental, and relatively small and free of troublesome behavior.  Shade trees are larger than patio trees, and typically deciduous. Flowering trees and fall foliage trees also provide shade, but they are selected primarily for their ornamental value.

Landscape trees, depending on size, could be dug as bare root specimens, grown in a plastic container wooden box, or dug and “balled & burlapped.” The larger specimens can be expensive and very heavy to manage, but desirable for achieving an immediate effect in the garden.

Once the gardener has decided on the landscape purpose of the tree and its size at the time of purchase, there are three major criteria for selecting a specific tree.

First, know the tree’s mature size and ensure that it will not outgrow the location you have in mind. The most common error in selecting and planting a tree is to locate it where it eventually will grow to become unwelcome. It might crowd a pathway or driveway, or even the residence. Its might harm other plants by blocking the sunlight with its leaves or absorbing the available moisture with its roots. Choose a tree that will be a good neighbor.

Second, for containerized trees, confirm that the roots have had ample room to grow normally. A tree’s roots should fill no more than 50% of the container; otherwise, the tree could become root-bound, with a long-term threat to its life. I once had a tree service install a large Santa Cruz Cypress (Cupressus abramsiana), an endangered species, only to have it topple months later during a mild windstorm. I discovered that it was severely root-bound, so that its roots could not anchor the tree effectively. Before buying a tree, examine its root structure by pulling the tree from its container.

Thirdly, ensure that the tree’s future location has at least six hours per day of exposure to sunlight, which almost all trees require for health and normal growth. I planted two identical Chilean Myrtle (Luma apiculata) trees, one in full sun, and one too close to an American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). Today, the tree growing in the sun is about three times the height of the other tree.

Choose your new landscape tree with care!

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The April 2014 issue of Fine Gardening magazine (already on the newsstands and in libraries!) includes an excellent article on this topic. “How to Buy a Tree” by Ed Gregan presents a most thorough discussion of problems that might be encountered with a nursery tree.

I hasten to add that reputable nurseries and garden centers won’t offer trees with significant shortcomings. The owners and managers of well-run retail garden outlets are good people who respect plants and gardening.

Still, it’s possible for a problem to slip through and you could take home a tree that won’t thrive as you, the original grower and the tree itself would prefer. The most common problem is a tree that has become root-bound, after sitting in the garden center or nursery too long. This condition obviously could develop while the manager was not looking!

Ed Gregan’s article is not available online (except for Fine Gardening subscribers), so I can only list his bullet points (below), but you’ll need to read the article for the full story.

  1. Ensure grant points are smaller than a dime
  2. Walk away if there are wounds
  3. Pull off the pot to assess the roots
  4. Strive for a single straight leader
  5. Check under the trunk protector
  6. Look for signs of trouble
  7. Watch out for “coat hangers”
  8. Avoid poor crotches
  9. Avoid even numbers for multistems
  10. If the flare is too high or too low, the tree is a no
  11. Give the ball a thorough inspection
  12. Check for even spacing with clumps

 

Selecting Roses

Local garden centers offer bare root roses for sale at this time of the year. Roses sold as “bare root,” i.e., without soil, are dormant, so they have less weight for shipping, take less space for storage, and need minimal care and feeding. As a result, they are less expensive than roses in nursery containers.

Larger garden centers will stock scores of roses, so list your buying goals. For example, you might want a yellow rose that is highly resistant to diseases. Those factors, color and disease resistance, would help to focus on a short list. Then you could compare the details on the labels of the two roses to learn how they differ.

One difference could be the class of the rose, i.e., Hybrid Tea, Grandiflora, Floribunda, Climber, etc. Roses vary greatly in size across classes, and even within classes, so your new rose should be the right size for its intended location. Definitions of the standard classes are available from Weeks Roses. Browse to www.weeksroses.com, click on “Plants” and then on “Roses by Class.”

An important factor not on the label is the plant’s suitability for growing conditions at the specific spot you have selected in your garden for this rose. Roses typically require ample nutrients, very good drainage and a minimum of six hours of sunlight every day. In addition, some roses will grow better in the particular climate of the Monterey Bay area.

Local garden centers should stock only plants that will grow well in the area around their location, so one approach is simply to trust the center’s buyer.

If you happen to be buying roses while away from your home ground, or looking for a rose you remember enjoying in a different climate, confirm that it is suitable for your garden.

The Monterey Bay Rose Society has recommended roses for local gardens: browse to www.montereybayrosesociety.org and click on “Easy Roses.”

Weeks Roses has recommended roses for the Pacific Northwest Climate, which is north of the Monterey Bay area, but more appropriate than the other climates listed. (The climate of Portland, Oregon, the “City of Roses,” is like that of the Monterey Bay area, but with more rain.) Browse to www.weeksroses.com, click on “Rose Info” and then on “Climate Info.”

If you intend to buy several roses, you might want the American Rose Society’s “2014 Handbook for Selecting Roses.” Browse to www.ars.org, click on “Shop” then on “Books & Merchandise.”

After you have selected one or more roses for your garden, look to the American Rose Society for reliable advice on planting and caring for roses. Brose to www.ars.org., click on “Resources” and then on “Articles on Roses.”

Enjoy your roses!

Uprooting Plants

Recently, as I was digging up four boxwood shrubs, and cutting down a twelve-foot elderberry, I recalled that some gardeners dislike toppling mature plants or discarding healthy ones.

This is not about relocating plants. Certainly, there are situations in which a plant has outgrown its spot, or has failed to thrive because of a lack of sun or moisture or nutrition, or simply doesn’t look right where it is, aesthetically.

In such situations, assuming the plant is not too big to move, go ahead and transplant to a better location within your garden, or gift it to a friend. You and the plant and perhaps your friend will be happier.

We might ask, “When is it a good idea to decommission a plant?”

One justification would be that the plant is both unwanted (for any of several reasons) and too big to move without significant effort or expense.

Another justification arises when an unwanted plant is not too big to move, but no alternative location is available in your garden or in the garden of any friend.

The option that remains is to lift the plant with care and bring it to a garden exchange. These events are constructive and popular when someone steps up to the task of organization.

One should link to the local gardening network to learn when and where a garden exchange will happen. Join a club!

An important mindset when removing a plant is to avoid any sense of loss, and instead to recognize the opportunity to bring in a new and more interesting plant. Therefore, one should have (1) a replacement plant already in mind, (2) the confidence and knowledge to grow the replacement plant, and (3) the patience to let the plant to reach full maturity.

The four boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) I dug up had been intended to frame a rose bed, but these common plants had grown large enough to block the view of the roses. I will replace them with miniature roses, to be selected.

The elderberry was an unknown species, a gift that I planted before I realized how big it would get, and before I decided to devote that section of the garden to California native plants. A Pacific Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) might have stayed, but this shrub’s berries were not red, but black.

I will replace this shrub with a Silverleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylus silvicola), a beautiful very gray, and very endangered shrub that is endemic to the nearby Zayante Sandhills. It is also called the Santa Cruz Manzanita. I found a specimen at the Yerba Buena Nursery in Half Moon Bay.  It’s in a one-gallon nursery pot, so it will need time to reach its mature height of eight feet.

Uprooting plants can release space for new botanical treasures.

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Here’s a picture of the Silverleaf Manzanita, from the website of Las Pilitas Nurseries, a treasure trove of information on California native plants, as well as a great source of those plants. There are two locations: Santa Margarita (about 18 miles north of San Luis Obispo) and Escondido.

Arctostaphylos silvicola, Ghostly Manzanita with a beefly. This manzanita is native north of Santa Cruz.

 

Tulips

Garden centers have tons of tulips available for planting in the fall. There are countless hybrids on the market, including a seemingly endless parade of new introductions.

Tulips provide undeniably gorgeous blossoms, but they also present gardeners with the chill requirement, called vernalization. To set blooms, tulip bulbs must be exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees for six-to-eight weeks.

Tulips originate around the Mediterranean Basin and in central China, particularly in mountainous areas with climates like that of the Monterey Bay area, but with cooler winters that provide sufficient chill during the plant’s dormant period.

For gardening in climates with soil temperatures that provide a sufficient chill period, tulips are reliable perennials that grow, multiply and bloom with little difficulty.

For climates with more moderate winter weather, such as the Monterey Bay area, vernalization requires refrigeration. This can be provided by the supplier, or by the individual gardener, usually in the family refrigerator or second unit.

Apples and other fruit releases ethylene gas, which is harmful to tulip bulbs, so keep fruits away from the tulips.

After tulips have bloomed, and their leaves have yellowed, the gardener must lift the bubs and chill them again to promote blooms in the following season.

The easier alternative for many gardeners is to purchase already-chilled tulip bulbs, and treat them like annuals. Many mail-order nurseries will chill tulip bulbs and ship them to customers at planting time.

There are a couple other choices for creating a early spring display in the garden.

First, some species tulips require less chilling during their dormant period. Tulip species in this category include Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’, Tulipa clusiana (Lady Tulips), T. saxatilis (Candia Tulips) and T. sylvestris (Florentine Tulips). Species tulips have smaller blooms and shorter stalks than hybridized tulips, but they produce demure, colorful blooms. The plants are still great garden perennials that do not need lifting and chilling every dormant period. I will plant a few species tulip bulbs this year to learn more about this option.

The other choice is to plant spring-blooming bulbs that do not require vernalization. There are many bulbs in this category, starting with the narcissus, which is most popular. Others include 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.

Now is the time to produce a display of color for your spring garden.

More

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs – species tulips

John Scheepers – species tulips

Willow Creek Gardens – species tulips

Pacific Bulb Society – information on species tulips (not sales)

Old Farmer’s Almanac – planting and growing tulips

 

Planting Perennials

Last Sunday was the Fall Equinox, so autumn is now official and we are heading into the year’s best time for installing trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials.

When we plant in October, ideally just before the seasonal rains begin, our additions establish their roots during the fall and winter months and prepare for spring’s burst into leaf and blossom.

Many herbaceous perennials could be planted now. We will consider just three arbitrary but good selections:

English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). Several good varieties are available for this popular lavender. Small plants can be started now. In the spring, promote a compact mounded form by cutting the plant back to two inches above hard wood., and repeat in the spring of the second year. By the third spring, it will have reached mature size, or close to is, and produced a generous number of fragrant blossoms. With mature plants, a second pruning in late August will help in maintaining a good form. Replace lavender plants that have been allowed to develop a rangy form.

Salvia. Garden centers and mail-order nurseries offer about 100 species of salvia, with many selections and hybrids of most species. These “super shrubs” are native to many parts of the world, principally Central and South America, Central Asia and Mediterranean Basin, and Eastern Asia. California Blue Sage (Salvia clevelandii) is a California native that grows well in the Monterey Bay area; there are many other blossom colors, plant sizes and foliage forms available. The gardener could choose from the local garden center’s inventory or develop specific targets through research in a library or the Internet, or at Cabrillo College, in Aptos, whose salvia collection has been called the worlds largest. Most salvias should be cut back hard in the early spring, when new growth can be seen at the base of the plant.

Penstemon gets its name from a long straight, hairy fifth stamen that gives the blossom the appearance of an open mouth with a fuzzy tongue protruding. This inspires the plant’s common name, beardtongue. This is a large genus native to North America, from Alaska to Guatemala. There are taller-growing species (two-to-four feet) that can be fine additions to the middle of the border, and look best in mass plantings. There are also lower-growing species that are fine for rock gardens or the front of the border. Blossom colors include white, yellow (rare), blue, violet, purple, pink, magenta, and red. A popular selection is P. heterophyllus ‘Margarita BOP’, also called ‘Blue Bedder’. (BOP means “back of porch,” which is where this plant was discovered.)

Prepare to plant perennials in October!

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Lavender

Several species of lavender (Lavandula) are available. The most popular garden varieties are English Lavender (see above), French Lavender (L. stoechas or L. dentata) and Spanish Lavender (L. stoechas, L. lanata or L. dentata). There is also Egyptian Lavender (L. multifida). All Lavenders flourish best in dry, well-drained, sandy or gravelly soils in full sun, and require no fertilizer and good air circulation.

Salvia

Visit Cabrillo College’s website of salvia information, and browse through the several pages for the collection, the photos of selected salvias, the chart of several species, and the Cabrillo cultivars.

Another exceptional resource for both information about, and purchases of salvias is the website of Flowers by the Sea, a mail-order nursery in Elk, California (which is about fifteen miles east of Fresno). Owner Kermit Carter tells me that Flowers by the Sea currently offers 369 species and varieties of Salvias, which is extraordinary indeed.

Penstemon

To learn more about Penstemons, start by visiting the website of the American Penstemon Society, which has solid information about cultivating, propagating, and identifying plants in this large genus from North American and East Asia. 

Another good source of information is the website of Las Pilitas Gardens (located in Santa Margarita, California), particularly the page titled, California “Penstemons That Grow in DRY Areas.”

The best online information on almost any gardening subject is Wikipedia. Visit its webpage on the genus Penstemon for impressive details including a long list of species, and a list of Penstemon cultivars that the Royal Horticultural Society has honored with its Award of Garden Merit.