Tag: bulbs

Summer Bulbs

When a gardener mentions planting bulbs, the first flowers that often
come to mind may be daffodils and tulips. We plant these types in our
gardens in fall for glorious displays in the spring. But if you are
willing to expand your definition of a bulb, you will find a whole
new season of beautiful blooms and foliage in what I refer to as
summer bulbs. Now technically these plants include true bulbs,
along with tuberous roots, corms, and tubers or rhizomes, but
it is just simpler to use the blanket term – bulbs.

The plants that grow from summer bulbs will add a tropical touch
to your garden. Many varieties have thick fleshy leaves and exotic
flowers, which makes sense because most originate from subtropical
regions such as South American and South Africa. I like to mix them
in with my more traditional annuals and perennials to add a little
flair to my flower borders and containers.
Summer bulbs should be planted in late spring or early summer when
soil temperatures have warmed to about 55°F. In general
they should be planted close to the soil’s surface, about 1 to 2
inches deep. Choose a location that has well drained soil, unless
they are suited to boggy conditions. One of the nice characteristics
about these plants is that many types, such as elephant ears and
caladiums, will perform well in partial to full shade.

True to their sub-tropical heritage, these bulbs thrive in heat and
humidity, but you can also grow them in northern gardens. The trick
is to lift and store them in the fall before the first frost. How
you store the bulbs depends on what type of plant it is. Most are
lifted from the ground and stored in peat or vermiculite in a cool,
dry area.

To find unique varieties of summer bulbs you may have to go through
a mail order source. You can find a few of my favorites here!

When Lilies Take You By Surprise

As a kid, when I saw the naked ladies pop up in the yard, it was always bittersweet.  Their bold presence always made me smile, but I also knew it was almost time to go back to school. The ever-present surprise lilies, also known as spider lilies, naked ladies or naked lilies, were a sad reminder that summer was coming to an end. They are “naked” because the blooms arrive before the foliage and their stems are bare.

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Paperwhites with Heart

This Valentines’ Day give paperwhites with “heart.” Follow these three easy steps to decorate potted paperwhites with a pussy willow stem heart.

Materials

  • Paperwhites planted in a 6-inch container
  • (2) fresh pussy willow branches (available at florists)
  • Wired green floral stick (available at florists or craft stores)
  • Red ribbon
  • Decorative container

Directions

    1. Insert the wide ends of the pussy willow branches into the soil at an angle so they make a V.

Paperwhites for Valentines

  1. Draw together the upper ends and tie with the wired floral stick.
  2. Pull the floral stick all the way down to the pot and push it into the soil. Insert it at an angle to make it secure.
  3. For a pop of color wrap the willow stems in red ribbon.
  4. That’s all there is to it!

Tabletop Spring Garden

Welcome spring into your home with a tabletop garden planted with spring blooms from your local garden center or grocery store.

Materials:
Potted flowering plants
Plastic baggies
Decorative container
Sheet moss

Directions:
Remove each plant from its pot and slip it, soil and all, into a plastic baggie. This is optional. If your decorative container is large enough to accommodate the plants in their pots, simply slip them into the container. Otherwise the plastic baggies make it easier to arrange the plants.

Once the plants are in the container cover the bags or pots with sheet moss to conceal. That’s it!

For the longest life, place your tabletop garden in a spot away from source of heat. Water the soil with a spray mister.

For this arrangement I used pots of forced ‘Tete-a-tete’ narcissus, primroses and variegated ivy. After the blooms fade I’ll plant the ‘Tet-a-tete’ in the garden. This variety is a prolific multiplier.

Mythological Amaryllis

In Greek mythology Amaryllis was a lovesick shepherdess who stood at the door of her intended every night piercing her heart with a golden arrow. From her wounds sprung an exquisite flower.

Now that’s what I call the hard way to grow these gorgeous blooms. Unlike the Amaryllis in Greek mythology you can grow dramatic blooms this winter without a single puncture to the heart. Simply pot up a few bulbs this fall. With a little water and sunshine you’ll have breathtaking blooms in just over a month.

Here are a few varieties I’m trying this year. I feel certain that if Amaryllis had these to offer her flower-loving beau her fate would have been much rosier.

Amaryllis Dancing Queen

Clockwise from left: ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Double Dragon’, ‘Blossom Peacock’.

Amaryllis Clown

Amaryllis ‘Clown’

Amaryllis Varieties

Clockwise from left: ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Red Pearl’, ‘Vera’, ‘Elvas’.

 

Start your Potted Daffodil Garden

It’s hard to believe when summer comes to an end that it’s already time to start planting bulbs for spring bloom. All of our favorite bulbs – such as hyacinths, tulips, and of course, that symbol of spring itself, the daffodil – are now available in garden centers and nurseries.

I suppose the daffodil would have to be my favorite because of its simple beauty and reliable nature. You can just about always depend on it to return each spring. And while I can’t imaging my garden without those bright blooms, I know that once the flowers fade I need to leave the remaining foliage in place for almost six weeks so the bulb can be recharged to bloom again next year.

Pot of Daffodils
Though it’s not hard to disguise their long green leaves with other emerging plants, there is a way to enjoy the flowers without the problem of the remaining foliage. All you have to do is plant the bulbs in nursery pots and then bury them in the garden. Once the blooms fade, just lift the pots and set them aside.

This project is easy to do in a weekend. Start by finding an area where you’d like to enjoy a spring bulb garden. I’m always hungry for some early color in my vegetable garden, so my raised beds were ideal, but you may have an area near your front door or in an established flower bed. The best locations are well-drained soil with full sun, but even partial shade will do. Avoid wet, marshy spots.

Next, collect several plastic nursery pots. They don’t have to be the same size. I use containers that range from 6 to 8 inches in diameter and from 5 to 8 inches deep. Then pick out the daffodils you want to use. This may be the hardest part because there are so many choices.

While daffodils will grow in most areas of the country, some varieties perform better than others depending on the climate. With more than 13,000 hybrids to choose from, you’ll want to check with your local garden center or other gardeners to find the bulbs best suited for your area. You’ll find that daffodils have been developed to bloom in early, mid or late season, so you can extend the length of the display by choosing from each category.

Prepare the area by loosening the soil with a shovel. Then put about an inch of loose garden soil in the bottom of the containers, and place the bulbs shoulder to shoulder, pointed tip up. Add another inch of soil, and slip in a few more bulbs. Layering bulbs in each container gives you a bouquet. Fill the containers to the top with more soil. If you like, add a tag identifying the varieties. Next spring, you can note which ones performed the best.

Buried BulbsOnce all the pots are filled, water well. Then dig a hole in the bed, deep enough so the pot’s lip sits about an inch below the surface of the soil. Place the containers in the ground and fill in more soil around them. Lightly tamp down the area.

In my mid-South garden, winters are relatively mild, so I like to over-plant my bulb beds with violas and pansies. These plants thrive in low light and cool temperatures and provide a spot of color through the cold months. Or, you can add these plants after the daffodils begin to emerge in spring. Both violas and pansies can survive a frost and rebound in bright color.

Now sit back and dream of the beautiful display you’ll enjoy next spring. An added bonus of this potted-bulb method is that once the flowers are up, you can lift a container from the bed and bring it inside to enjoy. Simply slip the plastic container into a more decorative pot, add a few more pansies, and cover the top in sheet moss. It’s a quick and easy way to enjoy your flowers a second time as a spring centerpiece.

My Daffodil Picks:
For potting success, try these varied cultivars. Just make sure that you plant your bulbs before the ground freezes in the North, and after it cools down from summer in the South. Check a zone map to see which of these daffodils is best suited for your garden.

‘Topolino’ – white petals with a creamy yellow trumpet; it is dwarf in size and resembles the little trumpet naturalized throughout the Southeast; great for rock gardens, forced in pots, and in patio containers; 8 to 10 inches tall; early to midseason; zones 4 – 8.

‘Jenny’ – a small charmer that opens white and yellow but matures to a clear white; 10 to 12 inches tall; midseason; zones 3 – 8

‘Pipit’ – two to three luminous yellow flowers per stem, but the cup quickly turns white; superb garden perennial and show winner; American bred; 14 to 16 inches tall; midseason; zones 4 – 9.

‘Lemon Drop’ – two to three large, teardrop-shaped flowers per stem standing with reverence in the garden as it bows its two-toned head; American bred; 12 to 14 inches tall; midseason; zones 4 – 9.

‘Jack Snipe’ – cyclamineus miniature with a white perianth and yellow trumpet, great for rock gardens; 12 inches tall; early; zones 3 – 8.

‘Quail’ – long-lasting floriferous American-bred selection with deep bronze-yellow, multiple flowers; 12 to 13 inches tall; midseason; zones 5 – 9.

How to Grow and Care for Dahlias

Several years ago, I visited a dahlia farm in Holland and was able to see these festive flowers blooming on a massive scale. The fields of cheery, bright colored dahlias were breathtaking. You can imagine my surprise when I saw that the growers were actually lopping off the blooms, leaving behind stems and foliage. It turns out that this practice makes for better dahlias for our gardens because removing the blooms shifts the plant’s energy inward producing big, healthy tubers.

Although the farm I visited was in Holland, dahlias actually hail from Mexico. They love warm weather and abundant sunshine typical of their native land, but they can be grown just about anywhere for summer color. After all Holland and Mexico are diverse climates.

Choices, Choices

There are so many varieties of dahlias available I don’t know where to begin in describing all the choices. They can range in height from dwarfs, only 15 inches tall, to the giants that reach 6 feet or more. Bloom shapes include anemone, ball, cactus, orchid, decorative, collerete, single, waterlily, pompom and fimbrated, which has delicately forked petals. There is almost every color under the sun save blue and flower sizes go from giant dinner plates to miniatures. Whew! That’s a lot to choose from!

Planting Dahlias

Plant dahlia tubers after the last frost date in your area and soil has had a chance to warm up. I plant them about the same time that I plant tomatoes. Select a place with full sun. Dahlias aren’t fussy about soil, but they don’t like “wet feet” so it’s important that the area drains well. Amend heavy clay soil with sand or grow your dahlias in containers. Dwarf dahlias are perfect for pots and you can get the soil just right.

Plant the tubers about 6-inches deep and about 24-inches apart. Add some compost and a spoonful of bone meal or soft rock phosphate to the planting hole and place the tuber horizontally with the eye pointing upward. Backfill the hole with soil and water lightly. Once the green shoots emerge from the ground,give the area a good soak.

If you selected a variety that grows over 3 feet tall, set up supports at planting time.

Caring for Dahlias

Give you dahlias a deep soak once a week, more if this weather is especially hot and dry.

When dahlias are about 12 inches tall, feed with a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will cause plants to produce weak stems and fewer blooms. Apply as directed on the package. Pinching back the stems at this time will make the plant full and compact.

About a month before blooms appear start a routine of feeding with a water-soluble fertilizer high in phosphorous every 7 to 10 days. Continue this until plants die back in autumn.

Dahlias will bloom from late summer until the first frost. Removing faded flowers helps keep the blooms coming.

What to Do With Dahlias in Winter

Dahlias are perennial in regions where winters are mild. Simply cut them back in fall and cover with mulch.

If you live in a part of the country where cold winters and hard frosts are the rule, it’s important to lift dahlia tubers from the ground and store them. I suggest digging them with a one-foot diameter root ball, lift soil and all and put them in a cool, dark, dry place. Cover them with dry sand or sawdust until you are ready to replant them in the spring. The way I see it, these flowers are worth any extra trouble you may have to go through to keep them from one year to the next.

Fantastic Foliage from Summer Bulbs

Do you have a blank spot that needs filling or a border that needs a little pizazz? Tropical summer bulbs are a quick fix. Corms and tubers planted in spring will grow by leaps and bounds during the summer bringing color, pattern and texture to the garden.

Many summer bulbs have lovely blooms, but look at the foliage too. The patterns, textures, and sizes create interest without much maintenance.

Rex Begonia – One of the most interesting plants when it comes to fabulous looking foliage. Available in shades of greens, white, burgundy, red, pink, silver and deep maroon-black.Rex Begonia The patterns are almost endless. There are spirals, concentric circles, dots, stripes and shields. In addition to these variations there are different leaf shapes, textures, and stem colors. With names like Escargot, Iron Cross, Fireworks, Denver Lace, Capricorn, Miami Storm, Fire Flush and Mimi Boston how could you go wrong?

Hardy to zones 10 and 11, these plants prefer shady, humid conditions and rich, aerated soil with plenty of organic matter. Too much water and fertilizer and you will have a very unhappy plant. Soggy soil will lead to rot and high fertilizer will burn the foliage.

Yellow Calla LilyCalla Lily (Zantedeschia)– Grown mostly for its Art Deco style flower that blooms white, pastels, vibrant red, purple or yellow with a very narrow red margin. While the flowers are quite beautiful, the upright glossy leaves are what I am drawn to. In addition to bright green some varieties boast foliage with white centers, polka dots or green and yellow stripes.

Hardy to zone 9 an ample layer of mulch applied in the fall can get these plants through winter in zone 8 or possibly zone 7 where the temperature is not likely to fall below 10 degrees F. Otherwise dig the rhizomes when frost threatens and store them indoors or bring in the plant to grow as a houseplant. Calla Lilies like a moist, almost wet soil and warm temperatures and will grow in full sun (partial afternoon shade in the South.)

CannaCanna – With its large, majestic stature and foliage, the beautiful blossoms of these plants almost go unnoticed. The tropical looking foliage with its large leaves, upright growth and interesting colors make a huge statement in the garden. Look for foliage that is purple, purple with green veining, yellow and green stripes and one of the most striking I have seen has burgundy, green, yellow and red/orange stripes. A few varieties I like include ‘Tropicana’, ‘King Humbert’, ‘Pretoria’ and ‘Black Knight’.

Hardy to zone 7, cannas grow from a rhizomatous rootstock that allows it to spread slowly outward from where it is planted. They prefer full sun in most locations but partial shade in regions where sunlight is intense may help keep the flowers from bleaching out or the foliage tips from burning. Cannas prefer a rich soil high in organic matter that drains well but stays consistently moist. They are heavy feeders. If your cannas begin to look ratty, it’s a sure sign that it needs to be fed or that the soil is too dry. You can grow cannas in containers but the containers will need to be large. As they become pot-bound they become weak and need to be divided and repotted. Cannas are root hardy in places where the soil does not freeze and can survive in air temperatures down to 0 degrees. In areas where the temperature may drop below 10 degrees, adding deep mulch will help protect the roots by keeping the soil surface from freezing.

Elephant EarsColocasia, Alocasia, Xanthosoma – Collectively known as elephant ears, these plants have large, fleshy leaves in solid green or purple/black. Many varieties have interesting variations in color with splotching and veining patterns of green, white and purple/black. Reaching anywhere from 2 to 6 feet or taller some show a distinctive, upright growth pattern while others are more spreading. Look for names like ‘Black Magic’ (burgundy-black foliage), ‘Chicago Harlequin’ (green foliage randomly blotched with lighter green), ‘Illustris’ (green foliage overlaid with black with lime green veins and margins) or ‘Lime Zinger’ (chartreuse foliage). Elephant ears can be planted in a summer border or grown in containers on the porch or patio.

Elephant ears are sub-tropical or tropical plants but some are hardy as far north as zone 7b. They prefer a bright, indirect light or partial shade. The leaves may scorch in full sun or become too green in deep shade. They generally thrive in hot, humid conditions as long as they receive consistent moisture. They prefer a moist, rich, deep, organic soil. Be sure to feed them often as they are heavy feeders.

OxalisOxalis – A favorite plant of many, commonly called the Shamrock plant because of the clover-like leaves. Oxalis is available in green, white/silver, burgundy or purple. You can select oxalis solid colors, interesting patterns or variegations. The flowers range from white, yellow, pink, orange and red. Oxalis can be tucked into your flower borders, grown in containers on the porch or patio and also as a houseplant on a sunny windowsill. Their diminutive size fits easily into smaller spaces and in the front of borders where they will show off throughout the summer. These little bulbs will bloom on and off from spring until fall.

Fairly petite in size oxalis range from two to 16 inches tall and depending on species they are tender, half-hardy or hardy perennials to zone 6. Oxalis can grow in full sun in temperate climates. If you garden where summers are hot give it some afternoon shade or plant it in light, dappled shade. These little bulbs have a preference for well-drained soil that is a little on the acidic side. They are drought tolerant but do water them during extended periods without rain.

CaladiumsCaladium – Gardeners choose caladiums for their long lasting, colorful foliage that adds interest to lightly shaded areas. Color combinations include various shades of red, pink, white, green with colored midribs and contrasting margins. The leaves are heart shaped and many have contrasting patterns. They are a mid-sized plant perfect for planting in clumps in a border or in containers. Look for the varieties ‘White Christmas’ (white leaves with green veins), ‘Pink Beauty’ (pink leaves with dark pink veins and green margins), ‘Frieda Hemple’ (red leaves with green margins)or ‘Brandywine’ (deep red leaves).

Growing 18 – 24 inches tall, caladiums perform best in moist, well-drained soil in partial shade. They enjoy warm weather but do not tolerate dry conditions. Caladiums are only hardy in zones 10 to 11. Everywhere else they should be treated as an annual or dug up after the first frost. If you choose to dig up your caladiums allow the tubers to dry thoroughly, and then layer the tubers in dry peat or vermiculite and store them in an area that remains around 50 to 60 degrees F. Check the tubers occasionally to make sure they are plump but dry.

Purple hyacinths growing in pots in a kitchen

How to Grow Hyacinths Indoors

Forcing hyacinth bulbs to bloom indoors is simple; it just takes a little patience. It can take as long as 13 weeks for the bulbs to come into flower.

Hyacinth bulbs require a period of cooling before they will bloom. Florist suppliers often have precooled hyacinth bulbs available, ready for forcing. If you can’t find those, just store the bulbs for 8 to 12 weeks in a cold frame, outdoor shed, garage, or other dark area with temperatures from 35 to 45 degrees F. It’s important that you don’t expose bulbs to freezing temperatures and if you put them in the fridge, don’t place them next to apples. Apples produce a gas that will cause the bulbs to rot.

 

forcing hyacinths into bloom

Once the bulbs have been precooled, you can force them into bloom in almost any planting medium: potting soil, gravel and water or just plain water. To make it easy on yourself try using glass “forcing jars.” You can find these at florist shops, hobby suppliers or garden centers. They look like hour glasses with the tops cut off.

To begin, place the bulb in a glass container and add water up to, but not touching, the bottom of the bulb (about 1/4″ below the base of the bulb). Bulbs sitting in water are prone to rot. This is where the forcing jars come in handy because they are cinched at the waist and the bulbs sit nicely just above the water.

growing hyacinths in forcing jars

Place the bulb and jar in a cool, dark area (about 50 degrees F – a cool cellar, an unheated garage or a regular family-style refrigerator) until the root system is well developed and growth from the top has begun. Do not store these in a refrigerator with fruits, especially apples. As fruits and some vegetables ripen, they release ethylene gas, which can kill or damage the flower.

Keep cool for 10 weeks. Add water periodically, always keeping the level of water close to the base of the bulb.

When the shoots are about 2 inches tall and the root system extends to the bottom of the glass, remove the jars to an intermediate area that has low light and slightly warmer temperatures. Over the next 3-4 days, gradually move your jars into a sunny window.

When the flowers appear, keep them in bright, indirect light. Temperatures of 60 degrees F to 65 degrees F will ensure longest flowering. Turn the jar a bit each day so that the flowers do not lean to one side as they reach for the sun.

Leucojum

While visiting an old homestead we discovered some flowers that grew from bulbs and have tiny, white, bell-shaped flowers with green tips. They have come back for the last two springs. Do you have any idea what they may be called? They grow just like a narcissus. I would appreciate your help.

The flower you have seen is a leucojum or summer snowflake. I love the dainty blooms of this plant. Looking at the perfect green dots painted on each white petal reminds me of how truly intricate nature is.

This plant is often confused with galanthus or snowdrops. But you can distinguish the two by the little green dot. Also the petals of leucojum are an even length while galanthus has three long petals and three short petals.

Leucojum bloom between April and May, so they need to be planted in the fall along with other spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Plant these bulbs in partial shade about 4 inches apart. Snowflakes like consistent moisture and will even tolerate soggy soils.

One of my favorite varieties of leucojum is ‘Gravetye Giant’. It has larger blooms and long sturdy stem, making it perfect for cutting to bring indoors.