Tag Archives: bulbs

In Praise of Spring Planted Bulbs

All of us love crocus, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and so many other bulbs that are early harbingers of spring. Dreaming of flowers to come, in autumn we have no trouble finding time to plant new bulbs for next year. There are, however, four seasons to our gardens, and when the spring bloom is done, it’s time to think of bulbs we can plant in spring for beauty during the rest of the year.

Let me take a step back and say that many catalogs and gardeners use the term “bulb” to refer to corms, tubers, and rhizomes as well as true bulbs. These little storehouses all serve much the same function: housing and protecting the buds, or eyes, for the growing season to come as well as storing energy for growth during stressful times…and the more a plant does for itself, the happier this lazy gardener is. Hence my love of spring-planted bulbs.

Who can resist the glorious iris? Photo by Kate Rowe.

Who can resist the glorious iris? Photo © Kate Rowe.

After the carefree and abundant blossoms of spring, look around your yard for empty spaces that need filling: it’s time for spring-planted bulbs to the rescue! Do you need something tall in a sunny spot? Try iris, day lilies, gladiolus, crocosmia, dahlias, or something really different: bletilla, a.k.a. ground orchid. Bletilla striata can last for years in our Long Island gardens and will grow to be 16” tall. Many gladioli also survive winters in our gardens, thanks to global warming—every cloud has a silver lining!

What’s that you say? You will happily plant iris or day lilies, but not dahlias? You don’t want to grow big, beautiful, colorful dahlias because you don’t want the hassle of digging up the tubers at the end of autumn? Well then, don’t!  With the affordable price of bags of dahlia tubers at big box stores, just forget about digging them up. Those abandoned tubers will enrich the soil…That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Do you have a shady area in need of help? Consider planting carefree variegated Solomon’s seal. Its arching stems are beautiful, and the shy green-tipped white flowers that appear under its leaves in late spring  are a lovely bonus. This gardener can assure you that if Solomon’s seal is happy, it forms lovely large clumps with virtually no help. So it’s one of my favorites; I’m a lazy gardener, remember!

Do you need late garden color? Check out re-blooming iris, canna, of which there are now some shorter varieties, and caladium which blooms throughout the summer until the first cold days of fall. And did I mention dahlias? See above for the lazy gardener’s take on these beauties! For specific advice on using bulbs successfully in your garden, read this CCE Suffolk fact sheet on Summer Flowering Bulbs.

I’ve concentrated here mainly on perennial flowers (as any card-carrying lazy gardener would) but many bulbs can be planted as annuals to provide a world of beautiful color in Long Island gardens. For the most part, these bulbs are no more expensive than a 6″ or 8″ pot of geraniums, and in general much more carefree, so give them some thought as you plan for summer and autumn color in your garden, on your patio, or in your pots. Not sure how to plant and nurture these bulbs in your garden? There’s an easy way to learn: Check out this Flowering Growing Guides list of plants from Cornell, which includes many of these bulbs.

Here’s a short list of both annual and perennial spring-planted bulbs to use either as fillers or focal points in your garden. Those marked with an asterisk are the ones most successfully dug up and over-wintered for replanting next year (an activity for the over-achievers among you):

ANNUALS                                          PERENNIALS                    

Begonia                                              Anemone

Caladium                                            Acidanthera

Canna*                                               Bletilla

Dahlia*                                               Crocosmia

Elephant ear*                                    Day lily

Freesia                                                Fall crocus (Colchicum)

Ranunculus                                        Gladiolus (to zone 7)

Tigridia                                                Iris

Triteleia                                               Lily

Solomon’s seal

Once your bulbs are planted, sit back with a cool drink and relax while they make your garden look beautiful!

Kate Rowe is a lazy gardener and Master Gardener Volunteer from the CCE Suffolk class of 2014. She can be reached at rowekb@gmail.com.

Caring for Holiday Plants in the New Year

Now that the holidays are behind us, decisions must be made regarding the plants we used to decorate our homes or received as gifts. Poinsettias, amaryllis, Christmas cactus, and cyclamen are traditional holiday flowers. Some are quite easy to keep as houseplants and will flower again if given the right conditions. Others are a bit more challenging; maybe it’s best to toss them onto the compost pile after flowering. You be the judge.

Christmas cacti are easy to grow and force into flower year after year. Photo c Alice Raimondo.

Christmas cacti are easy to grow and force into flower year after year. Photo © Alice Raimondo.

Perhaps the simplest to care for is the Christmas cactus. Many of these cacti are actually hybrids, called Zygocactus, and are not true Christmas cacti which belongs to another genus. In any case, the Christmas cactus can be forced to flower anytime from Thanksgiving through Christmas, provided that starting in September you withhold water from it and it experiences 13-hour nights and cool temperatures in the 55-60 degree range. This is fairly easy to accomplish as this is what normally happens outdoors.

Begin by putting the plant outside in late May in a shaded location, water it once a week or so, and fertilize it every other week with a water-soluble fertilizer. Move your Christmas cactus back into the house in late October when the threat of frost occurs. By then these plants are usually full of flower buds. To prevent bud drop, keep your plant in a cool room until the first flowers open; after that you may place it anywhere to enjoy. Once it has finished flowering, water your Christmas cactus lightly and give it bright but indirect sun. Be careful not to over water as it will rot if watered too heavily.

Another really easy plant to care for is the amaryllis. After it flowers, simply cut off the flowering stalk when it yellows, and keep the bulb watered and in a sunny or bright location. Amaryllis leaves are produced either after or along with its flowers. These leaves need to stay healthy and growing throughout the winter, spring, and summer; they nourish the bulb so it can bloom again. Like the Christmas cactus, amaryllis enjoys summer vacation outdoors in a sunny location. Water your plant a few times a week as needed, and fertilize it every other week or use a slow release fertilizer on the soil surface.

In September it is time to stop watering your amaryllis. I find the easiest way to do this is to move the plant into a garage and simply forget about it. This treatment forces the bulb into dormancy, a rest period during which the leaves dry up. After about ten weeks, the pot can be brought indoors and placed in a bright location. Give it a light drink of water and then hold off watering again until you see the flower bud start to emerge from the bulb. Amaryllis bulbs can be kept alive for years this way, and their flowers are very rewarding.

Poinsettias and cyclamen are a bit more challenging, so typically I don’t keep them from year to year. Poinsettias often are host to whiteflies, and cyclamen often suffer from corm rot or weak growth. Rarely do either of these plants put on the same flower show if saved as they do when they were originally purchased. Having worked at a greenhouse for several years, I can honestly say that maintaining healthy poinsettias and cyclamen is best left to the grower unless you have lots of space in your home and lots of time on your hands. That said, care information for both plants as well as for Christmas cactus and amaryllis can be found in the following fact sheets: Care of Holiday Plants and Forcing Bulbs for Indoor Bloom.

Alice Raimondo is Horticulture Consultant for CCE Suffolk. She can be reached at aw242@cornell.edu or 631-727-77850 x335.