Tag Archives: tubers

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.

Winter Care of Tropical Houseplants

During the chilly dark days of winter, our houseplants and overwintering tropicals remind us that green life still exists, which gets us crazy gardeners through what can be a depressing time of year. Living with indoor plants is a subject near and dear to my heart, and I have lots of experience to pass along to you. I thought I’d start by talking about how to overwinter the large tropical plants that many people buy in spring, such as hibiscus, elephant ears, cannas, lantana, brugmansia, and mandevilla, and provide some sound advice for houseplant care so you may fully enjoy your indoor garden all winter.

Bird of paradise makes a cheerful indoor winter companion. Photo c Alice Raimondo.

Bird of paradise makes a cheerful indoor companion. Photo © Alice Raimondo.

As I write this, it is a relatively mild mid-December day but far too cold outdoors for tender tropicals. Summer provided all the things they needed to survive: sunlight, humidity, water, and lots of air circulation. How can we give them what they need indoors for the next several months before moving them outside once more? I’m sure I’m not the only one whose tropical plant’s leaves all turned yellow and dropped off a few days after bringing it indoors in the fall. A common mistake is waiting too long to bring these plants inside; it’s better to bring them indoors in late August before nighttime temperature start to drop. This is especially true for hibiscus or mandevilla; however, some leaf drop with them should be expected. Indoor environments have low humidity, particularly during winter when the heat comes on frequently, so plants drop leaves to reduce water loss.

Fear not, your plants will adjust, provided you site them properly. If placed near sunny south-facing windows and away from radiators, hibiscus plants will perform quite well as houseplants for a while, at least until whiteflies or aphids likely arrive. Mandevilla can be a bit trickier as a houseplant, often losing all of its leaves during the winter and going semi-dormant. Be very careful how you water them then; I have killed several, I fear, from overwatering alone. Mandevilla can also be a magnet for scale and mealybugs in the home, so if other houseplants are nearby, beware! Lantana is best not brought indoors unless you have a sunny, dry, cool location where it can grow.

Much of my garage has nothing to do with cars during winter. Photo c Alice Raimondo.

My garage is home to dozens of  plants during winter. Photo © Alice Raimondo.

Elephant ear tubers and canna fleshy rhizomes can be stored dormant in an unheated location with no light, provided it gets no colder than the upper 40s. If your cannas and elephant ears were dug from the ground after the first frost, they will overwinter very well in paper bags or in cardboard boxes in temperatures in the low 50s. Another plant that stores equally well in garages where it will go dormant is brugmansia. No need to water it but a few times, very lightly, throughout the winter so its root ball doesn’t dry out completely. Keep brugmansia cool at temperatures in the upper 40’s to near 50 degrees; any warmer, and it will break dormancy and begin to grow. You can store this large woody tropical indoors from year to year until the plant is too big to fit in the garage. Even then, you can lay them down in the garage after they’ve grown too tall; these plants are indestructible! I currently have flowers on mine, as they haven’t yet gone to sleep yet for the winter.

Phalenopsis orchids love humidity. Photo c Alice Raimondo.

Phalaenopsis orchids do fine with enough humidity. Photo © Alice Raimondo.

If you aren’t brave enough to try overwintering these large tropical beauties, which are often sold as annuals, there are many houseplants to grow that are just smaller counterparts of their larger cousins. Peace lily, African violet, phalaenopsis orchids, and many foliage plants will chase your winter blues away as you garden indoors. Or perhaps you have space to grow large palms or bird of paradise. Plan your indoor garden as you do your yard: consider sun exposure, water requirements, and home temperature. One word of advice: water. Overwatering is the most common mistake when it comes to houseplants, so be careful to not kill your plants with too much love. Drooping or yellowing leaves is a symptom of too little water, but it’s also a symptom of watering too frequently.

The Horticulture Diagnostic Lab often receives calls regarding sick houseplants during the winter. If you have questions about caring for specific plants, call us at the Horticulture Information line (631)727-4126. In the meantime enjoy your little bit of the tropics indoors, and dream about spring.

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