Category Archives: bulbs

Bulbs that Bloom in a Shady Garden

Many of us garden in the shade year round. Others have sun in the summer but shade from fall through spring as the sun’s arc becomes lower. Do you look at the fall bulbs for sale and think ‘Is there any hope that my garden might look like the pictures on the package come spring?” Here are some encouraging tips for you if this describes your garden.

Tulips growing in shade

If you dream about drifts of colorful flowering bulbs under your trees in the spring but didn’t think they would bloom in the shade, think again. Even if your entire garden is shady year round there is hope.

Some bulbs manage to grow just fine beneath trees-even evergreen trees. Many from the daffodil clan, including jonquils and narcissus will grow, bloom and naturalize year after year under tree canopies or other lightly shaded areas. Common ones to try are Golden Harvest, the classic, large yellow King Alfred daffodil and Dutch Master with pure gold flowers. Barret Browning has a soft. butter-yellow corolla and a pumpkin orange frilly tube.

Other common bulbs that will bloom in light shade are crocus, scilla, tulips, grape hyacinth, leucojum, snowdrops, chionodoxa and lily of the valley.

Gold Cup daffodils

To make sure your bulbs stand out in the landscape, figure at least 20-40 bulbs per drift. If your ground is hard or impacted by roots, be sure to pick up a sturdy, foot-operated bulb planter to make is easier to dig. Naturalizing daffodils is an affordable way to grow more flowers and they’ll come back every year without losses from deer and gophers.

Squirrels, mice and moles, however, are observant and crafty. Once they discover newly planted bulbs, they’ll assume it’s food. Just disturbing the earth is a tip off for them. Daffodils and narcissus bulbs are unappetizing but if they dig them up and leave them exposed with just a nibble taken from them, so much for any spring flower display. Protect your bulbs with wire baskets or spray them with foul tasting repellent, letting the spray dry before planting. You can also bury the bulbs with ground up egg shells.

Mid-season tulips

Planting bulbs along side a path makes for a beautiful look come spring. If you installed a flagstone or stepping stone path or sitting area this fall, now is the best time to plant groundcovers between. Low, sturdy types that can withstand some foot traffic include blue star creeper for regularly irrigated area and creeping, woolly or elfin thyme for drier spaces. Make sure you have enough planting mix between the pavers for the plugs to grow. Fill the largest spaces first and allow them to spread into the little cracks. Mixing groundcover types looks great as long as they have the same water requirements. Low growing pennyroyal and corsican mint smell wonderful when you walk on them as does chamomile, although you need to mow this one occasionally to keep it neat and tidy.

Whatever you bulbs you choose to try this fall, you will be happy you planted some bulbs come spring. And to help them bloom again the following year fertilize them at the time of planting with bulb food or bone meal worked into the soil a couple inches at the bottom of the hole. Mature bulbs respond to an early spring feeding with the same fertilizer.

 

Easter Lilies in the Garden

Whether you observe Passover, Western or Eastern Christianity Easter when this time of year arrives I wait patiently for my Easter lilies to come up in the garden. The shoots are now about 6″ tall but they are a long way from blooming and I look forward to those huge, fragrant, white trumpet-shaped flowers. I pick up a few new blooming plants each year to enjoy now and celebrate Easter. It’s a tradition that marks spring along with decorating eggs, chocolate bunnies and Easter baskets.

Easter Lily aka Lilium longiforum

Easter lilies that are blooming at his time of year have been forced under controlled conditions to flower in time for Easter. This is a very tricky process since Easter falls on a different day each year dependent upon celestial bodies. Falling on the first Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Easter can be any day between March 22 and April 25. Crop scheduling and timing is critical. The flowers must bloom exactly when they’re suppose to with no margin for error.

Did you know that over 95% of all the bulbs grown for the Easter lily market are produced by just 10 farms in a narrow coastal region straddling the California-Oregon border? Known as the Easter Lily Capitol of the World, the area offers a climate of year-round mild temperatures, deep, rich alluvial soils and abundant rainfall which produces a consistent high quality bulb crop.

The Easter lily or Lilium longiforum, is native to the southern islands of Japan where it was grown and exported to the US until WW ll. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 the Japanese source of bulbs was abruptly cut off. As a result, the value of lily bulbs sky-rocketed and many who were growing lilies as a hobby here decided to go into business. The Easter lily bulbs at the time were called ‘White Gold’ and growers everywhere attempted to cash in on the crop. By 1945, there were about 1,200 growers producing bulbs up and down the Pacific coast from Vancouver to Long Beach. But producing quality, consistent lily bulbs proved to be quite demanding with specific climatic requirements. Over the years, the number of bulb producers dwindled to just the 10 current farms near the Oregon border. Even after the Japanese started to ship bulbs again after the war, they have never been able to come close to the quality of our US grown bulbs.

Easter Lily

Here’s how to make your Easter lily continue to thrive in your garden. For the longest possible period of enjoyment, remove the yellow anthers from the flowers before the pollen starts to shed. This gives longer flower life and prevents the pollen from staining the white flowers. Place the plants in bright indirect daylight, not direct sunlight, and water when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Do not let the plant sit in water.

After blooming, plant your lily outside in sun or part shade after letting it acclimate to brighter conditions for a week or so before transplanting. Plant in a well-drained garden bed that has been amended with lots of organic matter like compost and mulch the surface with more compost. As the original plant begins to die back, cut the stems back to the soil surface. New growth will soon emerge but go dormant again during the winter. Next year they will bloom naturally in the early summer.

Easter lilies are a great addition to the flower border. Easy to grow, fragrant and hardy.

Blooming Gifts for Gardeners

Echeveria_LaceIt’s as fun for me to give a little something during the holidays to those I care about as it is to receive a present. I admit I look forward to what might be under the tree but half the fun of the holidays is putting together an inexpensive gift that is just right for each person on my list. With so many gardeners on that list, the choices are endless. Here are some ideas that you might find just right for those you love.

Succulents are easy to grow. They are very forgiving plants with variations in watering and light conditions. Seems I’m always coming across someone who has a story about how long they have had a particular specimen and where it came from. “You see that hens and chicks over there?”, they say. “Well my aunt gave me a little slip way back in… and it blooms every year.”echeverria_ruffled

I’m particularly drawn to the many frilly and ruffled echeveria that are available now. There are 180 different species of this succulent and hundreds of hybrids to choose from. Many of them are blooming at this time of year making them a showy gift that’s sure to get you a lot of thanks. With names like Afterglow, Easter Bonnet, Red Edge, Coral Glow, Perle Von Nurnberg, Morning Light, Blue Surprise or Fire and Ice you can pretty much pick the shade of scarlet, tangerine, purple, opalescent blue or nearly black, often with a combination of colors.

These rosette shaped succulents are native to Mexico. The brilliant colors of the leaves never fade and the waxy flowers last a very long time. They make ideal potted plants and are easy to propagate. The perfect gift in my book.

Another simple, inexpensive gift for the gardener on your list is the tillandsia. Sometimes called air plants, these relatives of Spanish moss and pineapple have tiny scales on their leaves called trichomes which serve as very efficient absorption systems to gather water. They are very tolerant of drought conditions and will grow with just an occasional spritzing of water although I like to run mine under lukewarm water to mimic the showers they might get where they normally grow in tropical tree limbs.

Tillandsia prefer the light frtillandsiaom a bright window but not direct sunlight and are among the easiest of indoor plants to grow and maintain. Wire one on a branch or piece of driftwood or place in a shell where they will live happily for years growing pups at the base that replace the mother plant.hyacinth_jars.1600

It’s not too late to start a couple of hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator to give as gifts. Part of the fun is watching the bulbs put out roots well before the fragrant blooms. Choose a hyacinth jar or other narrow necked jar that will support the bulb just above the water and keep in the frig until roots start to fill the jar. Take the bulb out of the dark and give it a bit more light each day for a week until acclimated to bright light. The house will fill with the sweet scent of spring even though it may only be January.

They say that we often give a gift that we ourselves would like to receive. Simple is sometimes the best but they all say “love”.

How to Design a Perennial Border

rhododendron_occidentale2.1600When I visit my best friend’s house I park next to the perennial border that lines her driveway. At any given time of year there is something blooming, flowers filling the air with fragrance and juicy apples hanging on the tree for picking later in the summertime. She has some California natives as well as traditional cottage garden plants all mixed in together. Originally from Illinois, she loves a garden filled with lush green and color but has designed the space with plants that can use less water than you would expect and still look spectacular.

What makes for a successful border? You see DIY articles in the gardening magazines showing lovely combinations with rules to follow but they always seem to be for a different climate or location. We often have borrowed scenery from the mixed woods and some of their ideas just don’t work well here. Here are some tips for planting a terrific perennial border in our neck of the woods.

Some of the key players in my friends perennial border are natives like Western azalea, kerria_japonica2hazelnut and flowering currant. These are large, woody shrubs that add height, texture and year round interest. They provide the backbone or structure to the border throughout the seasons and even in the winter. She also has a weeping bottlebrush which is evergreen and provides nectar for the hummingbirds as does the flowering currant. An apple tree and a persimmon tower over all the other plants creating a canopy for the shrubs, herbaceous perennials and groundcovers. You could also plant spirea, weigela, cornus and viburnums to provide structure to your border.

My friend’s border is planted so that there is something of interest every month during the growing season. The persimmon tree is the star of the late fall garden with bright orange fruit that hang like ornaments on the tree. In the spring I can’t take my eyes off the kerria japonica whose graceful shape is covered with double golden, pom pom shaped flowers. The vivid, new foliage of the Rose Glow barberry complements the stand of Pacific coast iris with similar cream and burgundy flowers blooming next to it.  Under the bottlebrush a sweep of billbergia nutans or Queen’s Tears is flowering with those exotic looking, drooping flower clusters. They make a great groundcover under the tree and also are long lasting in a vase.

ompholodes2.1600Mid-sized filler plants that thrive in this border include Hot Lips salvia, daylilies and polemonium to name just a few. Daffodils and tulips have naturalized throughout the space. Groundcovers grow thickly to shade the soil and prevent precious moisture evaporation.  Lamb’s ears like their spot under the flowering currant and the omphalodes have spread throughout the border. This little plant looks and blooms like the forget-me-not but the delicate deep blue flowers don’t produce those sticky seeds that plague both our socks and animal fur.

This border get morning sun and mid-afternoon sun until about 3pm. If you have a situation that calls for all sun lovers you could try asters, shasta daisy, grasses, coreopsis, achillea, echinacea, gaillardia, sedum, kniphofia, lavender, liatris and rudbeckia.  Perennials that work well to attract butterflies and hummingbirds include monarda and my personal favorite, cardinal flower.  Both have long, tubular flowers in bright colors such as red, orange and yellow. it’s easy to have the birds and butterflies coming all season when you plant perennials with overlapping bloom times.

Perhaps some of these plant combinations would look great in your garden, too. Just don’t worry too much about the “rules” of perennial borders. Mix it up. You don’t want the border to look like stadium seating. The idea is to have fun and create a border that makes you happy.

Summer Bulbs

begonia_tuberousA couple of warm days and I'm ready for spring. Good thing the vernal equinox got the memo. Spring officially started March 20th. The longer days that we get during Daylight Savings Time makes my spring fever complete. I look at my garden and the Easter egg colored daffodils, narcissus, tulips and hyacinths and never want the show to end.  By planting summer bulbs now I can get just that.

Think of cutting brilliant flowers for bouquets during the summer, combining them with a couple stems of mother fern and a sprig of late flowering wisteria on the dining room table. There are so many summer bulbs to choose from and they live over to increase in size each year. Here are just a few of my favorites.

Tuberous begonias make a spectacular show in bright shade or a morning sun location. Their flowers are so huge and brightly colored they put on quite a show. Upright varieties are easy to grow in the ground if you have good drainage. Otherwise, either dig up the bulbs to overwinter in the garage or plant in pots that can be placed under an overhang to spend the winter with dry feet. Those jewel-toned hanging begonias start blooming during the summer and continue until fall. The 61st annual Begonia Festival in Capitola takes place over Labor Day weekend if you want to see them up close and personal.

At Easter time we see tall, white calla lilies blooming everywhere. They make great cut flowers and are deer resistant but I especially like the smaller colored varieties that bloom a little later in the spring and summer. Many years ago we were impressed with the yellow and pink ones that were being grown. Then came the rusty orange ones and now you can buy calla lilies in black, lavender, plum and flame red. I especially like a two-tone deep rose and burgundy one called Dark Eyes.

Dahlias are another deer resistant summer bloomer. One visit to the dahlia competition at the county fair and you'll be wanting several giant dinner plate dahlias in your own garden. Dahlia flowers come in many forms. Cactus dahlias have a starburst shape. Ball dahlias are large, perfect formal types that make superior cut flowers. Then there are dark-leafed varieties and powder puff dahlias as big as dinner plates. Karma dahlias were developed by the cut flower market in Holland because of their extraordinarily strong stems and almost iridescent colors.

Daylilies come in so many colors these days you'll run out of room in the garden for all of daylily_Always-Afternoonthem. There's a dark rose and burgundy variety with a yellow throat that I have my eye on called Always Afternoon. Daylilies provide long lasting color in the garden and naturalize easily. All are good cut flowers but be careful if you have cats. Some flower varieties are toxic for cats although they are non-toxic to dogs.

If you don't have any freesias in your garden you should. This fragrant flower blooms in March right along with the daffodils. The old-fashioned favorite, a white variety called freesia alba, has a rich sweet scent. Freesia hybrids come in all the colors of the rainbow and are deer resistant.

We've all gotten Stargazers lilies in a bouquet that seemed to last forever. Grow your own to bring inside during the summer. Salmon Star is an Oriental lily hybrid of the original Stargazer and equally beautiful. Asiatic lilies, Trumpet lilies, Tiger lilies also make good cut flowers and are easy to grow. Keep flowers away from cats. Dogs are okay.

Don't forget about adding some new gladiolas for that summer bouquet or deer resistant crocosmia in one of the new deep apricot and red combinations.  Or how about Ixia or African corn lily or brodiaea for the cutting garden?

Bulbs are super easy to grow. I always design some into a garden for their color and fragrance and you can, too.

Squirrels Control for Sustainable & Interesting Bulbs

My resident squirrels are busy burying acorns for the winter. On the go from first light in the morning until dusk they scurry up the oak trees to collect this prized food source and then deposit them in the ground and in the pots on my deck where they will surely forget where most of them are. Their antics are frustrating because I want to start planting bulbs sooner than Thanksgiving this year. I usually have to wait until later in the season when the squirrels have finished loading up their pantry to get them in the ground. Daffodils and narcissus are safe but what would spring be without  all the other gorgeous bulbs to welcome in the season?

This year I’m going to try some different varieties of bulbs and to foil the squirrels I"m going to plant them really deep in areas that have excellent drainage. Squirrels rarely dig far under the surface so they aren’t likely to reach the bulbs. If you have less than stellar drainage, your bulbs will rot if you plant them deeply, so use chicken wire cages or gopher baskets when you plant them. Next year when they emerge from the soil, if the squirrels start eating the tops of the stems, spray the buds daily with hot pepper spray. All mammals except humans hate hot peppers. I’ve also heard that paprika and egg shells deter them.

I love those huge, showy tulips as well as the new colors of daffodil and narcissus coming out each year. Can’t live without them. But I want to add to the show next spring. Maybe I’ll plant Spring Starflower or Ipheion. Their starry white flowers bloom over a long period in spring and they naturalize easily. Spring Snowflake ( leucojum vernum ) will also naturalize in the garden. The flowers are small and bell shaped, white with a green or yellow spot and have a slight fragrance. And I want to include some species tulips. They will rebloom year after year just like they do in the wild in Europe, North Africa and Asia.

Another bulb I’ve wanted to grow for a long time is Ixia viridiflora. They need to be completely dry in summer so planting in pots will be perfect for this most striking and unusual bulb. Few plants can beat it for sheer brilliance of flower. Each flower is a brilliant turquoise green with a purple-black eye in the middle. The dark eye is caused by the deep blue sap of the cells of the upper epidermis. The green color is due to the effects of light being refracted from the cell wall and granules embedded in the pale blue cell sap. Amazing flower.

I think tucking several huge allium bulbs among clumps of summer-flowering perennials will make quite a statement next year and the deer generally avoid them as they are in the garlic family. The flowers from in clusters and are best known in the round pom-pom form, but they can be star or cup-shaped or nodding pendant-shaped. They look great with foxglove, monarda and hardy geraniums. The flower heads can be left on the plant to dry as they look attractive in the garden and can be cut for arrangements.

A bulb native to our area that I’m also interested in trying is Tritileia or Triplet Lily. There are several species of this brodiaea bulb found here in grasslands and serpentine soils. They are undemanding plants and make good cut flowers, lasting for 7-10 days in water.

Other interesting bulbs that I want to try include  hyacinthoides, hermodactylus tuberosa and bellevalia. All of them are beautiful. Don’t let October and November go by without planting a few bulbs to enjoy next spring.