Spring Bulbs Begin In Autumn

Spring bulbs are dormant through winter.

Crocus, daffodil, hyacinth, tulip, freesia, anemone and ranunculus will not bloom until the end of winter and early spring. They are spring bulbs or early bulbs. Crocus and daffodil, including the various narcissus, will be among the first to bloom. The others as well as a few types of iris will bloom a bit later. After they finish, summer bulbs will begin to bloom.

Although they will not bloom for a few months, spring bulbs go into the garden now while they are dormant. Visually, they are still unimpressive. They are even more uninteresting when hidden from view by interment. Their planting season appropriately begins prior to Halloween, and continues as long as they remain dormant and available from nurseries.

Spring bulbs generally bloom earlier within their bloom season after early planting within their planting season. Similarly, later planting delays bloom. Therefore, periodic planting of groups of the same bulbs throughout their planting seasons prolongs their subsequent bloom season. They begin to disperse roots and grow as soon as they are in the ground.

However, growth through the cool and rainy weather of winter remains subdued. Foliage should remain safely below the surface of the soil until warmer weather during the end of winter or beginning of spring. Like so many other plants in the garden, bulbs rely on chill to adjust their respective schedules after dormancy, but do not want to be vulnerable to it.

Winter is so mild here though that some spring bulbs do not experience sufficient chill to perform reliably as perennials. Daffodil, for example, can naturalize where it experiences more chill. Here, it may bloom best for its first spring, with less bloom annually afterward. Extensive breeding has also compromised the reliability of many perennial spring bulbs.

Some spring bulbs are actually corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots, which function much like bulbs. All are specialized storage structures that contain all that they require to survive through dormancy and then start growth for another season. They replenish their resources through subsequent active seasons to repeat the process perhaps indefinitely.

Spring Bulbs Begin In Autumn

Daffodil bloom is not in season, but their dormant bulbs will be soon.

Even before winter begins, it is time to plan for it to end. Bulbs (including corms, tubers, rhizomes and tuberous roots) of many of the earliest spring flowers that bloom while the weather is still cool late in winter should begin to get planted about now. They are still dormant and not all that impressive yet, but have already stored everything they need to be ready to bloom as soon as they think it is time. Since the weather will be getting cooler through autumn before it gets warmer at the end of winter, even the earliest blooming of spring bulbs will stay dormant for a while, and have quite a bit of time to slowly disperse roots before their foliage eventually peeks through the soil.

Bulbs planted later will likely bloom later, which is actually an advantage for ‘phasing’ bulbs. Like vegetables, bulbs can be planted in phases every two or three weeks, depending on the duration of the bloom cycle of the particular bulbs involved. As one group finishes blooming, the next group starts blooming. Bulbs become available when it is time for them to be planted, and generally remain available long enough for a few phases to get added later when convenient, although there is always the threat of particular varieties getting sold out later in the season.

Phasing is only effective in the first season, since bulbs get established after their first bloom cycle, and will subsequently be on the same schedule as all their friends of the same variety. Bearded iris, calla, anemone and rananculus are not conducive to phasing, but instead bloom at a particular time, regardless of when they were planted.

Narcissus, daffodil, grape hyacinth, bearded iris and classic white callas are the most reliable of spring bulbs, and the most likely to naturalize, although bearded iris and callas will probably bloom quite late in their first year. Crocus, freesia and harlequin flower are almost as easy to grow. Anemone, rananculus, hyacinth, lily, tulip and the small colorful callas are tempting, but are not as reliable after their first year because the seasons are so mild here.

Naked Lady

These naked ladies are not shy.

While so many flowers are finishing their bloom and leaving their drying foliage behind, naked lady, Amaryllis belladonna, is just beginning to bloom, naked of any foliage. Clusters of a few to several bright pink flowers stand on bare stems about two feet tall. Individual flowers are about two and a half to three and a half inches long, and resemble lily flowers. Foliage only appears after flowers deteriorate, and lasts only until weather gets warm late in spring. The strap shaped leaves are about a foot to a foot and a half long. Through summer, the two or three inch wide bulbs are dormant and bare, and seem to be dead with their tops visible at the soil surface, but retain fleshy roots below. They should therefore only be dug and divided if they get too crowded or need to be moved.

Delay Some Gardening Between Seasons

Plants are still going to seed.

For gardening, this is one of those in between times of year, when summer chores are under control, but it is a bit too early for much of the work that will need to be done in autumn. Automated watering systems have already been adjusted for the longest and warmest days of summer, so will only need to be adjusted the other way as days eventually get cooler and shorter. Growth of most plants slows; and some of the plants that will later be the earliest to show fall color begin to fade from bright green to paler green.

The last of the summer fruits should be gone, leaving the trees that produced them looking somewhat tired. The weight of large fruit, particularly peaches, might have pulled stems downward where they may now be obtrusive. Pruning a few minor stems should not be a problem. However, trees are still too vascularly active for major pruning. That needs to wait for dormant pruning while trees are bare in winter.

A few plants with sensitive bark are susceptible to sun scald if pruned to expose too much bark on interior stems while the sun is still high and warm. This is not so likely to be a problem if pruned during winter because the sun is lower and cooler, and foliage grows back before the following summer. Actually, that is why English walnut and various maples are able to defoliate during winter, even though their smooth bark needs to be shaded.

Pruning of plants that are potentially sensitive to frost should likewise be delayed. Otherwise, pruning is likely to stimulate development of tender new growth that will be even more sensitive to frost during winter. Besides, new growth develops slower this time of year, so plants look freshly pruned for a longer time than if pruned late in winter, just prior to spring.

Some types of pittosporum are more susceptible to disease if pruned in late summer or autumn because their open pruning wounds heal slowly and stay open to infection during rainy winter weather. However, slow recovery from pruning can be an advantage to formally shorn hedges that are not so sensitive to frost or disease, such as the various boxwoods, or glossy or wax privets. If shorn now, they might stay trim until spring.

The dried foliar remains of any summer bulbs that are finished blooming can now be plucked and disposed of. Gladiolus and montbretias that are still green can be deadheaded (pruned to remove deteriorated flower stalks), but should be allowed to turn completely brown before getting plucked. Watsonias are not so easy to pluck without also pulling up the bulbs, so should instead get their dried foliage pruned off.

Weeds outside of landscaped areas may not seem to be a problem, but many are now producing seed that gets blown into the garden. Even if such weeds do not need to be pulled, their flowers and seeding stalks should still be cut off and removed if possible.

Montbretia

Bright orange montbretia is quite reliable and resilient, but can easily become a weed if not groomed of fading flowers.

Once they get into the garden, montbretia, Crocosmia X crocosmiiflora, may never leave. They sometimes survive the demolition of their original garden to emerge and bloom in the garden of a new home built on the same site. Bulbs (actually corms) multiply surprisingly efficiently to form large colonies that should eventually be divided if they get too crowded to bloom. Ungroomed plants sow seeds that may be invasive.

The one or two inch wide flowers are almost always bright orange, but can sometimes be reddish orange, yellow or pale yellow. The branched flower stems are two or three feet tall or a bit taller, and stand nicely above the grassy foliage. The narrow leaves are about half and inch to an inch wide.

Six on Saturday: My First Allium!

Allium species have been somewhat elusive. I had seen only pictures of them from other gardens. By the time I finally decided to try them in my own garden, they were no longer available from local nurseries. When I found them online, there were too many cultivars to choose from. It was baffling. Tangly Cottage Gardening sorted it all out for me by giving me my first two, Allium schumbertii and Allium christophii. They are exquisite, and are now generating seed. I should have gotten better pictures of them while they were in the middle of bloom, rather than before and after bloom. Since there are only three pictures of them here, three pictures from work were added, for a total of Six on Saturday.

1. Robinia pseudoacacia, black locust, is a horrible weed. This one had been falling for a long time before it landed in this motorpool yard. At least it warned us to avoid damage.

2. Gunnera tinctoria, Chilean rhubarb, regenerates efficiently after winter dormancy. It was completely bare only a few weeks ago. It should get much grander through summer.

3. Lilium asiaticum, Asiatic lily, was a gift from a neighbor two winters ago. Its dormant bulbs were unimpressive at the time. They were splendid last year, and are more so now!

4. Allium schumbertii, Persian onion, is one of two species of Allium that were gifts from Tangly Cottage Gardening! This unfinished bloom was more than a foot and a half wide!

5. Allium schumbertii, Persian onion, is also known as tumbleweed onion because these seeded trusses break off to disperse seed as they tumble about the deserts they inhabit.

6. Allium christophii, star of Persia, is the other of the two species of Allium from Tangly Cottage Gardening. I hope that both species are reliably perennial, and their bulbs multiply.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Hyacinth

Hyacinth is both colorful and fragrant.

The most fragrant of flowers generally lack color. The most colorful of flowers generally lack fragrance. Most flowers employ either fragrance or color to attract pollinators, but not both. Hyacinth is an exception that is as colorful as it is fragrant. Bloom can be rich hues and tints of most colors except for green. The captivating fragrance is sweet and intense. 

Hyacinth are spring bulbs that are now finishing bloom, but are ready for planting during autumn. They require a bit of chill through winter, so must be dug and refrigerated for two months or so while dormant in milder climates. Dormant bulbs are plump and round, like small but toxic onions. They appreciate rich soil, regular irrigation, and a sunny situation. 

Bulbs generate only a few strap shaped and somewhat rubbery leaves during late winter prior to early spring bloom. These leaves resemble lily of the Nile leaves, but stay rather short, and may not flop. Hyacinth blooms with one or two short, stout and neatly cylindric trusses of several small flowers. Foliage lingers for only two or three months after bloom. Bulbs may not be reliably perennial.

Deadhead Spring Bulbs After Bloom

Most spring bulbs are done blooming.

Fruiting warm season vegetables that are now in season, such as squash, tomatoes and beans, are more abundant with regular harvest. Plants that produce such fruit respond to their natural obligation to generate seed. Deprivation of the fruit that contains their seed stimulates production of more. Similarly, it is helpful to deadhead some flowering plants.

Deadhead grooming is a type of pruning, even if it does not involve pruning shears. It is, in simple terms, the removal of deteriorating flowers after bloom. For some plants, it only improves aesthetic appeal. For many others, it redirects resources from seed production into subsequent bloom, or vegetative growth that eventually sustains subsequent bloom. 

Now that early spring bulbs are finishing bloom, it is time to deadhead them. Most bloom just once annually, so without the distraction of seed production, will prioritize vegetative growth into new bulbs to bloom for next year. Many of the summer bulbs that bloom later bloom more than once annually, so divert conserved resources into subsequent blooms.

However, many cultivars of spring bulbs are too extensively hybridized to produce viable seed. For them, deadhead grooming merely eliminates unappealingly deteriorated floral carcasses, while their foliage continues to sustain the development of new bulbs for next year. The foliage of most deteriorates slowly through warming spring or summer weather. 

Some extensively hybridized modern cultivars are not sterile though. Some can produce feral progeny that are less appealing than the hybrid parents, but are vigorous enough to displace them. Deadhead grooming eliminates most or all of the unwanted feral seed. Of course, for wild grape hyacinth and snowdrop, seed can be left to develop and disperse.

Established colonies of feral freesias can be allowed to make seed for more of the same. However, hybrid freesia benefits from deadhead grooming to eliminate feral seed. Dutch iris, narcissus, daffodil, tulip, hyacinth and lily can also benefit from deadhead grooming, for a variety of reasons. Some are sterile. Some are not. Some get shabby. Some do not.

Ranunculus

Ranunculus enjoys mild weather through spring.

If their strange tubers got into the garden last autumn, ranunculus should be blooming by now. Although their schedule suggests that they crave winter chill like other spring bulbs, they merely want to disperse their roots early. Then, they can bloom as winter ends, and continue until spring weather gets too warm for them. They mostly finish prior to summer. 

If tubers did not get into the garden earlier last autumn, young ranunculus plants become available from nurseries late in winter. Although generally a spring annual, tubers, which go dormant by summer, have potential to regenerate perennially for subsequent springs. Digging and storing tubers through most of their dormancy might improve their potential.

Ranunculus bloom can be pink, red, orange, yellow, purple, cream or white. Flowers are plump and neatly dense with many papery petals, like little peony flowers. They stand on sturdy stems about half a foot to a foot high. Their finely textured basal foliage resembles parsley, but with a lighter color. Dormant tubers are tufts of short, plump and woody roots.

Gladiolus

Gladiolus are still just dormant corms.

Although they will not bloom until summer or autumn, gladiolus are in season now. Their corms, which are like bulbs, are now available from nurseries, and are ready for planting. Unlike earlier spring bulbs, they need no chill, and should not generate new foliage until warmer spring weather. Corms prefer to be at least four inches deep, in sunny situations. 

The most popular and common gladiolus, Gladiolus X hortulanus, are hybrids of several species. They bloom more impressively than their simpler parents, but are not as reliably perennial. Most corms bloom for only a single season, although some within each group may bloom for a second season or more. Blooms can get heavy enough to need staking. 

Bloom can be bright or pastel hues of any color except true blue, perhaps combined with another related color. Individual florets are not large, but they share their floral stalks with several similar florets that bloom upward from the bottom. Long and pointed leaves stand upright, flaring only slightly to the left and right. The tallest gladiolus can get six feet high.