African Daisy

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African daisy excels as bulb cover.

They are more than just shrubbier and more colorful versions of the formerly stigmatized trailing African daisy. Modern African daisies are actually various hybrids of several other species. Extensive breeding complicated their lineages enough for them to be known by cultivar names rather than by species names. To one degree or another, most are probably related to Osteospermum ecklonis.

These fancier modern hybrids of African daisy grow as annuals in harsher climates. If planted just after the last frost date, they bloom splendidly for early spring, and continue to bloom sporadically through summer. If they grow and bloom a bit too well, they may like to be trimmed back to bloom some more. Locally, they persist through winter as short term perennials, to bloom as winter ends.

Bloom provides pastel hues of yellow, orange, pink, ruddy pink, lavender, purple or white. Early spring bloom is most profuse, particularly for fluffy plants that were not trimmed back over winter. The biggest sprawling plants should get trimmed back after bloom. Subsequent sporadic bloom, mixed with random profuse phases, is inhibited only by warm summer weather and cool winter weather.

African daisy wants full sun and regular watering. Mature plants get about two feet deep and broad. If pressed into the soil, outer stems can develop roots to grow as new plants, as the original dies.

Deadhead To Eliminate Fading Bloom

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Deadhead finished daffodils to conserve resources.

The need to deadhead so early in spring is one of the few minor consequences of spring bulbs. Long before it becomes necessary to deadhead zinnia, canna and rose, the first flowers to bloom as winter ends are already finished. Many are those of spring bulbs. Their lingering deteriorating bloom can be slightly unappealing. What is more of a concern, is that some will likely try to go to seed.

The process of producing unwanted seed consumes resources that could otherwise sustain more useful growth. However, for spring bulbs that have finished blooming, production of seed for a new generation is more important than their own survival. That is why it is helpful to deadhead bulbs and many other plants after bloom. If deprived of seed production, they divert resources elsewhere.

Deadheaded narcissus, daffodil, freesia, lily and tulip store more resources into new bulbs, which they generate to bloom next year. Snowdrop and grape hyacinth cultivars that get deadheaded are not likely to get overwhelmed by their own feral seedlings. (It is neither practical nor necessary to deadhead crocus or big naturalized colonies of snowflake, feral snowdrop or feral grape hyacinth.)

While it is important to deadhead most spring bulbs after bloom, it is also important to not remove deteriorating foliage prematurely. After all, the foliage produces the resources that are necessary to generate healthy new bulbs for next year. Such foliage starts to slowly deteriorate immediately after bloom, but may linger for many months. Bulbs will shed their foliage when they no longer need it.

Until then, bedding plants or low perennials can obscure deteriorating bulb foliage as it falls over. Trailing gazania and dwarf periwinkle work nicely for shorter bulbs. If they get shorn low for winter, trailing plumbago, common periwinkle and African daisy can work nicely for taller bulbs.

Overworked Plants May Recover Slowly

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Some potted plants are real overachievers.

Landscaping and growing houseplants really is no way to bring nature closer to home. If it were up to nature, most of our gardens would be relatively bare. Most of the few native trees are less than ideal for home gardens. The few native annuals and perennials with colorful flowers bloom only briefly. Almost all native shrubbery is scrubby and not conducive to pruning. After all, most of us live in what would naturally be coastal chaparral.

This is why home gardens contain so many exotic plants from so many different climates and regions all over the world. These plants get pruned, shorn and mown in all sorts of unnatural ways. Most do better if watered unnaturally through naturally dry summer weather. Many crave unnatural fertilizer. Houseplants and a few others are confined to pots so that roots can not disperse like they want to.

Potted plants that are forced into bloom to decorate home interiors are the most unnatural of all. They are among the most extensively bred of plants. They are grown in contrived environments that coerce them to bloom whenever their blooms are needed. Poinsettias, lilies, azaleas, hydrangeas, kalanchoes, callas, miniature roses, chrysanthemums and some orchids are the more familiar of these sorts of plants.

They are certainly colorful by the time they leave the greenhouses they were grown in. By the time they come home, they are in the middle of full bloom. There is no work to get them to bloom. The work is in keeping blooms as healthy and as colorful as possible, for as long as possible. Most of these plants only want to be watered regularly, and are happy to keep their color for quite a while.

By the time they want fertilizer, blooming potted plants will have finished blooming. Sadly, at that time, most get discarded instead. Realistically though, such systematically abused plants can be rather ugly as they replace their greenhouse foliage with foliage that is better adapted to the garden. The process of forcing them into bloom is just too unnatural and difficult to recover from easily.

Yet, with enough patience and pampering, most blooming potted plants should eventually recover and adapt to a garden lifestyle. Lilies, callas and other bulb-like plants should be put aside in the garden while their foliage fades and eventually separates from the bulbs. The dormant bulbs can then be planted and allowed to grow into their new environments.

Canna

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Cannas are just dormant rhizomes now.

It is difficult to document the lineages of the countless modern garden varieties that have been hybridized from ten species of Canna. Straight species that are popularly grown within their native ranges are rare here. Some species are grown for their thick edible rhizomes. Many are grown for edible foliage. Some are employed to absorb toxins from contaminated riparian environments.

Garden varieties that are popular here are grown merely for their aesthetic appeal. The lushly big leaves are typically rich green, but might be bronzed, dark purplish bronze, or striped with yellow, bronze, creamy white or peachy pink. Large varieties get taller than eight feet. Compact types stay less than three feet tall. All foliage dies to the ground after frost, and grows back fast in spring.

The flashiest parts of canna flowers are actually very specialized stamens known as staminodes, which mostly obscure the very subdued petals and sepals. Red, orange, yellow, pink, salmon or very pale yellowish white bloom may be spotted or blotched. Flowers might be thin and wispy, or rather floppy and lush. Canna are popularly known as canna lilies, but are not at all related to lilies.

Bulb-Like Perennials For Summer

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Dahlias planted now bloom in summer.

Like something of bad science fiction, they are back. The earliest of spring bulbs that were so discourteously buried in shallow graves last autumn are making their presence known. Even before the weather gets noticeably warmer, their foliage emerges above the surface of the soil. Daffodil, narcissus, crocus and snowdrop are already blooming. Hyacinth, tulip and anemone will be next.

We know them as spring bulbs, or alternatively, as hardy bulbs. However, in this climate, many bloom through late winter, so are finished by spring. Also, many are technically not really bulbs. They might be corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots. They are hardy bulbs because they want to be planted through autumn so that they can get a bit of chill through winter before their early bloom.

Some spring bulbs require a bit more of a chill than they get in the locally mild climate. They bloom very well in their first season because they are pre-chilled before they are sold. Once dormant, they get dug and chilled in refrigeration to entice them to bloom well for subsequent seasons. That happens much later in the year though. For now, long before spring, we get to enjoy their bloom.

Summer bulbs, which are not so hardy, are what gets planted about now. Their planting is delayed, not just because they do not need chill, but also because they dislike it. If their foliage develops too early, it can be damaged by late frost. Once established, summer bulbs are more resilient to minor frost damage of premature foliage. They can therefore remain in the garden for many years.

Canna, dahlia and big old fashioned white calla are the simplest of summer bulb-like perennials to plant now. Those that are already established can be divided if crowded. The smaller and more colorful callas can be a bit more finicky. Gladiolus and various lilies are spectacular, but bloom only once annually, rather than throughout summer. They are also unlikely to establish as perennials.

Bulb-like perennials that bloom only once might be planted in phases to prolong their potentially brief bloom season.

Corm-ucopia

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Is this part of the secret to their success?

Montbretia showed up here several years ago. Of course, it did not take long for it to get very established. It is too shady for bloom, but not shady enough to inhibit vegetative proliferation. Those nasty stolons get everywhere, and grow into corms. They are so aggressive that they exclude English ivy! Seriously, they are the only species we know that can crowd out English ivy!

Some consider Montbretia to be the the genus name. Some consider it to be a common name for the genus of Crocosmia, or for a particular intergeneric hybrid. What is now so aggressively naturalized here might be Crocosmia paniculata. I really do not know. The few rare and sporadic blooms look like what I am familiar with in other landscapes, with branched inflorescences.

Now, I am aware of how aggressive their stolons are, and that their stolons swell into corms when they get to where they are going. I also know the physiology of simple corms, and that new replacement corms develop on top of old deteriorating corms. They might extend a few more stolons in the process, or put out a litter of cormels off to the side, but their technique is limited.

Well, it should be.

The technique demonstrated by this picture is weird. It seems to show a series of corms from the last twelve years. That makes sense if one corm replaces a previous corm annually. Longer accumulations can be found in older colonies. However, montbretia infested this landscape less than a decade ago, and took a few more years to disperse where these corms were unearthed.

Furthermore, after a decade, the oldest corms should be rotten and decomposed. Except for the stunted four year old corm, those that developed in the last six years seem to be suspiciously fresh.

These Bulbs Are Not Incandescent

41015thumbIt may seem to be too early to be concerned with narcissus, daffodil and grape hyacinth, but this is when their bulbs go into the garden. Once established, these familiar examples, as well as early bearded iris, can be the most reliable for colorful bloom at about the same time early each spring. Crocus and freesia bloom just as early, but may not naturalize as reliably. Lily, tulip, hyacinth, anemone and ranunculus really prefer cooler winters to bloom reliably after their first spring, even though they are worth growing for just one season.

Bulbs, including corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots, can be found in nurseries when it is time for them to be planted. Gladiolus are not yet available only because they are summer blooming bulbs that should be planted a bit later than spring bulbs. None of the bulbs are much to look at while dormant, and are even less impressive once they get buried out of sight, but they have already stored up everything they need for the blooms that we expect from them next year. Once hidden below the surface of the soil, seemingly dormant bulbs secretly disperse their roots into the surrounding cool and moist soil to be ready to bloom as soon as weather allows.

In their first year, some bulbs can be planted in groups at different times to coincide with the expected durations of their particular bloom cycles. For example, if the flowers of a particular type of bulb can be expected to last two weeks, a second phase of the same bulbs can be planted two weeks after the first phase. As the first phase finishes bloom next spring, the second phase should begin bloom. However, phasing is only effective for the first season, since all bulbs of any particular variety will be synchronized by their second season.

Anemone, ranunculus and bearded iris each bloom synchronously, regardless of when they get planted, so are immune to phasing. Fortunately, the many varieties of bearded iris have different bloom seasons. Some bloom as early as narcissus. Mid-season varieties bloom shortly afterward, and are followed by late varieties. Some modern varieties bloom early, and then again after the late varieties!

Spring Bulbs Get Planted Now

91023thumbTo those who do not enjoy gardening, the process of planting dormant bulbs must seem to be blatantly unproductive. Those of us who know what we are doing are so dutiful to select the bulbs we want, only to bury them in shallow graves in the garden, with nothing to show for all the effort. Knowing that the bulbs are buried at specific depths and orientations makes them no more exciting.

Only cool season annuals that might get overplanted after the bulbs get tucked in will provide any degree of color between now and when the freshly planted bulbs bloom early next spring. Light mulch might be added in conjunction with the overplanted annuals. Thicker mulch can be added without overplanted annuals. Otherwise, there is no immediate gratification with bulbs planted now.

We plant them because we know what they will do next spring. After their boring dormancy, spring bulbs will provide the most spectacular blooms in the garden as winter becomes spring. As they finish, summer bulbs that we might plant a bit later will continue through summer, with the latest continuing into about this time next year. There are no annual bedding plants that do what bulbs do.

Dormant bulbs become available in nurseries when it is time to plant them. Right now, it is time for the early spring bulbs like daffodil, narcissus, tulip, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, freesia, anemone, ranunculus, montbretia, crocosmia, crocus, most lily and some types of iris. We should get them into the garden soon so that they can slowly disperse their roots through the cool and rainy winter.

Summer bulbs such as gladiola, dahlia, allium, calla and canna, will become available later because they should probably be planted later. Although some might not mind getting planted early, a few, such as dahlia and canna, would likely be damaged by frost if they started to grow too early. Many of the summer bulbs bloom through a long season, rather than just once for a brief season.

Bulbs and bulb-like plants that bloom only once can be planted in phases every week or two through their season in order to prolong bloom.

Naked Lady Amaryllis

90821From formerly dormant bulbs just below where their foliage shriveled in the warmth of last spring, the naked brown floral stalks of naked lady, Amaryllis belladonna, grow fast to about two feet tall. They bloom suddenly with a few or several garish pink lily flowers about three inches long. They are sneaky about it too. Without foliage, and prior to flashy bloom, the bare stalks are easy to miss.

Even though individual flowers do not last long, the collective bloom lingers a bit longer as newer flowers bloom to replace those that bloomed slightly earlier on the same stalks. They are nice as cut flowers. The minimal floral fragrance is usually unnoticed, so can be a surprise if the weather happens to be conducive to the dispersion of the light fragrance of exceptionally abundant bloom.

Foliage does not regenerate until after bloom, and should wait until after the first rain of autumn. Where winters are colder, it waits until early spring, only to die back before summer. The long strap shaped leaves resemble those of lily-of-the-Nile, but are a bit softer. If ruined by frost, they try again. The tops of the two or three inch wide bulbs are visible at the surface of the soil while dormant.

See Anemone

P90414This really is something that I did not expect to see. It may not look like much. It is just a raspy anemone with bites taken out of it, blooming later than it should. What is so impressive about it is that it was not planted here last year. It was planted during the previous year, then bloomed on time last year, and then died back like anemones normally do. I did not plant it, of course. It is in a planter where volunteers contribute whatever they like.
In case you are wondering why I am writing about it as if I did not expect it to bloom again, I didn’t. For whatever reason, anemones typically bloom well only once here, in their first season after they get planted. They may produce foliage for the following season, or maybe even several seasons, but very rarely bloom again. It annoys me that they are even sold locally. Nurseries should no better than to sell bulbs that do not perform well here.
I have always believed that anemones, like a few other types of bulbs, do not get enough chill in winter to bloom again. This is a rather mild climate. There are certain cultivars of apple that do well where winters are cooler that would be dissatisfied with the minimal chill they would get here. (Incidentally, this last winter was not unusually cold.)
There is also the possibility that anemones can not maintain their foliage long enough through the arid spring and summer weather to sufficiently regenerate their resources to bloom again. The foliage begins to appear in conjunction with bloom, then grows more as bloom finishes, but then dies back as the weather gets warm in spring and summer. The weather is not hot here, but it is rather arid.