The dark bronze and variegated varieties of tree houseleek, Aeonium arboreum, are so much more popular than the simple species, that the simple species with plain green foliage is now rather rare. The succulent stems do not stand much more than three feet tall. They get about as broad, and can get even broader as lower stems develop roots and grow into new plants. The succulent rosettes of foliage of well watered plants can be fragile to handle. Mature plants can bloom in spring with unusual conical trusses of yellowish or chartreuse flowers.
It was easy to forget about spring bulbs after they went into the ground so unceremoniously last autumn. They got buried without so much as proper funerals. Cool season annuals got planted over the grave sites of some, just because bare soil is not much to look at. They stayed silent out in the garden through the cool and rainy winter weather. It might have seemed like the perfect crime.
Now they are back. Daffodil, narcissus, crocus and snowdrop might already be blooming. If not, they are at least extending their vertical foliage. Tulip will be right after them. Spring bulbs tend to bloom in very early spring or late winter here, just in time to remind us that there are even more bulbs and bulb like perennials to plant. This is the time of year for planting summer blooming bulbs.
As the name implies, summer blooming bulbs bloom later than spring blooming bulbs. They also get planted later. Unlike spring bulbs, they do not enjoy winter in the garden. (Most spring bulbs are chilled before sale, but would otherwise need winter chill to bloom in spring.) In fact, some summer bulbs are sensitive to frost if they start to grow too early. Types that bloom only once can be planted late to extend bloom, but will need to be watered more carefully after the rain stops.
Dahlia, canna and the old fashioned big white calla are the easiest of summer bulbs. Happy dahlias can last for years, and can be divided if they get big enough. Cannas are even more reliable and more prolific. Big white callas are slow to get started, but can be difficult to contain of once they get established. However, the smaller colorful types are quite demanding, and not so reliable.
Gladiolus and the various lilies are among the most impressive of summer bulbs, but they bloom only once annually, and if not grown in ideal conditions, are unlikely to bloom more than once ever. Lilies want to be watered and fertilized regularly, and grown in rich potting medium. Gladiolus bulbs are typically planted in groups, but only a few in each group will likely regenerate after bloom.
Like a timely sequel, bulbs are back. Spring blooming bulbs were available in nurseries earlier, so that they could get planted and disperse their roots through winter, and get ready for their early bloom. Since then, Christmas trees came and went as they were replaced by bare root stock. Now that bare root stock is selling, summer blooming bulbs are arriving for late winter planting.
Summer bulbs are not on the same schedule as spring bulbs. Most of the earliest spring bulb bloom while their foliage is still developing. A few daffodil, grape hyacinth and crocus are already blooming prematurely. Summer bulbs start to grow a bit later and grow a bit slower, and then bloom only after their foliage has matured. Some may not bloom until late summer or early autumn.
There are a few similarities between spring and summer bulbs though. Both groups include plants that develop corms, rhizomes, tubers or tuberous roots instead of bulbs. All are known as ‘bubs’ for convenience. Although very different physiologically, they all function about the same way, by storing resources through dormancy so that they can regenerate within their particular season.
Another similarity is that after spring and summer bulbs bloom, and their spent flowers get pruned away, their foliage should remain until it withers. This foliage is what sustains the bulbs below while they replenish resources to survive through the next dormancy. (Actually, most bulbs replace themselves with new bulbs.) This foliage will want water and fertilizer like any other perennial.
Unfortunately, even with regular watering and fertilizing, the most popular spring and summer bulbs are not really as reliably perennial as they are purported to be. Except for the few types that thrive and naturalize like daffodils (spring) and crocosmia (summer), most bloom very impressively only in their first year, and then bloom meagerly in their second year, if they bloom again at all.
Crocosmia, dahlia, hardy orchid (Bletilla), canna and classic big white calla are the most reliable summer bulbs. Smaller colorful callas are not as easy, but are worth trying. Gladiolus, tuberous begonia and the various lilies are so spectacular that no one minds if they bloom only for one summer. Astilbe, liatris and various alliums work nicely behind where summer annuals will go later.
This link is to the original post to ‘Six on Saturday’ that was about the four dozen or so Gladiolus papilio bulbs that the author of Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal sent to me at the end of last October.
I tried to not get too eager about these new bulbs. I sort of watched their site shortly after planting them, just to make sure they were safe. Once they were planted, nothing else was done there. There was a bit of frost just to let them know what time of year it is. The rain has been soaking the ground for them.
More recently, I noticed that some of the spring bulbs, particularly narcissus, are blooming elsewhere. Daffodils with bigger flowers are just about to bloom. Even though I know that the summer bulbs bloom a season later, I also know that, their foliage starts to develop quite some time before bloom. They are not as fast as spring bulbs, so their foliage may appear months before ultimate bloom in summer. Again, I was trying to not get too excited.
Then on Friday, I needed to remove some licorice plant from the opposite end of the same big bed that the Gladiolus papilio is in. I did not go out of my way, but hey, while there, I went over to just make sure there were no problems where the the bulbs are at. I really did not expect to find these two shoots. They are emerging from bulbs at opposite ends of the row of the five groups of bulbs described in the earlier article. They look like small shoots of common gladiola, like those that emerge from the tiny cormlets that develop next to larger corms, which is exactly what I was expecting them to look like.
The softest and laciest of the asparagus is the asparagus fern, Asparagus setaceus. The extremely small ‘leaves’ (or ‘cladodes’) are less than a quarter of an inch long. The tiny and mostly unnoticed pale white flowers that bloom sporadically in warm weather make it obvious that asparagus fern is not really a fern. (Ferns do not bloom.) If any green berries develop, they are toxic.
The wiry perennial stems can climb like vines to almost reach upstairs eaves, although most get less than half as high. Individual plants produce only a few stems, rarely more than ten. Pruning out old deteriorating stems stimulates new growth. Potted asparagus fern eventually gets crowded with swollen roots, so needs to graduate to larger pots. As a houseplant, it needs regular watering.
It seems like not so long ago when the only African daisy that was commonly available was the trailing African daisy that makes such a nice relaxed ground cover for small spaces. The simple white flowers have navy blue centers, and are occasionally joined by mutant light purple flowers. The cultivar that blooms only in light purple was not as popular. Things have certainly changed!
African daisies, Osteospermum, have been bred and hybridized so extensively that most of the modern cultivars are not categorized by specie, so are known by their cultivar names. Most are likely related to Osteospermum ecklonis, which was the first of the shrubby specie to become popular. Although often grown as cool season annuals, African daisies are short term perennials.
Flowers can be various pastel hues of purple, pink, orange, yellow or white. Bloom can be profuse in random phases, and sporadic bloom is almost continuous between early spring and late autumn. It is only postponed by the coolest winter weather and the warmest summer weather. Mature plants can get a bit more than two feet high and wide. They want full sun and regular watering.
Dilemmas are common in gardening. Should summer vegetables that are still producing be removed so that winter vegetables can get started on time? What about replacing summer annuals that are still blooming with winter annuals, and then replacing winter annuals with summer annuals half a year later? Should tender perennials be regarded as annuals, or get a second chance?
Right now, some perennials are looking tired. Many will be going dormant for winter. Many do not get much down time, and will start to develop new growth faster than old growth deteriorates. Not many make their intentions obvious. Deciding how to work with them can be confusing at times. It might take a few years and a few mistakes to get familiar with the habits and lifestyles of some.
If cut back too early, hardy zonal geraniums will not regenerate much until the weather gets warmer at the end of winter. In the interim, they are more likely to be killed by frost without the protection provided by old growth However, some varieties start to grow in winter. If not cut back soon enough, new growth mingles with old, so that they are difficult to separate when they do get cut back.
It is best to observe what hardy geraniums are up to before deciding on when to prune. If they start to develop vigorous new growth down near the ground, the old growth should probably be cut down as far as the new growth. It is likely better to take a chance that they might be damaged by frost. Those that do not start to grow right away can enjoy the insulation of old foliage for a while.
Thoroughly deciduous perennials, like deciduous daylilies, dahlias and some ferns, can be groomed of their deteriorated old growth without risk that they will start to regenerate new growth prematurely. However, cutting back some specie of salvia might actually stimulate development of exposed and frost sensitive new growth. Perennials that get damaged by frost later In winter should not be groomed of damaged growth right away. The damaged material provides a bit of insulation for lower growth, particularly if new growth was stimulated by the damage.
This is not as simple as it looks. It is something of a guessing game for me. I am rather certain that #1 and #2 are identified correctly. I am not so certain about #3 and #5. The name of #4 is merely a guess. #6 is the only one that I know the name of for certain, although the name that I know it as is now outdated.
The lack of a species name for the two species of Sedum #1 and #2 seems like a cop out to me. I might have discussed it in one of my Wednesday rants, or will do so soon enough. All species should be described as a ‘species’, not merely as a genus with a cultivar name tossed in as if it adequately designates the identity. I sometimes write about how the nomenclature of plants is like that of cars. Both plants and cars are distinguished by genus AND species, with some specie divided into separate cultivars and varieties. (Cultivars are merely ‘cultivated varieties’.) Depriving a plant of a species name is like describing a car as a Buick ‘Convertible’, or a Chrysler ‘Sedan’. There is a big difference between a convertible Electra and a convertible Skylark, although both are Buicks. There is also a big difference between an Imperial sedan and a LeBaron sedan, although both are Chryslers. I may not have identified the two Sedum with their correct names, but even their correct names are not very correct anyway.
Echeveria glauca #3 seems too simple. Shouldn’t it have a cultivar name too? I really do not know. I really do not even know what species it is.
The same goes for Graptopetalum paraguayense #4. Really, I do not even know what genus it is. This is merely a guess. How embarrassing.
Aloe brevifolia #5 has a different issue with its name. It seems that all aloes are known simply as Aloe vera, even though not many of us would recognize Aloe vera if we actually saw it. This makes it easier to identify unknown aloes, but complicates the identification of familiar aloes.
Then there is the easily identifiable Bulbine caulescens #6. Seriously, I recognize it, but somehow, the name got changed. The first name is how I know it. The second name is the newer correct name.
1. Sedum ‘Angelina’
2. Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’
3. Echeveria glauca
4. Graptopetalum paraguayense
5. Aloe brevifolia
6. Bulbine caulescens or Bulbine frutescens
This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:
Here it is, three quarters of the way through November, and this Japanese anemone, Anemone hupehensis or Anemone X hybrida, is finally finishing bloom. It should have finished a month ago, but does not always stay on schedule here. Each cultivar exhibits a distinct responsiveness to the seasons, so others finished a while ago. The deciduous foliage will eventually succumb to frost.
Once they get going in a spot that they like, Japanese anemone slowly spread. Although not considered to be invasive, they can be difficult to get rid of if they creep into spots where they are not wanted. Because they bloom so late in summer and autumn, they get divided in spring. Even old colonies may never need to be divided, but can be divided if more plants are desired elsewhere.
The elegance of the foot high foliage seems contrary to its woodsy and unrefined compatibility with taller shrubbery and small trees, like rhododendrons, Japanese maples and hydrangeas. It is an excellent seasonal understory. The limber stems of the white or pale pink flowers get about twice as high as the foliage. The one and a half to two inch wide flowers are either single or double.
Japanese anemone wants rich soil, partial shade and regular watering. It can be happy in full sun exposure if it does not get too warm and dry.
Autumn is for more than planting. It is when most of the aggressive pruning gets stared. It might be the best time to work with compost and conditioning the soil. Bulbs get planted. Gutters get cleaned. Leaves get raked. Perennials get groomed. We might think of it as a time of slowing down after such a busy summer, but in many gardens, autumn is just as busy with seasonal chores.
Autumn is when many of the spring, and some of the early summer, blooming perennials get divided. That means that they get dug up, split into smaller parts, and then replanted. Because there will be more smaller plants after the process than there were bigger plants before the process, some should get planted over a larger area, in other parts of the landscape, or shared with friends.
Not all perennials need to be divided annually, and some may never need to be divided at all. Perennials that bloom in autumn or winter, such as Japanese anemone and bergenia, get divided in spring, since they will have plenty of time to recover from the process to bloom on schedule. Black-eyed Susan does not likely care if it gets crowded, but can get divided simply for propagation.
Lily-of-the-Nile should be divided if it gets too crowded to bloom well. Division allows more room for the individual shoots to grow and bloom as they should. However, because it takes a while for newly divided shoots to recover, they should only be divided every few years or so, and only if they happen to be getting crowded. African iris gets divided if overgrown plants are looking shabby.
It is not always necessary to dig entire plants. If dividing New Zealand flax just for propagation, it is easier to pry the desired number of side shoots from a mature clump, without digging the main part of the clump. Agave pups might be (very carefully) pried off of larger rosettes just to keep the main rosettes neat. Black-eyed Susan and other deciduous perennials get divided while bare.