These Bulbs Are Not Incandescent

Bulbs do not look too impressive.

It 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 Begin In Autumn

Spring bulbs bloom months from now.

Spring bulbs lack immediate gratification. They will, of course, justify their habitation of the garden as they bloom next spring. For now, they are not much to look at, and do not stay visible for long. While dormant, they poses neither foliage nor significant roots. Most look something like small and disfigured onions. Burial in shallow graves conceals their uninteresting exteriors through winter.

Cool season bedding plants can effectively obscure the otherwise bare soil over the grave sites of some types of bulbs. Mulch might be best for those that should start to grow immediately or that will develop an abundance of foliage. While plants above them may need watering until the rainy season begins, dormant spring bulbs need no more attention. They disperse roots through winter.

Spring bulbs, including corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots, are oblivious to the discomforts of transplant while dormant. However, they want to wake from their dormancy in situations that are conducive to normal development and bloom. Some prefer shallow planting. Others require significant depth for stability. Most but not all spring bulbs perform best in small groups or colonies.

Narcissus, daffodil and crocus are the first spring bulbs to bloom as winter ends, or even earlier. Tulip, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, freesia, anemone, ranunculus and some types of iris bloom shortly afterward. Late iris, lily and montbretia bloom later, and some types are considered to be summer bulbs. Spring bulbs become available in nurseries while seasonable. Summer bulbs arrive later.

Most spring bulbs bloom only once. Plaiting them in phases a few weeks apart within their respective seasons can prolong bloom. Each subsequent phase begins bloom as the preceding phase finishes. However, narcissus, daffodil, grape hyacinth and others that can naturalize will bloom simultaneously after their first season. Most spring bulbs unfortunately do not naturalize reliably here.

Gladiolus and allium are summer bulbs that bloom once. Calla, canna and dahlia bloom through summer.

Bugle Lily

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Bugle lilies are like lean gladioli.

It would be accurate to guess that bugle lily, Watsonia pyramidata, is related to gladiola. It is not as impressive as gladiola is, but it is much more reliable. The relatively simple blooms become more abundant as bulbs multiply each year. Conversely, after blooming so flamboyantly in their first year, only a few gladiola bloom for a second year.

New bugle lily bulbs (corms) that were planted early last autumn grew through winter to bloom about now, in white and pastel hues of pink, rosy pink, lavender, orange and almost red. The small flowers are neatly arranged on narrow floral spikes that stand about three or four feet tall. The upright and narrow leaves get only about two or three feet tall.

After bloom, foliage slowly browns through warming summer weather, so should be cut to the ground when it becomes unsightly. While bulbs are dormant through summer, they do not need to be watered much, and can rot if soil stays too damp. Crowded colonies of bulbs can be divided and spread around as summer ends.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ranunculus

90403Their little tufts of tuberous roots that were buried late last year were not much to look at. They were more like bits of dried and shriveled sea anemone than something that would grow and bloom with fluffy anemone like flowers. Ranunculus do not bloom as prolifically as related anemones, but they do so with different colors and bulkier flowers that seem crowded with too many thin petals.

Ranunculus like what so many flowering annuals like. They want rich soil, regular watering, full sun exposure, and perhaps a bit of fertilizer. They start blooming early in spring, and can continue blooming with multiple flowers a bit longer than other early spring bulbs that bloom only once. They finish bloom as the weather gets warm, and their handsome parsley like foliage starts to yellow.

Ranunculus are probably best mixed with other perennials and annuals that will compensate for them as they go dormant later in spring. They can alternatively be grown in a cutting garden just for cut flowers. Mature plants are less than a foot tall and wide, even if the flowers stand slightly taller. The full and symmetrical flowers can be various hues of white, pink, red, orange, yellow or purple.

What Bulbs Do After Bloom

90403thumbNarcissus, daffodil, freesia, snowdrop, snowflake, grape hyacinth, various iris and most other early spring blooming bulbs and bulb like plants should be perennials. We plant them with the hope that the will survive after bloom to bloom for another season, and perhaps for many seasons. Some should multiply to provide more bloom over the years. Bloom is just part of their annual cycle.

Lily, crocus, hyacinth, tulip, anemone and ranunculus are not nearly as likely to bloom more than one year for a variety of reasons. Some prefer more chill in winter. Some dislike the long and dry summers. Some survive as perennials, but do not bloom again. However, in some special situations, they also can bloom annually. After spring bulbs, there will be a different set of summer bulbs.

So, what happens after bloom? After exhausting much of their stored resources on production of bloom and foliage, bulbs try to recover and regenerate resources for the following season. Most work to replace their exhausted bulbs with comparable new bulbs. They need foliage to do this, but eventually shed their foliage as their new bulbs go dormant for the following autumn and winter.

Of course, they all do this at different rates. Some smaller bulbs are surprisingly efficient, and shed their foliage as soon as the weather gets warm later in spring. It is amazing that they can store up so much in such a minimal time. Other bulbs shed slowly, as their deteriorating foliage lingers for a few weeks into summer. Foliage of summer bulbs that bloom later is likely to linger until frost.

Because it is essential to the regenerative process, deteriorating foliage can not be cut back prematurely. It is not always easy to hide either. In mixed plantings, it might be obscured by ground cover or other plants. Alternatively, warm season annuals can be planted over the area. Some of us braid daffodil leaves, but others believe that braids draw attention to the deteriorating foliage.

Those of us who still dig and store and perhaps chill marginal bulbs, must wait for complete dormancy.