Autumn Is For Planting – Especially Bulbs

81024thumbAutumn is for planting. Cliche? Yes; but true. Autumn is when most plants are beginning dormancy, and are therefore not so bothered by the discomforts associated with transplant. The weather is cooler and wetter, so that even if they are bothered, such discomforts are not as discomforting as they would be in summer. Once in the ground, plants have a few months to recover before spring.

The two main exceptions to the rule that ‘autumn is for planting’ are plants that are sensitive to frost, and bare root plants. Plants that are sensitive to frost should obviously be planted after the last frost date, at the far end of winter. Bare roots plants do not wait that long, but should wait until they are completely dormant in mid winter before being dug, separated from their soil, and relocated.

Dormant bulbs and bulb like plants, including corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots, epitomize the autumn planting rule. They must be planted while dormant in autumn or winter. They arrive in nurseries about the same time that they should be planted into the garden. Spring blooming bulbs become available and should be planted earliest. Summer bulbs become available a bit later.

Daffodil, narcissus, tulip, crocus, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, freesia, anemone, ranunculus, montbretia, crocosmia, most lily and some types of iris will all want to get into the ground when the rain starts. Rain leaching through the soil around them, as well as cooler temperatures through winter, tell them what time of year it is, so that they will be ready to bloom when weather warms in spring.

Each type of bulb prefers to be planted at a particular depth. Bearded iris rhizomes want to be buried horizontally, just below the soil surface. As long as the latest get planted within their respective planting season, some types of bulbs can be planted in phases every week or two, so that a later phase starts to bloom as an earlier phase finishes. Daffodil, narcissus and especially grape hyacinth have the potential to naturalize and bloom annually. Montbretia and crocosmia can be downright invasive.

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Look What The River Washed In!

P80224KWhat is it?!?

Is it alive?

Was it alive?

Is it moving?

Should we roll it back into the river?

Can we eat it? Someone actually asked that.

It really is as big and ugly as it looks. That is a size 11 boot next to it to demonstrate how big it is. We can not eat it. There is no need to put it back into the river. It is not moving. It was alive, and still is. It is the distended tuberous root of a wild cucumber, of the genus Marah, which is also known as ‘manroot’ because of how big it can get. That stub protruding from the top (toward the top of the picture) is the remnant of a stem. A few thin roots protrude from the lower half, with thicker root stubs at the bottom.

This picture was taken last winter after the San Lorenzo River flooded and then receded. There has not been enough rain this year to wash more than leaves and a few pinecones downriver.

If this tuberous root had not been unearthed and scoured clean by floodwater, it would have been actively growing through winter. The surprisingly thin and wiry vines appear in autumn and climb with tendrils over shrubbery and small trees. The palmately lobed leaves are rather fragile, and tear easily. Loose clusters of small pale white flowers are followed by weirdly spiny round fruit that ripens from light green to greenish yellow. Each fruit is about the size of a golf ball, and contains a few big seeds. As the weather gets warm in summer, the vines die completely to the ground, leaving the drying fruit dangling from whatever the vines grew onto earlier.

Why can’t the river bring us something useful?