Tag Archive | tubers

Spring Bulbs

We’ve been blessed with some fairly warm weather for this late in the year, and I suddenly remembered that I haven’t put my bulbs into the ground yet! Project for tomorrow!

RX-DK-HTG04001_spring-bulbs_s4x3_lgFlowering bulbs are one of the brightest spots of spring when you live in the north and enjoy a long winter. Such a dazzling display arising from such homely beginnings is truly miraculous. A minimal amount of time, effort, and money in the fall is rewarded spring after spring with a spectacular tapestry of color, texture, and fragrance.

In addition to true bulbs (daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and lilies), this plant category includes corms (crocuses and gladioli), tubers (begonias, anemones, and cyclamens), tuberous roots (dahlias and foxtail lilies), and rhizomes (irises and trilliums). When selecting bulbs, choose those that are big, firm, and plump — generally the bigger the bulb the bigger the bloom. Avoid bulbs that are soft or have moldy spots.flower-bulbs-494399_960_720

When planting, choose a spot with rich, sandy, well-drained soil that is easily viewed from your window and plant bulbs in abundance, en masse, and in natural free-form drifts. Prepare the ground by digging a wide trench and working in compost or leaf mold. A good rule of thumb is to plant the bulbs three times as deep as they are high. Remember that anything too studied looks artificial – then throw caution to the wind and toss a handful of bulbs up in the air. Plant them, root-end-down, wherever they land. This landscaping method is a great stress-buster, and you will be pleased with the results of your no-design-is-the-best strategy.

87701Or, use a bulb planter to make 6- to 8-inch holes for large bulbs, and 2- to 4-inch holes for smaller bulb species. Space small bulbs 3 to 4 inches apart and large bulbs 5 to 6 inches apart. Topdress with any commercial bulb fertilizer.

With either method, cover bulbs with top soil and water them thoroughly. In cold zones, bulbs can be left in the ground. In warm and temperate zones (where temperatures remain above 20ºF/6ºC), chill the bulbs in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator (away from fruit) for 8 to 10 weeks before planting.

Select bulbs with different bloom times for a show of color from late winter through summer. Left undisturbed, the bulbs will colonize and produce profusely for years to come.

Early bloomers: Snowdrops (Galanthus), Winter Aconites (Eranthus hyemalis), and Crocuses. Crocus tommasinianus, in Easter-egg shades of pale lavender and deep purple, is usually the first to appear (and the corms are squirrel-resistant).

Mid-season: Daffodils and Jonquils (Narcissus), Siberian squill (Scilla), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari)

Late spring: Tulips, tulips, tulips! Colors range from brilliant red to deep maroon, from snowy white to bright yellow, and from beautiful shades of orange to variegated varieties in all colors. Shapes include the scalloped parrot, the pointed lily, and the artistic fringed tulip. Extend your tulip time by growing varieties bred for early, mid, and late blooming.

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Keep your Dahlias

dahlia-173799_960_720Dahlias will not winter over in places where the ground freezes, but they are easy to store if you have a cool place to keep them. Start by making labels while the plants are still blooming, so you remember which color is which. Wait until frost kills the top growth, then as soon as there is a dry day, cut off the dead foliage leaving stubs 2 inches long. Use a digging fork to lift the tubers; turn the clumps upside down.

Let the tubers dry a few hours, then gently remove as much soil as possible. Don’t wash them off, as the last thin layer of clinging soil will help protect them from shriveling. Line a large box with a plastic bag; then add a 4-inch layer of coconut fiber, dry shredded leaves, styrofoam packing peanuts, or sawdust. Place tubers stem side up on this bed, keeping them well separated. Nestle the labels into the clumps.

Completely surround the tubers with additional packing material, and loosely close the bag. Store in a dark place, ideally at 35º to 45ºF. When storage temperatures climb to the mid 50s, the tubers will start sprouting. Ignore short sprouts; they’ll be buried when you plant. Clumps that come from storage with long, pale stems, however, should be hardened off before being set out into the garden.

Dahlia tubers

Dahlia tubers

In the spring, as long as there are a couple of healthy-looking eyes (the buds from which the plants grow, located up near the old stem), even rather shriveled tubers will make decent-size plants. If shoots have started to grow, evaluate them before planting. If they are still small (less that 2 inches long), just bury the tubers as you would normally, a couple of inches below the soil.

If the shoots are long and pale, they will be too far along to bury completely; they’ll also be brittle and vulnerable to sunscald, so handle carefully. Toughen up the shoots by putting the tubers with their new growth in the shade for a week or so before planting. Plant the tubers at the normal depth, with the long shoots above ground, and continue to protect the shoots with a light sprinkling of straw for the next week or 10 days. The idea is simply to shade the bleached growth until it turns green, so don’t smother it with a heavy layer of mulch.

Keep your Caladiums

Starr_071024-9740_Caladium_bicolorAre your caladiums so beautiful this year that you can’t face the thought of getting rid of them when the summer is over? Why not try to keep them until next summer?! They can be left in the garden into fall so that the leaves can continue working and the tuber can continue to grow larger. However, once frost is in the forecast, don’t wait — just dig, taking up the whole plants or only the tubers.

To winter over a caladium, put the tuber into storage immediately or pot up the whole plant and place it in a brightly lighted windowsill. By late January, the caladium is going to look tired and will need to rest before the tuber is repotted in the spring or planted in the garden after the soil has warmed up. Chop off the foliage, knock off the soil, and let the tuber dry at room temperature. Any condensation will encourage bacterial rot. Store the tuber in dry vermiculite or in a mesh bag (like an onion bag) in a dry place, ideally at 70º to 75ºF but never below 50º, making sure there is good air circulation. Remember: it needs to be stored dry!!

Caladium is an extraordinary foliage plant. Its leaves can be white with narrow green borders or combinations of white, green, and rosy pinks, in pale to outrageous patterns that approach a third grader’s first attempt at stained glass. Most caladiums are hybrids of Caladium bicolor or C. picturatum, native to the tropics of the Americas and the West Indies. Plants can be costly, but tubers are inexpensive so you can just say goodbye at frost time if you like.