Category Archives: bulbs

Species Tulips

beautiful bloom blooming blossom

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Colorful hybrid tulips are an iconic symbol of spring. Planted in the fall, they’ll light up next year’s landscape with their tall stems and cup shaped blooms. In subsequent years, they’re likely to decline – sending up fewer blooms, weak foliage and sometimes not bursting through the soil at all. Allowing the foliage to senesce (turn yellow, limp and easy to pull up) after the flowers fade does help supply nutrients to the bulb for the following year, but the popular tulip bulb generally does not bloom for more than a year or two. In fact, tulips in public gardens are often treated as annuals and replanted each year.

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Tulipa saxatillis   Photo courtesy of Drystonegarden.com

An alternative to the common, hybridized “Holland” tulip are  species or botanical tulips. They are native to Central Asia and other Steppe regions, areas that are climatically similar to Colorado. This group of tulips are shorter (6-12 inches tall), will naturalize, or spread each year by self-sown seeds or stolons and some varieties will send out multiple stems. Good drainage and a sunny location with room for the plants to expand are ideal. The bulbs also do well in gravelly soil and are used successfully in rock gardens.

species tulip_google

Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’ Photo courtesy of Google Free Images

Mid September to late October is an ideal time to plant, setting the bulbs in clumps or drifts and burying 4 inches deep or as recommended for the specific cultivar. Colors range from delicate pastels to vibrant reds and pinks, blooms can be bi-colored and foliage is often grey-green or stippled. Since the foliage is smaller and more compact, the die-back is less unappealing.

 

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Tulipa ‘Lilac Wonder’ Photo by Linda McDonnell

Species tulips can be found online and at independent nurseries, where they are sold in pre-packaged bags and found near other small bulbs such as crocus and muscari.

While I love the flashy hybrid tulip, I’m adding reliable, graceful species tulips to my garden this year too, how bout you?

 

 

 

Resources:

CSU Fact Sheet 7.410: Fall Planted Bulbs and Corms
University of Wyoming: Bulbs Well Adapted to Our Inhospitable Climate,

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

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It’s Winter and, Yet, I Dream of Cactuses

It’s January.  As I write, it’s cold.  It’s snowing.  The garden is frozen solid.  There isn’t much that can be done out in the garden.  But indoors, we can do a lot of thinking about and planning for about our gardens.  For me, this also includes thinking back to what has already been achieved. My special joy has been planning, making and planting my “desert garden”.

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Prickly pear peeks out of the snow

Having gained my gardening skills and horticultural knowledge in the temperate south of England, I was excited on moving to Colorado to try my hand at growing these interesting, drought tolerant plants.  Cactuses in England are generally small prickly jobs which sulk year-round in dry pots on the windowsill, gathering cobwebs.  I knew virtually nothing about them when I came to live in the USA.  My husband wasn’t much better; he told me he knew his cactuses had been over-watered when he saw mushrooms growing in their pots!

Call it what you will – rock garden, trough garden, crevice garden, desert garden. From big deserts to tiny tufa troughs, cactuses and succulents can be grown and enjoyed in many situations.  I know it’s the middle of winter right now, but I’m thinking of the sunny joy of seeing the Community Heroes Crevice Garden in Arvada and the new steppe gardens at Denver Botanic Gardens in the summer of 2016.  These showed me what could be achieved.  And as I gaze at the tips of Opuntia (prickly pear and cholla) plants poking through the snow in my front yard today, I am in awe at the extremes these amazing plants can tolerate.

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Opuntia x pinkavae

 

 

Our front yard faces north, not auspicious for cactus growing, but safely out of bounds to the dog and small grandchildren, and raised up above the sidewalk, so safely out of reach of passers-by.  The area I designated to be the “desert garden” is about 20 x 10 feet, bisected by the path from the sidewalk to the front door.  Despite its northerly aspect, this area does get a lot of sunshine from spring to fall.  A minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily is recommended for cactuses.  When we moved in, this part of the garden was just a boring flat patch of clay soil with rather elderly wood mulch strewn over it.  Again, not exactly the well-drained, lean (in terms of nutrients) soil usually associated with cactuses.  But I like a challenge!

To get things started, I raked off the wood mulch and underlying landscape fabric to reveal a flat, compacted, grey soil surface covered in the wriggling, white stems of bindweed like ghostly spaghetti.  I pulled as much of the bindweed as possible. Then to create some height and slopes I dug and shaped the soil into small hills sloping down towards the sidewalk.  We inherited hundreds of large granite boulders with the back yard, so my son and husband hauled a couple of dozen out to the front for me.  I chose the most attractive boulders and made sure they were of similar or complementary colors.  These were placed on the slopes, either singly as “specimen boulders” or in groups forming little “canyons” in which I could plant.

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Rocks, soil, river rock and neighbor’s turf

The slopes help to ensure rain (when we get it) runs off quickly so the plants don’t sit in puddles.  Pockets of water are trapped by the boulders giving little damp areas against the boulders and allowing water to slowly trickle down into the soil below.  To improve the soil drainage further, I dug in a couple of trailers’ worth of “squeegee” to a depth of approx. six to eight inches.  This is the name around here (I gather) for crushed gravel.  It is pinkish in tone and halfway between pea gravel and sand in size. Areas of small river rock (obtained for free from a neighboring garden which was being “re-done” – I love a freebie!) were laid as a transition from the “desert” to the greener area of the yard and the sidewalk.  After planting, a thick layer of pure squeegee was used as a mulch over the whole area.  This has been very effective at keeping the bindweed at bay, helped by merciless hand pulling of any little shoots that do make it to the surface.

The choosing of plants followed considerable book research, web browsing and advice from local nurserymen.  I used a mix of cactuses, succulents, grasses, small drought-tolerant perennials and bulbs.  Naturally, none of these are hot-house types.  They are all cold hardy down to at least Zone 4.  For many of them their natural environment is arid mountain-sides in Arizona and New Mexico where they bake in the summer and freeze in the winter. A couple of dwarf pines provide year-round green and structure.  (I had to remind myself that these two needed regular watering, unlike the rest of the desert garden, as they are young trees, albeit small.)

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Pinus mugo var. pumilio

Planting took place in June 2015, so these plants are now “enjoying” their second winter in our garden.  They spent two and a half months under snow in winter 2015/6 and came up smiling in spring 2016.  There were just two losses, both small Yuccas which had rotted at the crown.  Fortunately, I had extras safely potted up behind the house, so they were immediately replaced.

For the first summer, I watered maybe twice a week, using the mist spray on the hose head.  The second summer, 2016, I did not water at all.  The winter snow that laid on the area for two or three months or more, had provided a good reservoir of moisture which saw the garden right through the summer.

The immediate effect after planting was of a lot of very small plants stranded in a gravelly desert.  I believe in buying small and being patient for a year or two while the plants bulk up, seed around and acclimatise to their environment.

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Just planted, June 2015

 

And, now, after another summer, they are starting to do so.  I see little “pups” on the Echinocereus.  There are Sedum and Stachys seedlings. The stars are the Opuntias (tree chollas and prickly pears) and the Delospermas.  These have grown quickly and the Delospermas were carpets of jewel-like flowers for months on end.  Dianthus and Artemisias are soft foils to their prickly companions. Groups of Nasella tennuissima provide a feathery backdrop and transition to greener and moister plantings at the rear.  The gentle movement of these grasses is a nice contrast to the static cactuses. The little species tulips ‘Persian Pearl’ popped up beautiful purple-red blooms with yellow centers in spring.  I hope to see more of these this coming spring.

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Tulipa pulchella @Persian Pearl’

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Delosperma ‘Fire Spinner’

 

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Summer, 2016 (after the hail storm had knocked off all the flowers!)

 

Now it is getting established, it really doesn’t require a lot work.  No watering if we have enough snow in winter.  Minimal weeding.  A gentle blow-off of leaves and some careful extracting of same from the Opuntias’ prickles with the kitchen tongs once in the fall.  That’s it.

I love my desert garden and see passers-by enjoying it too and that just adds to the pleasure for me.

PS:  Cactus? Cacti? Cactuses?  Who knows … ?? Who cares … !!

Anne Hughes/a Denver County Master Gardener

https://communityheroesgarden.jimdo.com/

http://www.botanicgardens.org/

www.coloradocactus.org

Hardy Succulents: Tough Plants for Every Climate by Gwen Moore Kelaidis. Publisher: Storey Publishing.

Cacti and Succulents for Cold Climates by Leo J Chance. Publisher: Timber Press

Plant List

Cactuses

Echinocereus coccineus

Echinocereus triglochidiatus ‘White Sands’

Escobaria forcottei ‘Koenesii’

Agave utahensis var. kiahabensis

Tree cholla – Opuntia imbricata var. arborescens ‘White Tower’

Tree cholla – Opuntia arborescens var. viridifloa ‘Santa Fe’

Creeping cholla – Opuntia clavata

Prickly pear – Opuntia x pinkavae

Texas red yucca – Hesperaloe parviflora

Yucca flacida ‘Bright Edge’

Herbaceous perennials, bulbs and grass

Dusty miller/artemisia – Artemisia ‘Beth Chatto’ & Artemisia absinthium ‘Silver Frost’

Woolly thyme – Thymus pseudolanuginosus

Yarrow – Achillea sps. various

Sedum- Sedum spectabile various

Pinks- Dianthus sps. various + garden cuttings

Rock rose – Helianthemum sp.

Ice plants – Delosperma ‘Fire Spinner’ &  ?

Two row stonecrop – Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’

Other stonecrops – ‘Vera Jameson’, ‘Lidakense’, ‘Angelina’

Mullein – Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Polar Summer’

Lambs ears – Stachys byzantinus

Feathergrass – Nassella tenuissima ‘Ponytails’

Species tulip – Tulipa pulchella ‘Persian Pearl’

Trees 

Dwarf mugo pine – Pinus mugo  var. pumilio

Dwarf mugo pine – Pinus mugo ‘Teeny’

A Year in the Life of an Amaryllis

amaryllis_akaIf your holiday amaryllis is nearing the end of its blooming cycle, here are tips to enjoy the plant through the year and give it the best chance to bloom again. Unlike paperwhites, which are one-and-done indoor bulbs, with care, amaryllis can re-bloom for years to come.

While flowering, the plant benefits from bright, indirect light and moisture. When each trumpet-shaped flower is finished, snip it off and when the last flower on the stem has shriveled, cut the entire stem about an inch above the bulb. Leave the strappy leaves in tact. Occasionally amaryllis won’t develop leaves until after blooming, so don’t fret if the plant is foliage-free at this stage. However, adding fertilizer to a bulb without leaves will kill the roots.

Treat the bulb as a houseplant throughout the winter by providing direct sunlight, watering when dry below the soil line and feeding common houseplant food once or twice a month. The bulb should remain snuggled in the original pot, with the top half to one-third above the soil line. In spring, the leaves will yellow and die, signaling that they’ve done their job of providing nutrients to the bulb, a common bulb process. Cut the foliage about an inch from the top of the bulb; new leaves will emerge through the summer. Leaves equal energy, so the more leaves developed at this time, the more vigor the bulb has to flower again. During the summer months, you’ll want to give the pot as bright a spot as possible, either indoors or out. Burying the pot in a partially shaded garden bed is also an option.

In September, reduce water significantly until leaves turn yellow and die. Store the plant in a cool, dark area (45 to 50 degrees) for 8-12 weeks, checking regularly for signs of new life and watering sparingly. This fall “Goldilocks” phase of not-too-hot, not-too-cold is critical to the forcing process so choose the resting spot carefully. When you see fresh growth, move the plant to bright light and resume regular watering. The plant is now ready to produce new foliage and flowers.

Many find this process a snap. If that’s not the case for you, keep in mind that the size and quality of the bulb can effect re-blooming, so from the start choose large, blemish-free bulbs which are heavy relative to their size. Amaryllis forced in water are also unlikely to re-bloom as they lack the energy to survive. But if this experiment doesn’t work for you, you may not want to give up as the bulb can take a year off from flowering and then come back with a vengeance. Growing amaryllis sure can be an exercise in patience!

Posted by Linda McDonnell, a Denver Master Gardener

Paperwhite Narcissus – An Indoor Bulb

The paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) is  a type of daffodil that can be forced to bloom indoors during Colorado’s winter.

It is usually available in garden centers as soon as the spring bulbs are for sale.   The bulb can be planted in potting soil, or nestled in pebbles or glass marbles.  The pebbles help you arrange the bulbs and keep their “heads” above water.  You could use sea shells, plastic building blocks, plastic figures or animals — try anything that is waterproof.  The roots will grow down into the pebbles.  Pull the pebbles out of the roots when the bulb has finished blooming.

If you decide that a different container would work, the bulb will not suffer at all if you take it out and rearrange it.  You can also buy Paperwhite Kits with a pre-planted container.  All you do is add water.

The plants can grow to more than a foot tall.  Tie them loosely to a stick or tie them together as shown in the photo below (© Colorado State University Extension, Planttalk 1322.)    If the bulb receives bright, indirect sunlight it will not get quite as tall and “leggy”.

I like to put the bulb, marbles and water at the bottom of a tall glass cylinder. The vase contains the leaves and keeps them from toppling over. Once the bulb has bloomed you can choose to cut the bulb off the bottom and arrange the flowers in another vase.

Paperwhite narcissus

It takes 4 to 8 weeks for the bulbs to bloom.  In my experience they bloom quicker in the Fall and more slowly in late Winter.  If you start a new bulb every few weeks you will have continuous flowers.   The bulb blooms only once so throw the bulbs away when the flowers wilt.

WARNING: Their fragrance is very strong.  If you don’t like it – give it to the first visitor to admire the scent.  Or put them in a common area with a sign that says “Free” or “These flowers need a new home”.  You might make someone else’s day! 🙂

For more information go to the Colorado State University Extension Service, Planttalk #1322.

Plant Spring Flowering Bulbs Now – You’ll Thank Yourself Later

yellow tulips

Photo courtesy of Jodi Torpey, WesternGardeners.com

Like many gardening tasks, tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths and other spring bulbs demand our patience. Plant now and next spring you’ll  reap the rewards of abundant beauty. It’s a good lesson in delayed gratification!  Here are a few tips to insure success.

When to Plant

Mid to late September is ideal as the bulbs have time to develop a strong root system before a hard freeze, but can be planted into October if weather permits. Garden centers have the best selections in mid September so if needed, purchase early  and store in a cool, dry place until you can get them in the ground.

Where to Plant

You’ll want a mostly sunny location with good drainage as bulbs can rot in soggy soil. Consider where you’ll enjoy the blooms the most and what other spring flowering perennials or shrubs the bulbs will compliment. Perennials such as  pure white candytuft, (Iberis sempervirens),  lavender or pink creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) or stunning basket of gold alyssum (Allyssum sempervirens) pair nicely with mid-season bulbs. You may find some great deals on these spring blooming perennials at the local garden center right now, or divide some plants already in your beds.  Some bulbs bloom simultaneously with flowering shrubs such as forsythia (early bulbs), lilacs (mid to late bulbs).

After blooming, bulb foliage should be left on the plant to die back and re-nourish the bulb. This foliage can be camouflaged by emerging perennials or annuals, so it’s good to plan for this step now.

How to Plant

Bulbs are planted with their necks up and their hips down; a good rule of thumb is to plant 4 times the height of the bulb. Amending soil with organics such as spagham peat moss or compost is recommended. Bulbs, like most plants, won’t thrive in compacted soil.

Iris Reticulata courtesy of Jodi Torpey, Westerngardeners.com

Iris Reticulata courtesy of Jodi Torpey, Westerngardeners.com

Research at CSU has shown that in our region, Super Phosphate is the most effective fertilizer for bulbs and should be applied at the root base and in the loosened soil below the bulb so that the nourishment can be absorbed. Further, CSU’s studies indicate that bone meal is not effective in our soils, although it is frequently sold alongside bulbs.

For thorough information on soil prep, care and a planting depth chart visit

Fall-Planted Bulbs and Corms and PlanttalkColorado Bulbs:Spring Flowering

What to Look For When Selecting Bulbs

There are a wide variety of pre-packaged selections of tulips, daffodil (narcissus), hyacinths and alliums to name just a few.

Giant Alliums courtesy of Jodi Torpey, WesternGardeners.com

Giant Alliums courtesy of Jodi Torpey, WesternGardeners.com

When buying packages of bulbs, be sure to  inspect the them to insure they  are firm, uniform in size and large for the type (compare to the open bins of like bulbs is a good idea) and unscarred. Many bulbs are sold from boxes so you can make your own selection. By mixing early, mid and late bloomers of varying heights, colors and textures, you can have a spectacular start to next year’s gardening season. Just be patient.

Submitted by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener