Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2001
Regional Report

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Dutch iris grow up among lavender and poppies, which will bloom later, hiding the spent bulb foliage.

Bulbs in Bloom

Spring bulbs are in full bloom, providing a fresh splash of color in the garden. In the low desert, I've had success with Dutch iris, bearded iris, freesia, tritonia (whose flower looks like a slightly smaller freesia), smaller-flowered daffodils, amaryllis (planted outdoors after the holidays), and glory-of-the-snow. All of these have rebloomed in subsequent years.

However, some of the better-known spring bulbs, such as tulips, don't perform well at all, while others, such as ranunculus, bloom beautifully but are best treated as annuals--they may survive to grow again but will never have the same vigor.

Unusual Bulbs

Last fall I planted some bulbs I hadn't tried before and have been delighted to see them poke their cheery faces up. Sparaxis, commonly called harlequin flower, is a South African native. Its flowers come in a host of colors such as vivid red, yellow, pink, and purple. The tubular center of the flower and its petals are contrasting colors, which makes it quite a show-off. Sparaxis has elicited many comments from visitors to the cooperative extension's demo garden, where it's blooming up a storm this spring.

Ixia, or corn lily, has pretty, star-shaped flowers in a variety of pinks, yellows, salmons, and reds on a long stalk. Crocosmia sports thin, tubular-shaped flowers and swordlike leaves about 2 feet tall. Most varieties have flower colors in the orange-red range. It adds a nice structural presence to the back of the bulb garden. All of these bulbs grow best in full sun and well-drained soil.

Care While Blooming

Keep soil consistently moist while the bulb is in bloom. Layer mulch on top of the soil to maintain moisture, especially now, as daily temperatures are starting to rise. After bloom, allow the foliage to dry out and die back naturally. Plants can look a little shabby, but it's important to leave them alone, as the foliage is providing nutrients for the bulbs to store for next year's growth. I try to plant bulbs in the midst of other plants, so they can help hide the bulb foliage in its decline.

To Dig or Not to Dig

Bulbs can be left in the ground year round in the low desert. I make a little sketch each fall, and for good measure put plant markers in the ground so I don't dig up bulbs by mistake. I have all kinds of plant labels for plant markers, from cute little metal trowels that can be written on with a fade-resistant pen to the very basic popsicle stick. As other plants grow up around them, they aren't very noticeable, and they help jog my memory of what's lurking beneath the soil.

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