Gardeners' Dirt: Plant ranunculus bulbs now for spring color
By Suzann Herricks - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Oct. 25, 2012 at 5:25 a.m.
Most folks think that work in the garden winds down when summer ends and cool weather arrives.
But for the avid gardener, fall flashes a green light for pruning, trimming, mulching and planting new selections.
Fall is also the time to add winter annuals, such as pansies, snapdragons, petunias, cyclamen and calendulas. It is still not too late to put these out.
In addition, Southern gardeners begin the annual tradition of planting cool-weather bulbs that will bloom in the spring.
Add a new bulb to your collection
One especially brilliant and colorful spring blooming bulb to include this year is the ranunculus. Its rose-like bloom has multi-layers of pastel, papery-textured petals.
The psychedelic blooms are so perfect, they almost seem unreal.
Colors range from pink, rose, salmon, white, yellow and orange. Although spring-blooming bulbs can be planted from late September through December, October is the optimal time in Texas.
Planting now will ensure healthy root growth by spring, as well as provide a suitable chilling period. Some of the most commonly planted bulbs are daffodils, crocus and narcissi. Ranunculus will offer something new to your spring bloomers.
Ranunculus asiaticus (Persian buttercup) is a frost-hardy, cool-season perennial that thrives in USDA Zones 8 and above. Because they make long-lasting cut flowers, they are often found in florist shops, but they can be successfully grown in the home garden.
Jerry Parsons, of Texas A&M, considers them one of the best blooming flowers for the money invested.
Like most cool-weather bulbs, they are planted in the fall in southern areas and begin blooming around March.
Is it a rhizome or tuber?
Bulbs have always been popular with gardeners. They were a wise choice for those who migrated from far-away lands. Bulbs store well for long periods of time and carry the nutrients needed inside the swollen mass. Although this mass is commonly referred to as a bulb, the correct terms for horticulturists are corm, tuber or rhizome.
Ranunculi sprout from a rhizome that looks like a claw or a bunch of bananas. The banana-like growth should face downward when planted.
Choose size and location for best results
As with most bulbs, size predicts the number and size of flowers. Jumbos, which are more expensive, can produce up to 35 flowers, as compared to 15 or so from a medium-sized bulb.
For an individual accent, plant the large size, but use smaller ones for mass plantings.
Plant in a well-drained spot that gets at least eight hours of sun.
If poor drainage is a problem, add two or three inches of organic material, such as peat moss or ground bark. Some manufacturers recommend an all-purpose fertilizer, but it is not necessary because nutrients are already stored in the rhizome.
If you want to fertilize, the best time is when the flower bud appears.
Chill some bulbs, but not others
To chill or not to chill is always a question for ensuring successful bulb growth. Tulips and Dutch hyacinths are two examples that must be chilled for at least a month before planting.
Chilling isn't necessary for ranunculus, as they will get natural chilling while in the ground.
Plant carefully for seasonal return
The depth of planting any type of bulb is generally two to three times the diameter for larger bulbs and three to four times the diameter of smaller bulbs.
If planted too deeply, they may have trouble pushing through, and if too shallow, they can suffer stress from insufficient moisture.
Many will naturalize and return year after year. You might want to place a marker to note the location so you will not inadvertently dig them up during their dormancy.
If you'd like to get additional ideas for fall planting, come visit the Victoria Educational Gardens located at the airport.
These demonstration gardens are free to the public and open daily.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.