Gardening: Bulbous plants bring joy year after year

Bulbous plants bring joy year after year

I recently purchased a pot of daffodils at the grocery store. Daffodils are my favorite flower because it was a sure sign of spring in Connecticut when they began popping up in the fields and yards. While we cannot grow daffodils or tulips this far south we do have some bulbous plants that are beautiful.

Most of the year these bulbs are a pretty green leaf-like foliage in the garden. One of the most beautiful bulbs we can grow here in South Florida is the amaryllis. They come in varying shades of pinks and reds. Bulbous plants will thrive and produce these beautiful flowers year after year with proper care. These plants have thickened underground storage organs which enable them to survive unfavorable environmental conditions. These underground organs are also the propagative units of the plants. Not all bulbous plants are true bulbs.

Other underground storage organs include corms, tubers, tuberous roots and rhizomes.

A true bulb is a compressed stem or basal plate bearing a flower bud enclosed by thick, fleshy scales called bulb scales. Some true bulbs such as narcissus, amaryllis and tulip are protected from drying and mechanical injury by dry and membranous outer scales called a tunic. Other true bulbs such as lilies are called non-tunicate or scaly because their outer scales are succulent and separate, giving the bulb a scaly appearance.

A corm is a solid mass of stem tissue with a terminal bud on top. Axillary or lateral buds are also produced at nodes on the corm. The solid stem structure of the corm is protected against injury and water loss by dry leaf bases that are similar to the tunic that encloses true bulbs. Gladiolus is a corm.

A tuber is a thickened underground stem with many buds on its surface. Tubers are covered with a tough skin rather than a tunic or scales like true bulbs and corms. An example of a tuber is a caladium.

Rhizomes are thickened horizontal stems growing along or below the surface of the ground. Underground rhizomes of canna and calla produce roots on their lower surface and send shoots above ground.

Florida’s climate is favorable for growing many tropical and subtropical bulbous plants. Unfortunately, many of the common bulbs of northern states such as tulips, hyacinths and daffodil do not grow well here.

Many bulbous plants grow best if left in the ground year after year while others may become crowded and bloom poorly. Digging and replanting encourages more uniform and larger flowers.

True bulbs, amaryllis, hyacinth, develop miniature bulbs, known as bulblets, which grow into offsets. Offsets can be separated from the mother bulb and replanted into the beds. Depending on the kind of bulb, it could take several years before they reach flowering size.

Corms, such as gladiolus, produce new corms on top of the old corms, which wither. Miniature corms called cormels are produced between the old and new corms. These can be separated from the mother corms and stored along with the new corms over winter for planting in the spring. Cormels also require two to three years to reach flowering size.

Tubers (caladiums), tuberous roots (dahlia) and rhizomes (canna, day lily) are propagated by cutting them into sections, each containing at least one bud. Tuberous roots that are broken off without a bud are worthless.

Bulbous plants can be moved anytime except when they are in bloom.

Eileen Ward and her husband Peter have owned and operated Greensward, a lawn maintenance and landscaping company, since 1981.

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