Win­ter bulbs

Flow­er­ing bulbs aren’t just the do­main of the spring gar­den. Sev­eral flower in win­ter too.

NZ Gardener - 365 Days of Flowers - - The Winter Garden -

Even as the cooler weather takes hold, there are sev­eral tough win­ter-flow­er­ing bulbs that come to the fore. For best dis­plays, plant them en masse, and your win­ter patch will be trans­formed from drab to fab.

RA­NUN­CU­LUS ASIATICUS

Just as anemones are a must-have win­ter bulb (see be­low), so too are ra­nun­cu­lus, also known as Per­sian but­ter­cups. A whole bed of these per­fectly formed flow­ers is enough to rouse the in­ter­est of even non-gar­den­ers. They are the most beau­ti­ful flow­ers, with hun­dreds of over­lap­ping gos­samer petals up to 10cm across. Colours run from snow white and salmon to bright or­ange, yel­low and shock­ing pink, and deep pur­ple and ma­hogany. They are of­ten grown along­side anemones as the two plants have sim­i­lar re­quire­ments.

Pick flow­ers for the vase when they are just show­ing colour, be­fore they open. If stems flop due to a heavy head, insert a piece of florist wire into the hol­low stems un­til it pierces the bot­tom of the head. The vase water should be changed ev­ery other day for max­i­mum vase life, up to 10 days.

EARLY– FLOW­ER­ING BULBS

Win­ter aconite ( Eran­this hye­malis) is a bright bea­con in the win­ter gar­den, with its but­ter­cup blooms ap­pear­ing from July to early Au­gust. They have only short stems, but if you wish to pick them, they can be dis­played in a shal­low dish. Or plant them in con­tain­ers with snowdrops, which flower at the same time, and bring the pot in­side to use as a din­ner ta­ble cen­tre­piece.

Or coax your hy­acinths to flower early in­doors. Place a bulb in the neck of a hy­acinth vase and fill the vase with water to just be­low the bulb. Add a quar­ter of a tea­spoon of flower food to pro­vide nu­tri­ents as the bulb grows. Place the vase in a cool dark spot for two months. The bulbs must be kept cool to al­low de­vel­op­ment of the bud in­side the bulb or it won't flower. Check weekly to en­sure the water level re­mains just be­low the base of the bulb to en­cour­age root growth. Af­ter two months, bring the vase out into a dimly lit place. Then slowly (over about three weeks) bring the vase into stronger light and a warm po­si­tion (not more than 18˚C). Four to six weeks af­ter bring­ing the vase out of its dark spot, your flower will be in full bloom. Keep out of full sun.

POPPY ANEMONES

Anemone coro­naria are so el­e­gant and del­i­cate look­ing you'd think a blast of cold air would knock them for six. But these hardy plants will bloom con­tin­u­ously from mid­win­ter with reg­u­lar feed­ing, wa­ter­ing and dead­head­ing. Anemones may be sin­gle- or dou­ble­flow­ered and come in an ar­ray of colours from red, hot pink, bur­gundy and deep pur­ple to white and paler shades.

The tu­bers can be planted any time from Fe­bru­ary to May; stag­ger the plant­ing and you'll have flow­ers in bloom from win­ter through to late spring. When it comes to bulbs, anemones are the best value for money – and bloom­ing beau­ti­ful to boot. Plant the tu­bers with the pointy tip down­wards, in moist, free-drain­ing soil. Seed can also be sown from Jan­uary to late Fe­bru­ary. While anemones flower best in full sun, they will also grow in light shade.

Poppy anemones are su­perb cut flow­ers, last­ing up to a week in the vase. Pick the flow­ers when the petals (ac­tu­ally sepals) start to sep­a­rate from the cen­tre for the long­est vase life. 'Mona Lisa' hy­brids have the long­est stems and big­gest flow­ers of all the anemones; their vase life is longer too.

While anemones are peren­ni­als, they are best treated as an­nu­als for a pro­lific flow­er­ing dis­play each year.

LOOK­ING AF­TER CUT BULBS

• While most cut flow­ers should be placed in tepid water, bulbs are best in cold water.

• The nu­tri­ents in flower preser­va­tives do noth­ing for bulbs, but they do stop bac­te­ria grow­ing. Any bac­te­ria will clog the pores in stems, slow­ing the up­take of water.

• Change the water ev­ery two days – don't just top it up. This is the sin­gle most ef­fec­tive thing you can do to keep your flow­ers look­ing fresh.

• Give daf­fodils their own vase. Their stems give off a com­pound that is toxic to other flow­ers.

• The cooler the spot in which your flow­ers are placed, the longer they will last. Keep them out of di­rect sun­light and away from heaters.

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