Posts Tagged ‘perennial’

Crocus

February 17, 2011

Crocus are one of the first plants to appear in the spring, sometimes popping up through the snow. The leaves and flowers have a waxy covering called a cuticle that protects them from snow or frost. Bright colors, drought tolerance and early blooming make them popular garden flowers. In my yard they seem to appear suddenly, a sign that winter may soon be over.

Crocus belong to the family Iridaceae and the genus Crocus. There are 80 species, but only about 30 of them are cultivated. The rest grow wild in woodlands, brush and meadows.  Native to Europe and parts of Asia, Crocus were cultivated as early as the 1560’s. A perennial flowering plant, their flowers come in a wide variety of colors with lilac, lavender, yellow and white being the most common. Bi- and tri-color blooms are also quite abundant. Full grown, Crocus are only 2-6 inches tall and wide. Leaves are grass-like and often have a thin white stripe.

Though they are sometimes classified as bulbs, Crocus grow from corms. Corms are a fleshy, compressed stem that stores the energy the plant needs to grow and bloom. Corms are planted just as a bulb would be. As the plant grows and blooms, a new corm is formed and the old one is used up. If your Crocus get too dense, they can be divided after the foliage turns brown.

Crocus can be planted in any sunny spot with well drained soil, and are often recommended for naturalizing. Basically, that is planting large numbers of bulbs (or corms) in such a way that it looks as if they grew there naturally. Over time, they will increase in number. You can naturalize Crocus in your lawn, among the grass, if you like. Just remember to look for a species that spreads freely. Another item to keep in mind is that you must let the foliage die down before mowing the grass in the spring. The plant needs that time, as much as 6 weeks, to store energy for next year.

Crocus grow best in zones 5-7 and will not grow at all in areas that are too hot because they need a period of cold in order to grow properly.  Plant spring blooming Crocus in the fall, and fall blooming types in the spring. Fall crocus? Yes, not all Crocus are early spring bloomers, some flower in the fall. Insects and diseases don’t really bother Crocus, but squirrels and mice do. To keep squirrels from snacking on your corms, lay chicken wire on top. The flowers will grow right through. You can also bury the corms in wire cages to keep them safe.

There are a couple flowers called Crocus that are not related, not even distant cousins. One is Pasque Flower, which is also known as Prairie Crocus. Though it looks similar, it belongs to a completely different family, Ranunculaceae. Another is Colchicum, or Autumn Crocus, which truly does bloom in the fall, but is not really a crocus, as it is part of the Liliaceae family.

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, by weight. It is made from Crocus sativus, a fall blooming crocus. It takes thousands of Crocus flowers to make 1 ounce of saffron, which is used as a seasoning and a coloring. The name Crocus is thought to be derived from a word that means yellow, or saffron yellow.

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Hosta

June 24, 2010

Hostas are one of the most popular garden plants. They are easy to grow, require little maintenance, and live for a long time. Unlike a lot of other popular plants, they prefer to grow in the shade. Also unlike others, they are mainly grown for their foliage, rather than their flowers.

Hosta is a genus of 30 or more species of perennials native to Northeast Asia. They are herbaceous, which means that they die back to the ground in the winter. Hostas belong to the family Agavaceae. The name, Hosta, which acts as both the scientific name and the common name, is in honor of Nicholas Thomas Host, an Austrian botanist. At times, Hosta have been called corfu lily, day lily, plantain lily and funkia. After a couple changes in classification, they are now just called Hosta.

Hostas do the best in zones 3-8, and in a shady area. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade. Too much sun will increase the amount of water needed, and it may make the leaves yellow. Different species tolerate full shade better than others. Make sure to check before you plant them. I have had several Hostas on the north side of my garage for many years. They get morning sun, and a little in the late afternoon, and that seems to suit them just fine.

The foliage of Hostas is the reason that they are planted so often. They have leaves that can range in size from 1 to 15 inches long, and 1 to 12 inches wide. The plant itself can be anywhere from 4 inches to 8 feet wide, growing in a mound shape. The leaves may be green, yellow, white, blue, chartreuse or some combination of these. Golden and white variegated leaves are harder to find, making them more of a prize. Blue leaves are really green, but they have a wax coating which reflects the light in such a way that it looks blue to us. It is said that blue leaves also need more shade than the other colors. An added bonus is that weeds will not grow underneath a mass of Hostas. To me, that is one of the best reasons to have Hostas in your garden!

Hostas grow from rhizomes. Some can spread using stolons, which you might call runners. These are horizontal shoots on top of the soil, or underneath, that can produce new plants from a bud on the tip. Hostas should be planted in rich, well drained soil. Propagation is very easy. The plant can be dug up in the spring, divided and the pieces replanted. You can do this in the fall also, at least 30 days before frost. They should be divided after 3 or 4 years, waiting makes it harder to divide as the clump gets denser.  Believe me when I say dividing them is easy. I’ve done it several times, and not as carefully as I should have. Despite me, all of my divided Hostas have survived and flourished.

Unfortunately, humans are not the only ones who enjoy Hostas. They are also a favorite snack for deer, slugs, snails and sometimes rabbits and squirrels.

Flowers are pendulous, arranged on upright stems, and may be white, lavender or violet. They look rather like lilies, but only one species, plantaginea, has a scent. They bloom during the summer. There are two schools of thought on Hosta flowers. Some people enjoy them, and deadhead after they bloom, or leave them to go to seed. (Note that Hosta grown from seed may not come true to the parent plant.) The other group feels that the flowers are a distraction from the beautiful foliage, and they cut off the buds before they can bloom.  Regardless of how you feel about the flowers, you should be able to find Hostas that enhance your garden from among the thousands of available varieties.

Asiatic Hybrid Lily

April 1, 2010

Lilies have been around for quite some time, but they were expensive and difficult to grow because they behaved unpredictably. They were beautiful and smelled great, but they didn’t always live very long. Around the 1950’s, people began to take the species of lilies with the most desirable characteristics and breed them to get new varieties which are more dependable. Breeding many different species native to Asia has produced what we now call Asiatic Hybrid Lilies, which are considered the most durable of lilies.

There are many other plants called Lily that are not true Lilies, such as calla lily, toad lily, daylily and peace lilies. These may look similar to Lilies, but they belong to a different genus. True Lilies are an exclusive club open only to those plants that belong to the genus Lilium, which contains about 110 species, including the Asiatic hybrids.

Asiatic Lilies grow from bulbs, which are made of overlapping scales, and have no protective cover. They have stiff stems with narrow leaves from top to bottom. They are very hardy, growing as a perennial in zones 3-11. The stems are strong and need no staking to hold up the big, brightly colored flowers. Plants can be anywhere from 2 to 5 feet tall, and there are even dwarf varieties that are under 2 feet tall.

Of all the true lilies, Asiatic Lilies are the easiest and the most commonly grown. All they ask is full sun, a period of cold temperatures, and well drained soil. The bulbs of satisfied Lilies should double each year, and they can be divided every few years. After blooming, leave the stem until the leaves turn brown, in order to store up nourishment for next year.

Asiatic Lilies are among the first lilies to bloom each year, flowering in June and July, for 2-3 weeks. Though most of them have no scent, they are attractive to butterflies. The flower with 6 tepals usually faces upward, though some types are pendant or outfacing. The tepals have smooth edges, and are frequently freckled with dark spots. A huge range of colors is available, including many shades of pink, red white, yellow, plum and orange. As with many types of flowers, there are no blue Asiatic Lilies.

A lot of the flowers growing in my yard were gifts to me from my family. On Mother’s Day and my birthday, I usually have a few new plants to enjoy. In this way, I have acquired many Asiatic Lilies in orange, red, white and yellow. They require almost no care, and look so beautiful. A couple of them are literally covered with flowers, so many you can barely see the leaves. These are a great addition to any sunny spot!