Bulb Questions from Chris

Mary Sue Ittner msittner@mcn.org
Sun, 19 Sep 2004 07:54:08 PDT
Dear Chris,

I'm sure none of us want to stifle your enthusiasm about growing bulbs, but 
I think you might find a few books really helpful in answering your 
questions. I think Growing Bulbs: The Complete Practical Guide by Brian 
Mathew is an excellent book and I expect others could suggest other basic 
books as well.

It is impossible to give an answer that would work for all bulbs. Our group 
talks about plants that are bulbs, tubers, rhizomes, tuberous roots, corms. 
What they all have in common is an underground storage organ that helps 
them survive difficult times. Some of them may be buried under snow and not 
appear until spring. Others are sitting out a summer without rain and will 
sprout when the rains begin. Others may be evergreen and never really lose 
their leaves. There are so many different variations.

How to treat them depends on what you are growing. There are books that 
will give you information about different plants. It is also helpful to 
find out where they come from and what the conditions are where they grow. 
Oxalis, one of your favorite bulbs, grows all over the world. We have 
Oxalis growing in our Redwood forests in deep shade where they have winter 
rainfall and a dry summer except for the moisture that comes from fog drip. 
There are Oxalis growing in forests in Europe. Many of the really gorgeous 
ones are native to South Africa where some of them are found in areas that 
are low in rainfall, hot in summer, but never really cold in winter when 
the rain comes. They sprout with the first rains and go dormant when the 
weather becomes hot and dry. But there are summer rainfall Oxalis too. 
Other species come from Central or South America where they may have year 
round or tropical summer rainfall and grow in summer and are dormant in 
winter. So even with Oxalis you need to know something about the species 
you are growing if you want to be successful with it.

Some bulbs benefit from repotting and others will sulk for years when you 
disturb their roots. It may be fine to leave bulbs in pots while they are 
dormant or to remove them. It just depends. Most can be grown from seed. 
Some will bloom quickly from seed and others will take many years and even 
then may not bloom if the conditions are not to their liking. Some seed may 
germinate quickly and other seed will take a long time. Some will grow 
underground the first year and you won't even know that anything is happening.

Unless you have a greenhouse or a large indoor growing area with lights as 
a beginner you'll have much better luck growing bulbs that are happy with 
your climate. Many people in our group are able to grow bulbs that you 
wouldn't expect they could by knowing what conditions the bulbs need and 
providing those conditions. Some of us started however with things that 
were very easy to grow before we tried harder things.

If there is a plant you are wondering about tell us what it is and 
hopefully someone in the group who grows it will try to help you.

Mary Sue

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