Bulbs for Mediterranean Gardens

Michael Mace mikemace@worldnet.att.net
Tue, 18 Mar 2003 21:21:59 PST
Hi, gang.

I guess I should make a couple of comments about what works for me...

--First, background on my climate.  I live at the southern end of San
Francisco Bay, in a small canyon that faces away from the bay (to the
south).  As a result, we get warmer summers and colder winters than the
folks right along the coast, but the nearness of the ocean still prevents
the sort of extended heat waves you get in a really warm area like LA, or
further inland in California.  The humidity here is also a lot higher than
in LA, where the Santa Ana winds dry everything to a crisp in the fall (not
that we're humid compared to anyplace else on the planet, mind you).

Typical daytime temperatures in mid-summer will usually be in the low 90s F
(32C), only occasionally up to 100F (38C).  Temperatures almost always drop
substantially at night.  In winter, night-time lows usually get down to
about 20F (-6C), low enough to produce frost but not a really hard freeze.

--My apologies to those who have heard this before, but my biggest discovery
in the last couple of years had been that a lot of bulbs do extremely well
in the ground in an area that gets some water during the summer (it's the
base of a Japanese maple tree, and you know how they demand water).  The
bulbs are on top of very heavy and sticky clay soil, buried under several
inches of redwood compost.  They sit on top of the clay, rather than being
buried in it.

This arrangement works extremely well for a number of Medit-climate bulbs --
Moraea aristata (about 50 flowers in bloom at the moment), several types of
winter-growing glads, various Narcissus, Lachenalias, and several types of
Ixia.  This year, I have also had great success with Spiloxene.  Ironically,
Lycoris radiata also seems very happy here (the first time I've gotten it
happy anywhere.)

What's not happy?  Ferraria crispa.  It's a snail magnet.

--New information: This last year I also accidentally ran an experiment with
water for potted bulbs.  A leak in my watering system put a small amount of
water every five days on about 50 pots of bulbs.  These are in my
south-facing back yard, in an area that gets a lot of sun and air
circulation.  The pots stayed damp (not wet) all summer, whereas my other
pots went bone dry.

You know what's coming, right?  I'm getting very nice bloom from the
summer-watered pots this winter -- at least twenty stems of flowers on one
pot of Gladiolus tristis, plus a couple of different types of Watsonias,
Babianas, Moraeas, and Calochortus tolmiei (usually died out for me in the

And as other people have noted, a little summer water does a lot of good for
amaryllids in pots.  My Nerines did a lot better this year after I watered
them 1-2 times a month during the summer.

Am I saying we should all start watering our pots in summer?  Absolutely
not!  I grow in a very lean mixture of sand and peat moss, so it's hard to
make anything rot even with water.  Also, because of all the air circulation
around here, even a damp pot isn't all that wet.  I do, though, think that
in my particular climate, where I can't move the pots into shade and the
pots can get very dry in summer for a very long time, some summer water
seems to help at least some of the species retain vigor.

The lesson to others could be that if you have some varieties that tend to
dwindle away over the years (the way Moraeas tend to do for me), one thing
to experiment with might be a little summer water.

Hope this is useful.


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