Calochortus -- TOW

Mary Sue Ittner
Sun, 07 Nov 2004 12:02:14 PST
Dear All,

I too am a Calochortus enthusiast although I'm not as skilled as Diana and 
Jane in growing them. I have a number of species that do very well for me 
and others that are less reliable. There are species that are quite happy 
with my cool wet winter weather and others that are not. Perhaps Jane's 
frames do the trick for the ones in the latter category.

As for growing them from seed I have not found that to be an easy thing. 
True they do germinate well. I'm not one to rely on chemicals and therefore 
do not routinely use fungicide on all my seeds. No doubt I'd have better 
luck if I did. I've found starting seeds in late fall guarantees that they 
will be coming up and most vulnerable at the worst possible time for my 
weather. Some of those species that are from areas with a lot of rainfall 
fare better, but I've lost all the seedlings in dozens of pots some years. 
If I start them earlier perhaps it would work better, but we always seem to 
have the warmest temperatures of the year in September and October and wet 
and warm is not advised either. The last two years I've sowed seeds in 
February and have had much better success. My summer temperatures are cool 
enough that I can keep them growing on through part of the summer when they 
come up in March and even if it is still raining then, it often is raining 
less and the humidity is not constantly high.

Some species I have grown from seed to flowering have dwindled so I still 
need to do better. Calochortus tolmiei, which is one of my favorites, I 
have purchased from various sources over the years and the bulbs have 
enchanted me that first year and then every year I seems to have fewer 
bulbs. It isn't one that offsets much so if the bulbs die that's it.As 
Diana points out this one is from many different elevations and habitats so 
hopefully one of these days I'll be growing some that are happy in my 
environment. I made the mistake of putting a couple that were still o.k. 
from two dwindling sources in the same pot since putting one bulb in a 
specially designed wooden box seemed such a waste of potting mix and space. 
The two bulbs come up at entirely different times and bloom at entirely 
different times. One has been in leaf for over a month now when there is no 
sign of the other.

I've also experimented with growing Calochortus in the ground and have some 
C. vestae which now have bloomed in the ground for 3 years. I made a 
permanent raised bed for C. albus and it seems happy enough too. But that 
is the sum of my success. Strangely C. uniflorus which grows a couple of 
miles from my home in grassland overlooking the ocean has not been happy in 
my ground 800 ft. higher. In a container it blooms for months (and months 
earlier than in habitat) however so I don't know what that is about. I gave 
some to a friend who planted them in the ground at a lower elevation in a 
shadier spot and they did fine for a couple of years until the deer 
discovered them. I'm trying to provide a little shelter from the rain for 
some of the southern California species from drier areas by growing them in 
my covered shelter that is open at the sides and that may be helping a little.

Many of the ones I am growing are in deep wooden boxes my husband built me 
out of pieces of redwood since the Robinetts suggested this was a good way 
to grow them. They advised not to grow Calochortus in black plastic as the 
soil would get too hot. Running out of boxes I've also used my deep 
terracotta colored pots with large slits up the sides. It is interesting if 
you unpot them to find the mother bulb at a very deep level, but  in many 
cases the small offsets formed in the leaf sheaf at a entirely different 
level. Jane mentioned this in her comments, but I've always wondered if 
nature intended them to be at a higher level until they were bigger.

These are the ones I am most successful with in my wet Northern coastal 
C. albus, amabilis, amoenus, argillosus, catalinae, luteus, splendens(but 
it is marginal), superbus, umpquaensis, umbellatus, uniflorus and vestae. I 
lose some C. venustus every year but it is one that makes offsets so I may 
be about even. C. nitidus which is not a California species has been 
blooming for me the last couple of years. C. palmerii and nudus have 
departed and C. clavatus, plummerae, simulans, and weedii are in the 
dwindle mode. Some of those haven't bloomed yet. I have a few other species 
that may not last long enough to bloom. I recently read in one of my old 
Mariposas that Jim Robinett had trouble growing C. clavatus in his climate 
because it was too wet for it and I'm wetter than he was. Could it be 
started late like the seed I wonder by controlling the watering? When I 
repot in the fall some of them are already forming roots and some are not.

A number of years ago someone from Idaho reported success growing 
Calochortus in a very cold climate. The secret was a lot of mulch and not 
much winter rain so that his plants did not emerge until spring.

I think the quality of Ron Ratko's Calochortus seed is really exceptional 
and most years the Mariposa society members donate seed that is shared and 
it is good too. I accept responsibility that it is my technique that is the 

The ones I am successful with range from very charming to spectacular and 
extend my bulb blooming season every year.

Some of the members of this list were experimenting with higher elevation 
species that probably need chilling. Diana has mastered getting the seed to 
germinate using the technique she told about. What I'd like to know is if 
anyone is growing these long enough to get them to bloom and if they have 
to be chilled every year like tulips.

Mary Sue

Mary Sue Ittner
California's North Coast
Wet mild winters with occasional frost
Dry mild summers

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