Newbie questions

Michael Mace via pbs
Thu, 29 Apr 2021 00:00:14 PDT
Hi, Paul.

Welcome to the list! You asked some great questions, and I'd love to help
answer them.

The first thing you're going to discover is that we'll sometimes give you
conflicting advice. That's not because anyone is wrong, it's because we all
have different climates and different experiences, and what works for one
gardener doesn't necessarily work for another. 

So here are my thoughts on your situation, based on what works for me in San
Jose, CA (about an hour south of SF, with a slightly more extreme

--First, based on the photos you sent, I don't think you have killed any of
your bulbs. You burned the leaf tips a bit, which happens when you put them
through adversity, but they look to me like they're in good shape overall.
In fact, I think you've gotten some very good growth from them for the first

--I would not stop watering them yet. Wait for the plants to completely die
back. It doesn't hurt them to be a bit wet when they go dormant; the
important thing is not to soak them in midsummer when they are totally

--You're correct, you should treat the amaryllids differently from the
others. They have perennial roots even when they're dormant; if you keep
those roots plump the plants will grow faster next year. I'd keep those pots
in a shady spot this summer and water them once or twice a month.

--I see you also have a Fritillaria among your seedlings. They too may need
a bit of summer water.

--The other South Africans should be left totally dry after the leaves die
back completely. Do not bake the pots in the sun. Keep them in the shade,
but you should not water them at all until next October. There are some
exceptions (see below), but that is the general rule.

--Watch out for mice eating your dormant bulbs.

--You said your four-inch pots are not deep enough. Why do you think that? I
believe they'll be good for the first two years; after that the bulbs should
be repotted.

--I would put about a dozen seeds in a four inch pot. Yours are a bit
overcrowded in some cases, but not tragically so.

--You asked about pricking out first year bulbs. Don't do it. Even when
dormant, first-year bulbs are often too small to handle safely. It can be
done, but there's a high risk that you'll damage or lose them (they are
sometimes extremely small!) I'd leave them alone this summer and grow them
for another year before repotting. If you seriously feel you have to get
them into larger pots, unpot the whole root ball this summer and put it
intact in a larger pot without separating the bulbs.

--Exception to the above: your Babaina rubrocyanea pot is really crowded,
and I know that species is easy to repot even after just one year. I'd repot
that one after it goes dormant.

--Why do you think slow release fertilizer is a bad idea for bulb seedlings?

--You asked how long the dormancy period will be for your bulbs. It depends
on where exactly the bulbs are native to, but for most of them you can let
your SF climate guide you -- start watering when the weather cools and the
rains usually start (late October) and stop watering when the bulbs go
dormant. That will give you a dry period of about five months.

--Knowing how mild the climate is in SF, I think you should grow most of
your bulbs in full sun. It's correct that bulb seedlings often grow in
partial shade, but it's also true they grow most vigorously after a fire,
when everything has been burned away and they get full sun. The mild
sunshine in SF is not a problem IMO. The danger, as you learned, is getting
the baby bulbs too hot.

--Speaking of which, why were you growing those bulbs in a cold frame?
They're not tomatoes. Your bulbs are adapted to grow in the cool part of the
year. In my experience, they can survive overnight temperatures into the mid
20s F as long as it warms up during the day. In SF you're never going to get
that cold unless there is a freak arctic storm, in which case we'll all be
rigging up tarps the night before. I'd get those pots out of the cold frame,
then you won't have to worry about things overheating.

--You're right, Sharpie pens fade in the sun. All of us learn that lesson.
Pencil lasts a lot better, as does grease pencil. The more sophisticated
gardeners use things like paint pens, or they engrave the plant names on
metal tags.

-- Here's one more recommendation. If you want to learn more about the
climate needs of a particular bulb, do the following:
-Look up its native location on iNaturalist.
-Then look up that location in the summer-dry climate maps on our wiki. They
are here:…  The
maps will tell you the average winter cold and summer water that your bulbs
have evolved to expect. As you'll see, different parts of South Africa are
quite different. This info may give you ideas on how to treat a species that
gives you trouble.

I hope this is helpful. Please keep asking questions!

San Jose, CA

pbs mailing list…
Unsubscribe: <>

More information about the pbs mailing list