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In bloom: Crinums

Crinum_from Jenks to BPolomski

First flowers of Crinum bulbispermum.

Since moving to the South many years ago, I’ve always been fond of crinums (pronounced “CRY-nums”) or swamp lilies. In my travels across the state I’ve seen them in gardens, cemeteries, old home sites, and roadside ditches. In the spring bold green leaves sprout from underground bulbs (some attain the size of grapefruits) to create a fountainlike haystack of straplike leaves. In the summer clusters of lilylike flowers appear on three foot tall stalks in colors that range from white, pink, or striped (“milk and wine lilies”). Several common varieties include ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ (red), ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ (deep pink to red), and C. x powellii ‘Album (white). The Orange River lily (C. bulbispermum) is well-suited for wet areas (“hog wallows”); it’s flowering now in my garden (pictured) and will bloom sporadically though the summer and fall with white, pink or striped flowers.

Crinum Jenks to BP May 13 2015

Closeup of Crinum bulbispermum flower.

More hard-to-find cultivars worth seeking out include the purple-leaved ‘Sangria’ with deep wine-pink flowers and ‘Regina’s Disco Lounge’ with large pale pink-white flowers with a darker central stripe to each lobe. Depending on the cultivar, crinums may bloom one time or sporadically throughout the season. To see these and hundreds of other crinum species and hybrids, visit Riverbanks Garden in Columbia.

Crinums not only offer ornamental interest, but also provide functional uses as well. In a regional gardening magazine crinum purveyor/aficionado and South Carolina plantsman, Jenks Farmer, wrote how he used “Momma’s Orange River lily as a hurdle for running and jumping races.”

Beauty and durability: isn’t it time you added a crinum to your landscape?

Recycling Easter lilies

If you saved your poinsettias with plans of coercing them into bloom for next Christmas, then you’re probably going to save your Easter lilies. But for those of you who compost your holiday plants, you may want to make an exception with Easter lilies. They can be recycled by replanting them in the landscape. Unlike tender poinsettias which can be killed by temperatures below 50 degrees F, Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum var. eximium) are hardy, garden-worthy bulbs that can be grown outdoors year-round,

Right now, continue to enjoy their pure white fragrant flowers indoors. They should be resting near a window that receives bright, indirect sunlight. Keep the potting medium moist. Water the plant thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry, but avoid overwatering. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, be careful not to let the plant sit in trapped, standing water. Remove the plant from decorative pots or covers and water until it seeps out of the pot’s drain holes. Repeat this several times. Allow the plant to drain for a few minutes before putting it back into its decorative cover.

When a mature flower starts to fade and wither, cut it off to keep the plant looking attractive.

After the last flower of your Easter lily has withered and has been cut away, plant it in the garden. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Prepare a well-drained garden bed in a sunny location amended with organic matter such as compost. Good drainage is the key for success with lilies. To ensure adequate drainage, create a raised garden bed by moving soil to the top a few inches higher than the surrounding soil level. Also, adjust the soil pH to 6.5 to 7.0.
  2. Plant the potted Easter lily bulbs 12 to 18 inches apart. Water them in immediately after planting.
  3. Lilies like their “feet in the shade and their heads in the sun.” Mulch with a 2-inch layer of compost, pine straw, or shredded leaves. This helps conserve moisture in between waterings, suppresses weed growth, keeps the soil cool, and provides nutrients as it decays.
Liliumlongiflorum_6_22_14

Easter lily in bloom on June 22, 2014 in Easley, SC.

As the leaves and stems of the original plants begin to turn brown and die back, cut them back just above a healthy leaf on the stem. Wait until the leaves and stems have turned brown before removing them. New growth will soon emerge.

In the fall when the lily stalks have matured and turned yellow, you can cut them back to soil level. When they are completely dry, the stalks can be pulled out easily.

During the winter months, maintain a generous layer of mulch. Carefully remove the mulch in the spring to allow new shoots to come up. Fertilize with a complete fast-release fertilizer such as 8-8-8 when the new shoots emerge and monthly until flowering. Conversely, a slow-release fertilizer can be applied just once during the growing season when new shoots emerge in the spring. Apply the fertilizer to the soil around each plant about 2 inches from the stem and water it in.

Easter lilies, which were forced to flower under controlled greenhouse conditions on Easter, a holiday that can fall on any Sunday from March 22 to April 25, will flower naturally in late May and June and will reach a height of 3 feet or more.

Although your recycled Easter lilies will not bloom on time, you can still enjoy their elegant flowers and take credit for their spectacular display.

Bob Polomski (c) 2015

Put summer-flowering bulbs to work while you vacation

For some, summer is the season for vacations.  Fine, but that doesn’t mean that your landscape has to go on vacation too.  You can extend the springtime pageantry of colors, flowers, and fragrances throughout the summer with bulbs.  Some bulbs require a little attention, while others thrive on neglect.  In this entry I’d like to introduce you to a few of my favorite summer bulbs.

Dahlias come in nearly every color but blue on stems that range from a foot high to over 5 feet.  Their head-turning flowers range from soft peony shapes to spiky cactus shapes.  Pom-pom dahlias produce tight balls of tiered, rounded petals, while others look like daisies or anemones.  I‚m especially fond of ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ which grows two to three feet high with burgundy-black leaves and garnet red anemone-type flowers.  For competitive gardeners, grow the mammoth „dinner plate‰ dahlias with six to 9 inch wide flowers, such as ‘Thomas Edison’‚ (purple), ‘Kelvin Floodlight’‚ (golden yellow), or ‘Garden Wonder’‚ (red).

For looks and fragrance I turn to lilies with flowers that come in several colors:  red, yellow, orange, pink, lavender, cream, white, and purple.  They range in height from 1 to 6 feet.  For starters I recommend Asiatic lilies, Easter lilies (you planted your potted Easter lilies outside, didn’t you?), and the late summer to early fall-flowering Formosa lilies that bear fragrant, off-white funnel-shaped flowers in a candelabra-like display.

Pineapple lilies, particularly ‘Sparkling Burgundy‚ with its intense reddish-purple leaves, has been a reliable performer for me..  With anticipation I look forward to the miniature purple pineapple flower bud rising a foot or two high and watch it open gradually to reveal a a spike of white flowers.

Crinums or swamp lilies are the quintessential summer bulb for southern gardens.  In the spring bold green leaves sprout from underground bulbs (some attain the size of grapefruits) to create a fountainlike haystack of straplike leaves.  In the summer clusters of lilylike flowers appear on three foot tall stalks in colors that range from white, pink, or striped (“milk and wine lilies”).  Several common varieties include ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ (red), ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ (deep pink to red), and C. x powellii ‘Album (white).  The Orange River lily (C. bulbispermum) is well-suited for wet areas (“hog wallows”); it blooms in the Spring and sporadically though the summer and fall producing white, pink or striped flowers.

More hard-to-find cultivars worth seeking out include the purple-leaved ‘Sangria’ with deep wine-pink flowers and ‘Regina’s Disco Lounge’ with large pale pink-white flowers with a darker central stripe to each lobe. Depending on the cultivar, crinums may bloom one time or sporadically throughout the season.  To see these and hundreds of other crinum species and hybrids, visit Riverbanks Garden in Columbia.

Summer bulbs cultivated for their big, bold leaves include the elephant ears or colocasias.  Growing three to five feet in height, these cultivars are grown for their colorful stems and leaves: ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Blue Hawaii’,‚ ‘Hawaiian Eye’,‚ and ‘Lime Aide.‚  For an eyecatching accent plant, conversation piece, and quick summertime shade, grow Jack’s Giant Elephant Ear.  This colocasia introduced by Jack de Vroomen of Greenwood, SC, reaches a height of seven feet and produces umbrella-sized leaves with wavy margins.

These are just a few of the many summer bulbs that will invigorate you and your landscape without having to take a vacation.

(c)2014. Bob Polomski

###

Growing Easter lilies year-round in the landscape

Liliumlongiflorum_June 22_2014

Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum var. eximium) grove in Piedmont, SC on June 22, 2014.

If you saved your poinsettias with plans of coercing them into bloom for next Christmas, then you’re probably going to save your Easter lilies.  But for those of you who compost your holiday plants, you may want to make an exception with Easter lilies.  They can be recycled by replanting them in the landscape.  Unlike tender poinsettias which can be killed by temperatures below 50 degrees F, Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum var. eximium) are hardy, garden-worthy bulbs that can be grown outdoors year-round,

Right now, continue to enjoy their pure white fragrant flowers indoors.  They should be resting near a window that receives bright, indirect sunlight.  Keep the potting medium moist.  Water the plant thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry, but avoid overwatering. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, be careful not to let the plant sit in trapped, standing water.  Remove the plant from decorative pots or covers and water until it seeps out of the pot’s drain holes. Repeat this several times. Allow the plant to drain for a few minutes before putting it back into its decorative cover.

When a mature flower starts to fade and wither, cut it off to keep the plant looking attractive.

After the last flower of your Easter lily has withered and has been cut away, plant it in the garden.  Follow these simple steps:

1.  Prepare a well-drained garden bed in a sunny location amended with organic matter such as compost.  Good drainage is the key for success with lilies.  To ensure adequate drainage, create a raised garden bed by moving soil to the top a few inches higher than the surrounding soil level.  Also, adjust the soil pH to 6.5 to 7.0.

  1. Plant the potted Easter lily bulbs 12 to 18 inches apart.  Water them in immediately after planting.
Liliumlongiflorum_6_22_14

Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum var. eximium) on June 22, 2014 in Piedmont, SC.

3.  Lilies like their “feet in the shade and their heads in the sun.” Mulch with a 2-inch layer of compost, pine straw, or shredded leaves. This helps conserve moisture in between waterings, suppresses weed growth, keeps the soil cool, and provides nutrients as it decays.

As the leaves and stems of the original plants begin to turn brown and die back, cut them back just above a healthy leaf on the stem. Wait until the leaves and stems have turned brown before removing them.  New growth will soon emerge.

In the fall when the lily stalks have matured and turned yellow, you can cut them back to soil level. When they are completely dry, the stalks can be pulled out easily.

During the winter months, maintain a generous layer of mulch. Carefully remove the mulch in the spring to allow new shoots to come up. Fertilize with a complete fast-release fertilizer such as 8-8-8 when the new shoots emerge and monthly until flowering.  Conversely, a slow-release fertilizer can be applied just once during the growing season when new shoots emerge in the spring.  Apply the fertilizer to the soil around each plant about 2 inches from the stem and water it in.

Easter lilies, which were forced to flower under controlled greenhouse conditions on Easter, a holiday that can fall on any Sunday from March 22 to April 25, will flower naturally in late May and will reach a height of 3 feet or more.

Although your recycled Easter lilies will not bloom on time, you can still enjoy their elegant flowers and take credit for their spectacular display.