GARDENING: The truth about bulbs

FLOWERING: The term bulb applies to any plant with a swollen storage organ.

I NOTICED this week that the early summer bulbs have arrived at the nursery – it seems like yesterday that we were stocking up on jonquils and tulips, which should be fertilised when they begin to die off.

I did consider writing this column about the magnificence of spring bulbs, their perfume and colours, but in reality the new bulbs made me stop and think about correct terminology for the many flowering perennials we simply label bulbs.

The most popular planting time is autumn when we prepare for spring colour – if you haven’t been successful and there isn’t any sign of emergence you might still be able to buy freesia and ranunculus plants in seedling punnets.

Now to be a little more definitive – it may surprise you to know that freesias are not bulbs but corms.

Bulb is a term applied loosely to any plant with a swollen or thickened storage organ. Nevertheless, all bulbs and bulb-like structures have one characteristic in common, they are food storage bins that the plant can draw on to start active growth after dormancy.

These storage bins are the reason that you leave the foliage on the plant until it has ripened and dried naturally.

The food for these reserves in the bulb is manufactured in the leaves, so the longer the leaves survive, the bigger the bulb for next season.

Gladioli are corms and are in the same family as crocus, anemones and ranunculus – gladioli flower in summer and together with water lilies and bearded iris will soon be available for planting.

Dahlias are popular summer flowers – they are tubers, not bulbs, as are some begonias, cyclamen and potatoes.

Herbaceous perennials grow from crowns – the difference being that crowns are left divided and cut back, whereas bulbs can be lifted.

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