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Yes, You Can Try This At Home!
How to grow South African Bulbs

Tom Fischer
Questions? Ask Tom Fischer

By Tom Fischer
Horticulture magazine

October 25, 2002 -- Most of the spectacular bulbs of the Western Cape (moraeas, gladioli, geissorhizas, sparaxis, romuleas, lachenalias, spiloxenes, etc.) are winter growers, which means that they come into growth when the winter rains begin and flower when the weather starts to warm up in spring. By summer, the rains stop and the bulbs go dormant until winter rolls around again. So unless you live in a summer-dry, nearly frost-free part of the country (like parts of the Southwest and coastal California), you'll need to grow your South African bulbs indoors in a pot. Here are some tips:

Gladiolus watermeyeri
Gladiolus watermeyeri
Photo: Ketzel Levine

A mass of Moraea
Photo: Ketzel Levine

Romulea komsbergensis
Romulea komsbergensis
Photo: Ketzel Levine

• Use a fast-draining potting mix. One part standard soilless potting mix to two parts of coarse sand works well. To ensure flawless drainage, make sure there's at least a one-inch layer of broken crocks in the bottom of the pot. A six-inch pot is big enough for three (large) to six (small) bulbs.

• When your bulbs arrive, plant them at a depth that's three times their height. Water them once, then don't water again until the new growth emerges.

• Keep the pots in a cool, sunny area. Temperatures no warmer than 65-70 degrees during the day and 40-50 degrees at night are ideal.

• Once growth has started, allow the potting mix to dry out between waterings. "Don't overwater" is the cardinal rule of growing South African bulbs.

• Fertilize with a soluble high-potassium plant food (that's the K in N-P-K), diluted to one-quarter the recommended strength, every time you water. Fertilizers formulated for hibiscus usually have the right N-P-K ratio.

• After the flowers have faded, the foliage will start to turn yellow and die down. Stop watering and store the pots in a cool, dry place for the summer. Start checking in October for signs of growth; if leaf tips are pushing up, bring the pots back into the light and recommence the watering cycle.

Also in Our Plants of South Africa Series:

South Africa A Journey to the Cape Floral Kingdom

photo galleries Uh Oh, Here Come the Holiday Snaps

Froggy Bottom South Africa at Froggy Bottom

more icon Books! Web sites! Bottomists!


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Copyright © 2002 National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.