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Published: Tuesday, May 29, 2012, 2:11 p.m.

Perennials, bulbs and a Bolivian begonia

  • An Oriental poppy.

    An Oriental poppy.

With most plants that we buy, it is the overall appearance and presence of color that drives us to put it into our cart. Certainly this is the case with annuals and blooming shrubs, but also with perennials. But the trouble with perennials is that most of them only bloom for roughly 5-6 weeks. If we happen to be at the nursery during their blooming cycle we might purchase them, but once they go out of bloom they are usually relegated to the sad plant department (which we also call the “Take Me Home Please” department. At this point what we are buying is a root system.

In the case of perennials, the root system may very well be the best part of the plant. Take, for example, Oriental Poppies. These incredible poppies are blooming in my garden as we speak (check out my Facebook posting) but on our perennial tables in 4-inch pots, they are actually on the verge of going summer dormant. Quite frankly, they aren't much to look at (with the exception of a few that are pushing up blooms). A lot of gardeners would think that they were dying and avoid purchasing them, but you all are much smarter (because you read my columns) and realize that these particular perennials actually bloom in late May and then go summer dormant and start growing again in the fall and remain evergreen all winter. If you plant them now, they will expand their root system and start growing again much sooner and sometimes bloom a second time in the fall.

So, don't be afraid to buy sad 4-inch perennials this time of year. If you really rough up the root system and plant them with lots of compost and fertilizer, they will take off and go nuts in your garden. And as an added bonus, many of them will bloom again later this year.

Spring blooming bulbs: What to do with them now. Many of you who know me are aware that I treat most spring blooming bulbs like tulips and hyacinths as annuals. I often plant them in pots and pitch them out when they are done blooming. If you have these bulbs in your garden, then it is time to remove the old flowers so they don't set seed and cut the foliage halfway back so they don't look quite so ugly. As for Scillas (aka blue bells), you need to act fast or you will have them all over your garden. I just spent the weekend yanking them out, faded bloom spikes and leaves and all as ruthlessly as I can possibly be with plants (I really do love plants, don't get me wrong), all the time knowing that they will return next season totally unfazed (much to the delight of the missus). So either dig your bulbs up and throw them out or tidy them up now and you should be good to go for the rest of the year.

Bolivian begonias: I fell in love with these new introductions a few years back when Bonfire Begonia was first introduced under the Anthony Tesselar label. Bolivian begonias are typically upright cane growing perennials that are more shrub-like than hanging basket-like. But in the last couple of years, the Waterfall Encanto Orange series has been introduced that makes a wonderful mounding plant well suited for baskets or bedded out in the garden. The flower color is a very pleasing coral-orange, and the best part is that these begonias will grow in sun or shade. I have already ordered a couple of flats to put out in my part of the garden (I think the color may be a little too hot for the missus). You should really try some this year since orange is the in color.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached on line at
Story tags » Gardening

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