Garden Diary - August 2022

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Rain Returns and Summer Bulbs Are Happy
Monday, 22 August 2022

Rain has been in the forecasts. A week out there would be mention of precipitation on - perhaps - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. The closer we would get, the less there would be. Until it all went away. Often, you see, it goes north. Or south. But not over here. Then yesterday indicated rain last night and today. That's too close to have it vanish. I moved 15 pots of Rhodophiala bifida out of the greenhouse. (More about that later.)

The drought has severely stressed plants. Any with shallow root systems, trees and shrubs included, started into an early false autumn with drooping, shriveling, dropping leaves. There is one category though, which is able to cope better than most. And that would be bulbs, which are a mechanism plants use to cope with hard times. Including summer drought.

In fact, one genus of bulbs - tulips - really need a summer dry spell. Have you ever planted tulips in the fall, which flowered wonderfully the following spring. But the year after that, they have no flowers, only a pair of outsize, "rabbit ear" leaves. That's because water in summer - either rain or irrigation - confuses the root primordia in the bulb which expect to trigger growth on moisture within the bulb, not supplied externally.

Other bulbs do want summer water.

When I was driving around in mid-August to look at the situation

I happened to see a clump of Lycoris squamigera blooming in the weeds by a 17th century stone house. Not that the bulbs would be contemporary though the well established colony has clearly been there for a while. Lycoris are hysteranthous, flowers appearing precociously before the leaves (which in this species do not grow until spring, after winter.)

Of course during the drought I have been doing my best to water, especially potted plants around the house and in the greenhouse.

Four o'clocks, Mirabilis hybrids, are tall and have tender leaves which quickly wilt.
They served as a good indicator plant when water was needed for that set of pots.

Much the size of a crocus flower, zephyranthes flowers of the west wind,
rain lilies, especially Zephyranthes candida, like to sit in shallow water.

As you can tell from the browned leaf tips, my watering of Crinum ×powelii was
inadequate for the season of drought. But the flowers were formed last year, held
within the bulb until time to bloom. Notice also how the flower stalk is coming up
to the side of the pseudostem of leaves rather than centered among them.

Now, about the oxblood, schoolhouse lilies, Rhodophiala bifida, that had me shuttling their pots outdoors when a promising forecast offered rain within 24 hours. Winter green, they have been dormant for months. Water from the tap has never triggered their hysteranthous flowering. It takes rain.

I'll provide an update when buds begin to appear. It doesn't take long.

And the rain came, a most welcome 2.42 inches.

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