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Beyond the Bulb: Planting Geophytes

The Martha Stewart Show, March 2010

Bulbs are the most well-known propagators of geophytes, which are plants with nutrient-storing organs. But less discussed are the beautiful geophytes that grow from storage units such as rhizomes, tubers, and corms.

Andrew Beckman, gardening editorial director for Martha Stewart Living, recommends looking for big, beefy organs -- they'll yield the most foliage and flowers. "Keep them a little on the dry side right after potting up to prevent rot," he adds. "And keep them evenly moist once they start growing."

Planting times will vary depending on where you live, but in general you'll want to wait until the arrival of mild spring climes to begin planting geophytes.

Here are some of Andrew's favorite geophytes, with information about their unique planting requirements.

Rhizomes

Rhizomes are swollen stems that grow horizontally, typically underground, and send up leaves and flowers at intervals. Irises are the best-known rhizomes.

Rhizomes should be planted end up, with the tip about 1 inch below the surface of the soil. In containers, they look best planted close together. Be careful not to overwater rhizomes in planters because they have a tendency to rot. If planted in the ground, keep them 1 to 2 feet apart and water liberally.

  • Zantedeschia: Zantedeschia, commonly known as calla lilies, are simple to grow and have a long flowering period. Once only widely available in white, the flowers now come in many colors, from deep red to soft pink and bright gold.

  • Canna: Could your garden use a little drama? Try canna. Some of them can grow to 10 feet tall in a single season, and the flowers come in every shade from deep red to bright yellow. The more sun, the bigger and stronger the plant and the more flowers.

  • Hemerocallis: One of the most popular, hardy garden flowers, hemerocallis are commonly known as daylilies.

Tubers

The term "tuber" refers to any plant with underground storage parts. Common tubers are potatoes, dahlias, and gloxinia.

When planting, it's important to find the knobbiest side of the tuber and position that side up. It can be difficult to locate, so look for evidence of old stems or roots. Tubers should be planted 1 inch deep.

  • Dahlias: Dahlias are well-known as beautiful cut flowers -- in fact, Martha loves arranging them around her home. Their color range is endless, including exotic shades like black and deep blood red.

  • Begonias: Begonias are great for hanging basket, with nonstop color from late spring to frost. Be sure to keep them on the dry side, or their stems will rot, and plant with the little depression pointing up.

  • Caladiums: Great for shady gardens or pots, caladiums come in a broad range of colors and patterns, including speckled, veined, and striped.

Corms

Corms are solid, enlarged stem bases such as anemones, crocus and gladiolus. Plant them with the tip about 3 inches below the soil surface. In warm zones, you can plant them right into the garden, but in cooler climates give them a head start by potting them up and growing them inside for about eight weeks before setting them out.

Corms are heavy feeders, so be sure to fertilize them weekly with a liquid fertilizer and water liberally.

  • Dahlias: Dahlias are well-known as beautiful cut flowers -- in fact, Martha loves arranging them around her home. Their color range is endless, including exotic shades like black and deep blood red.

  • Colocasia: Colocasia esculenta, a.k.a. elephant ears, is also called taro. It's a staple in many Pacific island countries. It's grown for its dramatic foliage.

  • Gladiolus: Gladiolus is a classic cut flower. In the garden, plant at regular intervals (every 10 days) to insure a continuous display or harvest for cutting.