Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Bulbs

Prolific and Terrific: Ranunculus (page 2 of 2)

by Michael MacCaskey

Planting Ranunculus

Dry and hard when you buy them, tubers soften and plump up after absorbing moisture. You might be advised elsewhere to soak tubers before planting. It's not necessary, and if you happen to leave them in water too long, they'll turn to mush.

Choose a location in full sun and be sure the soil is well drained. The one environment that ranunculus do not tolerate is warm and wet. The cool soil of fall and early spring offers some protection from rotting, but soil that is never soggy gives extra insurance. Plant the tuber's claw pointed end down and 1 to 2 inches deep, less in clay soil. Space jumbos 8 to 12 inches apart (at least one tuber per square foot), number three tubers about 4 inches apart (two or three per square foot).

Ranunculus adapt easily to container life, but they do produce a large root system. A 10-inch pot can fit one or two jumbos or three number twos.

Whether tubers are in the garden or in pots, water thoroughly after planting, and apply a mulch of your choice: bark, coco hulls, and straw all work well. As long as soil retains some moisture, don't water again until you see sprouts, usually within 15 to 20 days.

Companion plants. Because ranunculus are cool-season bloomers, their natural companions include other cool-season flowers such as snapdragon (Antirrhinum), calendula, larkspur (Consolida ambigua), Chinese forget-me-not (Cynoglossum amabile), African daisy (Arctotis), candytuft (Iberis), sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus), toadflax (Linaria), forget-me-not (Myosotis), Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule), primrose (Primula), and pansy (Viola). The question is how to combine colors.

Here are two ranunculus color schemes that have proven popular. Interplant pink ranunculus with salmon Iceland poppy and red-purple pansies, and accent with a few yellow and pink English primroses. Another favorite scheme combines salmon ranunculus with blue Chinese forget-me-not.

Ranunculus from seed. If you can locate seed for sale or through a swap, they're definitely worth the effort. Sow in a lightweight, peat-based seed-starting mix in late winter, maintain soil temperature at 50°F, and allow 20 to 30 days for germination. Sow thickly, because the number of seeds that actually grow is low. After germination, maintain seedlings indoors at about 55°F until outdoor planting time. Plants will flower by June.

As cut flowers. Beyond their intrinsic beauty, ranunculus flowers have another virtue: they last indoors about 7 days after cutting. And at about a penny-and-a-half per flower, they are very inexpensive. Cut when flowers first show color, in the early morning after they have had the night to recharge themselves with moisture. For an additional day or two of vase life, add any floral preservative to the water.

After the flowers fade. For some lucky gardeners with perfectly drained, cool soil, the tubers can stay in place and be treated like any perennial that comes back year after year. But this is rare. Most gardeners treat ranunculus as annuals, disposing of them after bloom. You could pull and compost plants, or leave them in place to fade away. In most gardens, the tubers will rot in moist summer soils. More ambitious gardeners can save the tubers for replanting next year. Let blooms fade and plants dry out. Lift tubers, cut off tops, and store in a dry, cool place for planting next year.

Michael MacCaskey is a former editorial director at National Gardening.

Photography by the International Flower Bulb Center

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