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Plant bulbs in January? five offbeat choices.

What pops up after you tuck these winter roots into the ground is often not what you expect. Some are beautiful, some peculiar, but you're likely to find growing them an adventure either way.

From now into February, these bulbs and bulb-like plants appear in nurseries in small quantities. All need good drainage; give them full sun unless note. In cold-winter climates, plant in a greenhouse or outdoors after frosts. When foliage dies back next fall, protect bulbs from frosts with a thick mulch or by digging and storing them in a cool, dry place.

Here's how these uncommon plants perform, in the order the bulbs are shown. Voodoo lily (Sauromatum guttatum). What's extraordinary about this plant is its foliage. First a thick spike pokes up. Gradually it develops purple freckles and unrolls a semicircular chain of seven or more leaflets, one after another. It holds leafy crown until late summer, then disappears back into its tuberous root. When the tuber gets large enough, it sends up greenish, purple-speckled flowers shaped like calla lillies. Plant in partial shade; leaves burn in full sun.

Summer hyacinth (Galtonia). Put the word "giant" in front of this common name and you'll have a truer picture of this plant. The 3-foot flower-tipped spires look best in dense clumps planted in the ground. Space bulbs a foot apart in clusters; they'll improve in appearance each year as plants multiply. Bait regularly for snails and slugs, especially while shoots are emerging in spring. Cut flowers are long-lasting but have no scent.

Tigridia. Their 4-inch-wide flowers open at dawn and wither by dusk, but most of the 2- to 3-foot stalks bear five or more buds, so the fireworks continue for many weeks during mid- to late summer. For best effect, plant 5 inches apart in clusters of a dozen or more. Flowers last longer if you provide afternoon shade, especially in hot climates.

Gladiolus, two ways. If you like the light, airy look of wildflowers, try the nanus-type baby glads. These come only in white, pink, coral, or red, sometimes marked with a darker blotch. They are usually sold as named varieties, including 'Catalina', (salmon), 'Comet' (red), 'Impressive' (peach with a darket blotch), and 'Rembrandt' (pink). Their slender 2-foot stems need minimal staking.

If you want flowers that stand straight and deliver a blast of color, go for the standard glads in either full or miniature sizes. Their flowers are full, densely packed along the stalk, and come in every color of the rainbow except blue. Plant tall varieties 6 inches deep to help support the 4-foot stalks; plant miniatures (both standard and nanus types) 4 inches deep. Plant all kinds in clusters of 10 to 12, with corms spaced 4 to 6 inches apart.
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Publication:Sunset
Date:Jan 1, 1984
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