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Summer surprises in February's bulb bins.

Summer surprises in February's bulb bins

For some surprises in late spring and summer, look in bulb bins this month for little-known treasures. These bulbs take a little extra effort to locate, but we think you'll find the rewards worth it. Supplies are limited, so check nurseries or order soon by mail (write to Anthony J. Skittone, 1415 Eucalyptus Dr., San Francisco 94132; catalog $1).

Three offbeat choices

Pineapple flower (Eucomis). Somewhat gawky in youth, this plant gains grace with maturity, forming sculptural clumps 1 to 3 feet tall. Most widely sold is E. bicolor, with pale green flowers and a top tuft often edged with a fine line of purple. Greenish white flowers of E. bicolor alba are a cool, restful addition to a shade garden. Both have exotic, jungly looks.

Plant bulbs 4 inches deep in full sun near the coast or in bright shade inland. If protected with a loose mulch, they can take moderate frosts, but where soil freezes, plant in pots and move indoors in winter.

Water regularly from now until fall. After foliage dies back in winter, they can go almost dry, though moisture won't hurt them if drainage is good.

Blood lily (Haemanthus katharinae, H. multiflorus katharinae). Temperamental and expensive, but spectacular, these bulbs cost $4 or more apiece ($10 to $18 for three). Flowers last about a month; foliage looks good until frost.

In a container of rich potting soil, plant with the bulb tip at the soil surface. Until leaves grow, water just enough to keep soil barely moist. Keep pots where they'll stay about 70| (50| to 55| is fine at night)--indoors or in a greenhouse.

Once leaves appear, water regularly and feed about once a month. When weather is warm, move the plant outdoors to a protected spot in bright shade. Snails and slugs love blood lily, so bait regularly.

Aztec lily (Sprekelia formosissima, also called Amaryllis formosissima). In warm, frost-free areas of Southern California, you can plant this bulb in the ground in full sun. Inland, flowers usually last better in partial shade. Where temperatures dip below about 20|, plant in a container and move indoors in winter.

Plant with the neck of the bulb at the soil surface. After bloom, if you alternately let soil dry out somewhat, then water amply, plants often rebloom--sometimes almost continuously during warm weather. For Mrs. K.F. Morgan, near Corona del Mar, California, the bulbs multiply "so fast they almost push themselves out of the ground.' Fast-draining sandy soil and heat reflected from nearby paving probably help.

All three bulbs bloom best when crowded, so disturb them infrequently. When leaves yellow, reduce watering and let foliage die back. Store plants dry in their pots.

Photo: Tufted stalks of pineapple flower bear thick clusters of white to pale green flowers for a month or more in late summer

Photo: Coral globes of blood lily are 5 inches wide; six 3-foot stems grow from a wood container about 10 inches in diameter

Photo: Curvy red Aztec lily, 5 inches across, rises above tidy foliage in June, sometimes reblooms (see suggestions at left)
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Feb 1, 1988
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