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Three bulbs that produce mightily in arid climates.

Three bulbs that produce mightily in arid climates

Some of the best bulbs for mild-winter climates are hard to find. Among the favorites of bulb connoisseurs are babiana, streptanthera, and tritonia. Their strength lies in their great productivity and adaptability to arid climates.

In nursery bulb bins, their small corms look puny and inconsequential. Even the first year or two in your garden, the small, scattered flowers may not catch your attention. But be patient. With proper care, your reward after a few years will be a sheet of color.

You can choose from the rich magenta to purple shades of babiana, or the fiery orange to pale salmon of tritonia and streptanthera. Each produces many 1 1/2-inch-wide flowers on 8- to 12-inch-long stems. Bloom lasts two to four weeks in the spring.

More common bulbs that take similar care and conditions are freesia (white, yellow, pink, red, or purple) and sparaxis (orange, red, salmon, and white, with yellow and burgundy markings).

Check unrseries to find out which of the three uncommon bulbs, if any, they have ordered. They usually start arriving in late August and often sell quickly. Or order soon from mail-order sources listed below--they also have limited supplies.

Plant the bulbs 2 to 4 inches deep and apart. Give them full sun and fast-draining soil that's not too rich. You can also grow them in pots, with bulbs placed almost side by side.

Water as needed to keep them moist from fall through the spring growing season. Clear away aggressive competition from weeds. After bloom, let old foliage dry fully. Water little or not at all in summer (bulbs sometimes rot in moist soil).

Two mail-order sources for hard-to-find varieties

Burkard Nurseries, 690 N. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena 91103 (price list free in person, $2 by mail): babiana, freesia, sparaxis, streptanthera, and tritonia.

The Country Garden, Box 455A, Route 2, Crivitz, Wis. 54114 (price list is free; catalog $2): freesia, sparaxis, streptanthera, and tritonia.

Photo: Naturalized on a rocky hillside (at right), masses of salmon streptanthera bloom on 8-inch stalks. Above, a due-up clump of corms is ready to be divided after five years
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Sep 1, 1986
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