November Tasks in the California Native Garden: Planting Bulbs

Getting ready to plant bulbs of Calochortus albus, fairy lanterns.

I recently wrote an article for our local paper, to encourage people to come to our next CNPS chapter meeting (Monday November 12, at the UCSC Arboretum, 7:30 pm) and hear Helen Popper talk about her wonderful book, California Native Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide, reviewed by Town Mouse in this post.

So, following her advice about November tasks in the garden, I've been pruning, and also planting bulbs.

Bulbs and corms are collectively called geophytes, I recently learned, a cool scientific term.

The bulbs were great fun to plant out - so exciting, the prospect of them growing and thriving in the garden! This is the beginning of their third year - I planted them as seeds in 2010. You can read my post about how to grow native bulbs from seed here, and what I found when I tipped the bulb boxes out this August here. They all grew wild locally, and I harvested the seed.

Here's an interesting tip from Helen Popper's book: “While many native bulbs do thrive in wild meadows, newly planted bulbs have a hard time competing with well-established grasses in a garden.” So I didn't plant any among well established grasses. Actually I don't have any. But I do have a long-term goal of creating a coastal prairie garden on the flat south facing area one of these days - with bulbs and perennials and annuals and grasses.

I planted Toxicoscordion fremontii, Fremont's star lily, on an open chaparral slope, with a little shade from a shrub (on the left there) - near where I found the original plant growing.

Nearby I planted some soap plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum. It can take quite a bit of sun. Here it has some high shade from an old flowering fruit tree.

Similarly, I planted the Calochortus albus, fairy lanterns, at the shady lower edge of the redwood grove, near where I gathered the seeds. I didn't see any wild ones there last year - not sure why they grow some years, and other years not.

I planted a few of each type of bulb in two or three different locations, to see if one might come up even if another lot didn't. And because you don't want to water bulbs in summer - I had to pick areas where I know I won't be watering in summer - and I marked them so I wouldn't forget to not water!

I planted the mystery one that I do hope grows and flowers so I can figure out what the heck it is. Not knowing if it likes sun or shade or what - I just planted a few near the other bulbs in different growing conditions. And this time I carefully labeled them all, and I took photos as well, to remind me.

Can no-one tell me what these weird things are? I did not label the seeds so I have no idea.

And I put some of the smaller bulbs back in their bulb boxes, with a bit more plant food, to see what happens next.

I added the wood on top because the day after I put them up, I found holes where something had pawed at them. I need to replace it with wire - add that to the to do list.

I do hope I see stems pushing up, before too long... and maybe even flowers.

FYI here is a summary of the November garden tasks Helen Popper writes about in her chapter on November.

November Garden Tasks

It’s time to lightly prune sages, cut back large established perennials like matilija poppy, and pinch shrubs to keep them bushy. With the first rains come the first weeds. Scuff them out while they are small, and replenish the mulch around established plants for weed prevention. Now is the best time to buy and plant perennials, shrubs, native bulbs, and trees (this chapter has great information about growing oaks). Popper advises sowing wildflower seeds in waves starting now, and continuing every few weeks through fall and winter, for a long spring show. It’s also a good time to propagate from cuttings or divisions.


Jason said…
Not sure if we have native bulbs in the Midwest. I think all my bulbs and corms are exotic - crocus, tulip, narcissus, snowdrop, muscari ... Oh yes, Dutchman's breeches are a native Dicentra! And shoothing star. The other spring ephemerals all grow from rhizomes, I think.

Can't wait to see pics of your bulbs in spring.
Alison said…
Could your unidentified weird things be Erythronium/dogtooth violet? They kind of remind me of the ones I bought a few years ago.

Good for you growing native bulbs from seed. Not an easy thing to do. I hope they thrive for you.
Country Mouse said…
Alison - googling for seed capsules of Erythronium I see things that look like the seed capsules of the mystery thing -- however when I search for all Erythronium in Santa Cruz - nada!! Possibility - it was a garden escapee plant of that genus. Other possibility it's something else in the family Liliaceae that is native and has a similar seed capsule and cormy/tubery thing? Thanks for the tip - looks like the right direction...
Jason - I looked up geophyte again - it doesn't seem to include rhizomes - just corms, bulbs, and tubers - storage type things I guess. Dutchman's breeches can be invasive in California I think - I do see them growing, very impressive plants. Midwest has the prairies - and so does California in a sense - I've been reading about our grassland/prairies in the CNPS quarterly, Fremontia - very interesting and extremely botanically rich - and great sequesterers of carbon too.
I'm curious about all the boxes and controls on your verandah. Solar power? Irrigation circuits?

The mystery of a pot of bulbs which have lost their labels and spread themselves around, and mixed everything up! Sometimes I tip out the pot, sort out the bulbs, then wonder what are you??
Country Mouse said…
Yes, Diana, that's our solar power - we have two inverters and as many panels as would go on the available sides of our odd shaped roof. I do like garden mysteries though - that sense of surprise waiting round the corner!
We have a LOT of Calochortus albus that grows wild here. If you ever need more seed, let me know ;) I do notice though that I never see them growing in the grassier areas, with the exception of one area near the goat barn where there are a few clumps of Hierochloe occidentalis, but nothing dense. Mostly I see the Calcochortus growing in very poor soil along the road cuts and edges of paths. I hope your bulbs do well, and I'm looking forward to seeing them next spring!
Sandie Anne said…
I always love it in the spring when the daffodils and tulips come up. And the crocus sometimes poking its way through the snow. It is really worth the work in the fall to have these great flowers in the spring.
Country Mouse said…
Crocuses through the snow - now that does take me back!