Cape Gazette
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Garden Journal

Plant bare naked ladies soon

By Paul Barbano | Aug 14, 2013

In life, as in gardens, a little controversy can help. Take the Canadian band that was asked to perform for the 1991 New Year’s Eve concert outside Toronto City Hall when at the last moment a staffer for then-Mayor June Rowlands felt the band’s name objectified women and banned the band.

The public was outraged - not at the band’s name - but at what was seen as political correctness gone too far. Predictably, the band’s sales skyrocketed and the world of music has been richer for the band, Barenaked Ladies.

Nothing gets a gardener’s attention like bare naked ladies. Plant them now and this fall you can have “naked ladies” bloom right in your garden. They are called naked ladies because the “naked” vase-shaped blooms of Colchicums spring up unannounced and glow among the drabber colors of autumn. The leaves pop up in spring and die back like daffodils.

Colchicum The Giant is a large rose-lilac flower with a white base. The Giant blooms over a long period with eight-inch-tall, vase-shaped blooms. Waterlily Colchicum has lavender-pink double blooms that resemble water lilies floating in your lawn. Waterlily grows just six inches tall.

Colchicum Speciosum is a five-inch-tall darker rose-violet flower that is often four inches or more across. This species is a vigorous grower that spreads quickly.

The all-white Colchicum Speciosum Album blooms solid white for a striking contrast against green grass or conifer trees.

Colchicum bulbs are technically corms, because they have an underground stem base, but most gardeners call them bulbs because that’s what they look like. Planted in August or early September, the corms will settle in and burst into bloom within two months.

Plant Colchicums in front of evergreens or shrubs, tuck them among perennials, and even spread some in the grass. Colchicums prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soil with a pH 6.0 to 6.5. In early spring the corms will send up big, pleated leaves that are beautiful in their own right. The leaves die down by July. Let the leaves die naturally, as they are storing energy for fall blooms.

After a few years, if your clumps of flowers get crowded, you can dig them up and separate them. Luckily the corms are very easy to divide. They produce tiny babies or “offsets” quickly, so each one will grow into a cluster of seven or eight within a few years.

The bulbs grow much deeper than you might expect, so dig deep enough to gently lift the entire clump out. Pull the clump apart with your fingers and immediately replant the corms a good six inches deep. The best time to divide corms is early summer when the leaves are yellowing.

Colchicums (Colchicum autumnale) contain colchicine, a poisonous substance that can be toxic to grazing livestock. Colchicine is used to treat gout. Luckily, most household pets leave them alone. Always wear gloves when handling any bulbs to avoid rashes or allergies.

You can cut the delicate blossoms for floral bouquets without harming the plants. And you don’t even have to plant the corms to bloom. Just place them on a sunny windowsill and they will bloom. Like all forced bulbs, letting them bloom without planting weakens the corms, and you may need to toss the windowsill wonders after they bloom.

Colchicums are available for a brief time from mail-order nurseries such as J.W. Jung Seed Company, 335 S. High St., Randolph, WI 53956 (800-297-3123), online at www.jungseed.com; or from White Flower Farm, P.O. Box 50, Route 63, Litchfield, Connecticut 06759 (800-503-9624), online at www.whiteflowerfarm.com.

Order now, plant soon, and your garden will enjoy what Canada has enjoyed for years: bare naked ladies. As for the group Barenaked Ladies? They are now best known for singing the theme song to television’s “Big Bang Theory.” And that is the naked truth.

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