Ranunculus - The Ultimate Spring Bloomer
There are very few flowers as beautiful as a ranunculus. Ranunculus are early spring bloomers and a cut flower staple for the floral industry with a long vase life and gorgeous colors in a range of brights to soft pastels. Their sophisticated blooms fill spring bridal bouquets and show up at a time when winter is waning and everyone is longing for colorful flowers. This makes them a “must grow” for flower farmers, but surprisingly they are not widely available to the home gardener. At Little Island Flowers we aim to change that because they are relatively easy to grow and your garden deserves the bit of sophistication they’ll add.
You can sometimes find blooming 4” pots of blooming ranunculus available in garden centers of the big box stores in spring, however they’re mass produced by commercial growers and you rarely see anything but the bright red, yellow, white and orange - they’re offering you what they think you want. In Fall, at the best planting time, we sell corms of both Italian and Tecolote ranunculus, in an amazing range of colors. They make extraordinary cut flowers that last so long in a vase or in your garden and are sure to impress your friends and neighbors.
Ranunculus are perennial in Zones 8-10, which makes them perfect for our Zone 8 gardens and containers where we have mild winters and long, cool springs. In Zones 8-10 ranunculus are best planted in the Fall and will then bloom in early Spring, often for a period of 5-7 weeks. You can grow them in Zones 3-7, but they’ll need to be started indoors or planted outside in late winter or early spring after the threat of a hard frost has passed. Ranunculus planted in late winter or early spring will flower mid-spring, generally have fewer bloom stems and usually bloom for 4-6 weeks.
Ranunculus may be planted in the ground or in a container. Either way, you’ll want soil that is well drained and with full sun exposure. Your ranunculus corms will come dried out and shriveled looking. Before planting, you’ll need to soak them in lukewarm water for 4-6 hours. The corms will swell and plump up during this soak and it “wakes” the corm to start the grow process. Schedule your soaking so that you’ll be able to drain and plant the corms at the end of their soak - no more than 6 hours. The corms are susceptible to rot if left to soak too long.
Drain the corms and handle them carefully as the little “fingers” that attach to the crown may easily break off the corm. You’re bound to lose a few, so don’t worry too much about it, just handle them delicately. At this point, you have a choice of how to plant them.
You can plant them directly into the ground or container where they will spend their growing season. Plant them 1-2” deep and about 4-6” apart with the “pointed” ends of the corm facing downward. After planting, gently soak the soil. This is where well drained soil is important. The corms will rot if they are constantly water drenched. They will develop roots over the winter and flower stems will be produced in the spring. As long as your planting location or container is well drained, our wet fall, winter and early spring weather will generally keep them watered. You’ll need to water them if we have a dry spell as you don’t want them to dry out.
As flower farmers, we like to “pre-sprout” our ranunculus corms which is the other way to deal with them after their soak. This is a way to ensure that your corms are viable and gets them off to a good start before planting them. You too can pre-sprout your corms - it’s easy to do. After soaking and draining the corms, we spread them in a thin layer over potting soil in a tray and cover them lightly with another layer of potting soil (like a corm sandwich!). We water lightly and make sure it doesn’t dry out as the corms come to life and sprout. Usually within 2-3 weeks you’ll see lots of white roots and little green shoots coming out of the crown. We then plant them into their seasonal grow space. Don’t let the green shoots get too long before planting them as they may break off easily. You may encounter a corm or two that haven’t sprouted like the rest. As long as it’s not mushy (rotten), go ahead and plant it because it’s very likely it will grow just fine.
Ranunculus make great cut flowers. Cut them when the buds are opening enough to show some color. It’s not unusual for them to last 2-3 weeks in a vase with proper water changes. Ranunculus really don’t like the heat and if we have a hot spell with temps 80+ degrees for a few days, they will shut down. You’ll know they are done blooming when they don’t send up any more bloom stems and their foliage starts to yellow and die back. When this happens, stop watering your patch of ranunculus and let the foliage die back naturally because it will continue to feed the corm and strengthen it for next year. Once the foliage is completely dead and dry you may remove it.
Ranunculus need a dormant period - which generally happens over summer - in order to perpetuate their perennial life cycle. During this dormant time, they need to remain dried out. This will be a challenge if you leave them planted in a garden bed or a mixed plant container. A more sure method of preserving them is to dig them up once their foliage has died back and they have gone dormant. Remove any soil on the corm and lay them out in a warm, dry place to ensure they are completely dry. You can then store them in a paper bag in a cool but dry location until mid-September when you can soak them and start the planting process all over again.
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