For The Answer
Week of February 4, 2002
By Calvin Finch, Conservation
Division, Manager, Water Resources & Conservation Dept.,
February is not the official first month of spring but in San Antonio it is in practical terms.The paperwhites are blooming. Recognize them by the lush clumps of upright foliage topped by small, white blooms. There is a debate whether the fragrance is pleasant or unpleasant. I have to admit that when the flowers are inside in an enclosed space it is a bit overwhelming to me. Outside, however, it is acceptable. Paperwhites naturalize to come back every spring if the bulbs are planted in the autumn in full sun or even under deciduous trees. They are especially pleasing in clumps in a shaded lawn under pecans and redbuds. If you have paperwhites now be slow to remove the foliage. As long as it is green, the plant is producing starch to be stored in the bulbs for next springs bloom. Deer do not eat paperwhites.Old-fashioned iris, also called cemetery iris, have also started to bloom. They come in white with sword-like foliage that is attractive year-round as a groundcover. The blue flag type iris will follow shortly. Iris are tolerant of poor soils. The rhizomes should be planted in full sun so that the top is level with the surface of the soil. Fall is the usual time that the rhizomes are planted, but nurseries have iris now in one-gallon containers that can be planted in bloom. Iris are one of the few plants that do not prosper with mulch. The rhizomes rot if planted too deeply or if buried under a mulch that stays soggy.In addition to the early blooming cemetery iris and blue flags there are other great choices in this family. The fancy bearded (German or Dutch) irises are available in yellow, blue, white, red-brown, and many bicolors. Some have spikes three- to six-ft. tall above clumps of narrow leaves. Siberian iris has grass-like foliage. All of the irises seem to be deer-proof.Texas Gold columbines used to be deer-proof, but the deer now have learned to eat the wonderful, soft, green foliage, especially in droughts. One-gallon containers of Texas Gold are available in some nurseries. Planted now they will produce golden, shooting star-like blooms on the end of two-foot stalks in March and provide an attractive groundcover under deciduous trees or thin crowned live oaks.Larkspurs bloom about the same time as native columbines and they naturalize just like the other flowers described in this article. They are annuals, however, and reproduce by reseeding. Obtain a six-pack of transplants from your favorite nursery to plant in full sun. They will bloom in white, pink, and many shades of blue with simple or compound blooms. When the weather warms up the larkspur foliage declines quickly. The seeds disperse from the spent flowers and if they reach bare soil will germinate every year after you plant them. Larkspur is also called delphinium. To have good reseeding success the site must not be mulched. I follow my larkspur up with one of the perennial blue salvias. The salvias freeze back and do not start growing until after the larkspur has declined. A perfect match for the garden. Deer do not seem to eat larkspur (or the salvia). If it is instant color you want for the patio or garden, containers of geranium, snapdragons, pansies, and gerber daisies are very showy now. In the shade use cyclamen and primula.