Thursday, August 27, 2009

Enjoy A Multitude Of Muscari

Muscari, also known as Grape Hyacinths, are wonderful little plants that are very easy to grow and highly adaptable. They have been popular for so long, and so widely distributed that you'd think they are native to everywhere. But they are native to parts of Europe, around the Mediterranean region, west and central Asia.

There are 30 or 40 species, but you could count on one hand those that are commonly cultivated. Popular ones include Muscari armeniacum, Muscari botryoides, Muscari comosum, Muscari latifolium and Muscari macrocarpum.

The name, muscari, refers to their fragrance which is thought to resemble musk. M. armeniacum is so-named because it is native to the region surrounding Armenia. M. botryoides refers to the appearance of the flower clusters resembling grapes. M. comosum refers to the hairy appearance of the flowers. The wide leaves of M. latifolium suggested its name. Macrocarpum means "large-fruit."

Flower colors include dark blue, light blue, lilac, white and yellow. If you are looking for a dark blue flower for your garden, muscari are sure to please. They are excellent for bulb gardens, perennial gardens, container gardens, rock gardens, mass plantings, or naturalized areas. Muscari look best when planted in multitude. Perhaps the most famous planting of blue grape hyacinths is in Holland’s Keukenhof Gardens where the lavish river of color flows amongst the trees.

Most grape hyacinths are hardy in USDA climate zones 3 to 8. Plant in full sun or partial shade in average, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. They often provide collection bags. With each soil sample, indicate the type of bulb you intend to grow in it. For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee. For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more. Follow the recommendations.

Bulb planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area. Your Cooperative Extension office can advise you. Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds. Common soil amendments include sulphur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for bulbs. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be helpful.

Your soil sample report from your local Cooperative Extension Service will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test. Following its instruction should be a good bet. A fine all-around practice for Spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden. Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

Most flower bulbs should be planted three times as deep as they are wide. For muscari, that means about 3” deep. Plant them about 4" apart. Cover the bulbs with soil and add a top-dressing of mulch about 2" deep to suppress weeds. Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Many popular flower bulbs are toxic to mammals, but muscari are apparently not among them. In parts of Greece and Italy, the bulbs of M. latifolium are eaten as pickles. But unless you know what you're doing, it's best not to eat them. They could at least cause an upset stomach.

Muscari require practically no maintenance. Plant ‘em and forget about ‘em. They should return every year in greater numbers than the last, and provide you with a fantastic display.

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