Monday, October 19, 2009

Spring Starflower Like Grandma Used To Grow

Ipheion uniflorum (pronounced IF-ee-on you-nee-FLO-rum) is a lovely old-fashioned plant that your grand-mother may have grown.  It's native to Argentina and other parts of South America, but it seems so natural that you'd think it was from around here.  In my town, it pops up early- to mid-spring in lawns throughout the older neighborhoods.   It was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, then apparently passed along from one gardener to another.

Its common name is Spring Star-flower, and as the name suggests, it is shaped like a star, pale to medium blue or purplish in color.  Plant height is about 6 to 10 inches.  Foliage is grass-like and smells like garlic when crushed under foot.  Perhaps because of the fragrance, Ipheion is deer-resistant.

Ipheion is perfect for naturalizing, alpine and rock gardens and containers.  Wonderful for edging garden paths.  I recommend you plant at least a couple hundred of them.

Ipheion is hardy in USDA climate zones 5 to 9.  They prefer full sun to partial shade in average garden soil. Ideal pH ranges from 6.1 to 7.8.  Though drought tolerant during summer months, they benefit from slightly moist soil during the growing season. Use a high quality grade of potting soil if growing in containers.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep.

Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  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.

Plant Ipheion about 2" to 4" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  You can plant them as close as 3" apart.  Unless rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.  Because the plants are damaged at temperatures below 14 degrees Fahrenheit, gardeners in climate zones 5 - 7 should plant them 5" deep or cover with mulch for added protection.

Planted liberally, Ipheion will make a wonderful, long-lasting show in your spring garden.  You'll be glad you planted this lovely heirloom.

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