May be harmful if eaten by humans or animals – Keep away from children and pets
Ranunculus for the early spring
“…Beauty is a guarantee of happiness…” Marcel Proust
Did you know that ranunculus bulbs are sometimes called Persian buttercups? Isn’t it a gorgeous name? Less lovely is ‘crowfoot’ but very understandable given their very distinctive bulbs (tubers, really). It always fascinates me that something as unprepossessing as a claw-like ranunculus bulb can produce a flower so blithe and carefree. You should do a Google search for images of Persian buttercups – there are over 94 000 of them and you have never seen anything so beautiful. They’re like a cross between multi-layered baby rose buds, folded tissue paper and camellia flowers of every bright colour.
Luckily, to own such beauty in real life, you can bypass the thorns and pruning that go with roses, and the constant upkeep a camellia demands. And better by far than pictures (but you must treat yourself to the inspiration anyhow), are the flowers themselves which are as easy as One…Two…Three to grow. In fact, ranunculi were the very first bulbs I ever planted on my own. I had them in a deep swathe along the margin of the flowerbed beside my swimming pool where they bobbed merrily in the bright sunshine and were loved and admired by everyone who stepped into my home. Most of all by me – I could hardly believe my brilliance!
Begin with the basics: One – when, Two – where and Three, how?
Ranunculi don’t like warm soil so they’ll be ready for planting as soon as the summer heat has passed – in the early autumn. They are so-called ‘winter bulbs’ and will flower in the early spring, just when our chilled souls are longing for bright, new life.
However, ranunculus bulbs do love a sunny spot – perhaps lodged deep in their genetic coding is the memory of their origins in southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia. If you plant them in deep shade, they will not grow well or flower. Just about anywhere else will do as long as the soil is not swampy – ranunculi have little tubers like a fist of banana fingers and these must neither be allowed to rot in too much water nor left to dry out and shrivel up. So, soil must drain well and containers (they are gorgeous as pot plants) must not become water-logged either.
Once you have figured out that ranunculus are planted with their fingers facing downwards (as if gripping the soil), you have only to worry about depth. Both roots and plants emerge from the top of the clump, not from the tips of the claws. The general rule for bulbs holds true – cover with about as much soil as the size of the bulb itself – in this case about 3 cm. For a truly magnificent display of flowers, plant ranunculi in groups, each plant about 12 cm from its neighbour, which will give it the space to spread out without getting ‘lost’.
Once your bulbs are in the ground just make sure they remain damp but do not get soggy. Watering regularly and deeply once every four to five days is best. A layer of mulch always helps to retain moisture and improve soil health.
One of the charming things about having ranunculus flowering in the garden is that you can pick them. In fact, you really must pick them because picking stimulates the plant to produce more flowers. Each tuber can produce 5 or 6 dozen flowers up to 4 at a time throughout the season so pick as many flowers as you want. The flowers are absolutely gorgeous and have a long vase life.
Cut the flower stems when they are in bud before they are they are fully open. This way they will last longer in the vase. Flower food (we recommend the professional growers’ choice, Chrysal) will also extend vase life.
Unless you are a really passionate gardener (in which case save the seeds from your very best blooms and sow it in situ in autumn), it’s more trouble than it’s worth to save ranunculus bulbs after their first season. They’re inexpensive to purchase and the results you get from year to year from fresh bulbs will be predictably superb.
Design tips: As ranunculus flowers last longer and thrive in the cool, sunny conditions of early spring, think about planning to plant other cool weather loving annuals and perennials to pair with these flowers. Pink and orange ranunculus flowers are gorgeous against blue pansies. Yellow snapdragons together with orange or red ranunculus make cheerful companions in early spring container gardens.