Lavender star flower bulbs

Ipheion uniflorum: How to grow

Ipheions hail from Argentina and Uruguay, neither of them countries recognised for sourcing bulb plants of commercial importance. But I. uniflorum thrives there and has even become naturalised in parts of France and Britain.

It is an attractive addition to a border or rockery and flowers from early to late spring (March to May), persisting well whatever the weather. The leaves in winter are narrow, pale, delicate and grass-like, forming a clump or cushion that is overtopped by the flowers, borne singly (rarely a pair) on each stem.

Several flower stems are produced by each small (around 5cm/2in in circumference) pale bulb, so the general effect is a mass of upward-facing flowers against a green background. The plants die down in early summer and the flowers, which smell of sweet violets, can be cut for indoor decoration.

The flower stalks are 15cm-20cm (6in-8in) tall and the flowers are flattish, 3cm-4cm (1in-1½in) across with the tepals uniting to form a daffodil-like perianth tube that encloses the bright- orange stamens. Apart from the perennial border, ipheion can flourish in the alpine house or cool conservatory and can be forced successfully to flower indoors in bowls or pots in the depth of winter.

Most uniflorums are white or pale blue but the darker colours, or violet blues, are equally attractive. Uniformly coloured stocks of named cultivars include ‘Wisley Blue’ and ‘Froyle Mill’, the former being named after the RHS garden and the latter after the garden in Hampshire where a dark-flowered variety was spotted and multiplied. ‘Wisley Blue’, which has flowers of a clear lilac-blue, is particularly charming.

Both these named cultivars have been selected for RHS awards of garden merit. Irrespective of the main flower colour, the perianth parts are often tinged with blue or a darker shade of flower colour, often with a contrasting mid-vein.

Growing tips

I. uniflorum is hardy to -15C and is damaged only by prolonged hard frost. Both bulbs and leaves smell slightly of onions (or garlic) if bruised. I find that the deep-rooting bulbs grow best when planted between September and November, in well-drained gritty or gravelly soil and preferably in full sun – although some recommend light-dappled shade and protection from strong winds and hot midday sun.

It is a plant that thrives on being left alone. Each bulb produces several scapes and attractive large clumps form quickly. These need not be lifted for thinning or replanting for four or five years. Do this after the leaves have died down.

For best flowering, select a sunny planting site and, when planting new bulbs, set them about 7.5cm (3in) apart and 7.5cm (3in) deep, measuring to the base of the bulb.

Ipheion is normally propagated by lifting part of a clump in late summer and separating and transplanting some of the larger bulbs elsewhere. This is obligatory for named cultivars to ensure their genetic homogeneity. Propagation from seed in spring, while effective, could lead to a mixed stock.

Good companions

Although I tend to plant the bulbs in full sun, ipheion flourish under light deciduous shade, provided they are allowed sufficient space. Attractive companions are other “minor” bulbs such as muscari, dwarf iris, snowdrops and scillas, planted in drifts to provide complementary form and colour in springtime.

Where to buy

Avon Bulbs, Burnt House Farm, South Petherton, Somerset (01460 242177; www.avonbulbs.co.uk).

Broadleigh Gardens, Taunton, Somerset (01823 286231; www.broadleighbulbs.co.uk).

Reader offer

Gardening readers can buy 50 bulbs of Ipheion uniflorum for £6.95, or 150 bulbs for £13.90.

Please send cheques/postal orders to Telegraph Ipheion Offer, Rookery Farm, Joys Bank, Holbeach St John’s, Spalding PE12 8SG. Or call the credit/debit-card line on 0870 950 5926, quoting ref TL389.

Delivery within 28 days to all UK addresses.

Previous How to Grow

Caring For Spring Starflower Plants: Learn How To Grow Ipheion Starflowers

Gardeners wait all winter for the first signs of spring in the form of early season flowers. These herald the approach of months of fun playing in the dirt and enjoying the fruits of that labor. Spring starflower plants, or Ipheion, are in the Amaryllis family of flowering bulbs. These charming little blooming plants hail from Argentina and Uruguay and form dense clumps of perennial flowers to chase the winter doldrums away.

About Spring Starflower Plants

The keys to spring flowers are good site location, soil drainage and preliminary bulb care. Ipheion bulb care starts with proper installation and soil preparation. Knowing when to plant Ipheion starflower bulbs ensures healthy plants that won’t get floppy and produce enticing spicy, scented flowers and attractive arching strappy foliage for years. Try growing spring starflower bulbs in rockeries, borders, containers and even under trees and shrubs.

Ipheion flowers spring from fall planted bulbs. They can get up to half a foot tall with a similar spread. Each bulb will produce numerous flowering stems with slender, deeply green foliage that emits an odor like an onion when crushed. Blooms are fragrant and star shaped with six blue or

white petals.

The bulbs will continue to pump out flowers until the weather heats up, at which time the flowers stop but the foliage persists for several months. Over time, the patches of starflower will naturalize and can become invasive in some regions. Divide clumps every few years for more dense colonies.

When to Plant Ipheion Starflower Bulbs

Planting time is as important as knowing how to grow Ipheion starflowers. These bulbs need a chilling period to bloom. Spring’s warmer temperatures force the flowers out of dormancy. This means fall is the ideal time to plant starflower bulbs.

These plants are hardy in United States Department of Agriculture zones 5 and above. Choose a full sun to partial shade area of the garden and prepare the soil by tilling in plenty of organic matter to a depth of at least 6 inches. Soil should drain freely or bulbs can rot. Use a mulch over the planted area to prevent weeds and protect the bulbs from severe freezes.

Ipheion starflowers make excellent cut flowers and will die back naturally in summer, leaving plenty of room for emerging summer perennials.

How to Grow Ipheion Starflowers

Starflowers look impressive when planted in a mass. Dig holes 2 inches deep and the same distance apart. Orient the bulbs with the pointed side up and fill in around them with soil, tamping gently. You may opt to mix in bone meal or bulb fertilizer at planting, but these plants are low nutrient users and such practices aren’t necessary for good blooms as long as the soil has been recently tilled and amended.

Ipheion bulb care is minimal in spring. Once you see the first little green sprouts, pull away any mulch to help them emerge. Watch for slug and snail damage and deal with it with organic or purchased remedies. Squirrels are rarely a problem when growing spring starflower bulbs but if you have concerns, place a board over the area until late winter to protect them. Remove the board so new shoots can break free and access the sun.

Divide your clumps every few years. If plants become invasive, remove seed heads and divide annually.

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