Imagine a plant that blooms most of the year in red, pink, rose, orchid, purple, maroon, burgundy, orange and yellow, yet needs little attention. Imagine a plant whose cut flowers stay fresh in a vase for two weeks. Imagine a plant that spreads by underground rhizomes so you have more of it with each passing season.
Imagine Alstroemeria (al-stro-MAIR-ee-a), the Peruvian lily.
Peruvian lily is a misnomer, since it actually is native to Chile and Brazil. Because of its nine-month bloom period, it is increasingly becoming a “must-have” for Southern California gardens. In Valley gardens, it thrives best in partial sun. The closer you get to the ocean, the more sun it can take.
The types we see in our gardens are hybrids between winter-growing Chilean species and summer-growing Brazilian species. These hybrids are virtually evergreen, experiencing only a brief winter dormancy period.
Veteran Peruvian lily growers have observed that this plant performs best with plentiful water and fertilizer. At the same time, it can survive drought and neglect due to its life-preserving rhizomes. The rhizomes are rich in starch and are part of the diet of the indigenous people who live within the circumference of Alstroemeria’s habitat.
I have found that Peruvian lilies, whose flowers are more pastel and subtle than flamboyant, look their best as companions to low-growing woody or herbaceous perennials.
The orange variety known as ‘Third Harmonic’ will grow to a height of 4 feet, rising above and complementing miniature roses, for example, just as the smaller pink or purple varieties contrast well with hellebores. Plant Peruvian lilies throughout the garden for pleasant surprises anytime, anywhere.
There also are dwarf Alstroemeria with names such as `Princess,’ `Inca,’ `Little Eleanor’ and `Jazze.’ They serve admirably as anchor plants in beds of annual color or as edging plants in perennial beds.
Peruvian lilies are easy to grow. Although they prefer well-drained soil, they have a wide tolerance to soil types and may be given the same garden locations you would choose for daylilies (Hemerocallis), from full- to half-day sun, even if morning sun is probably the exposure they most prefer.
To look their best, Peruvian lilies should receive the same amount of water as annual flowers, which means they should be given a good soak every two or three days in warm weather. Yet they can certainly survive, if not necessarily thrive, with far less moisture.
They make attractive plants in containers placed on patios or balconies that receive about four hours of direct sun each day.
Flowers may be damaged by thrips.
Yellow foliage on Peruvian lilies is a sign of mineral deficiency. To prevent this condition, fertilize two or three times a year with slow-release fertilizer. They also benefit from several inches of compost used as a mulch on top of the soil. This type of mulch keeps the soil cool, which will increase the number of flowers produced.
If your Peruvian lilies are looking particularly piqued, you can simply prune them to the ground. Within a short time, fresh foliage will reappear from rhizomes, those underground stems with bulblike qualities.
To maximize Peruvian lily flower production, it is important not to snip the flower stalks with shears. Instead, snap the flower stalks off so they detach in their entirety from their point of origin on the rhizome. This will hasten growth of more flower stalks.
A ground cover that grows well around Peruvian lilies is the carpet geranium (Geranium incanum), originating from South Africa, where the climate resembles our own.
Carpet geranium meets all the criteria of an ideal ground cover. It blooms from spring until fall, requires little water and has soft, lacy foliage. At the same time, it possesses a shallow root system and is not an invasive garden scourge like ground covers often turn out to be.
The flowers of carpet geranium are flat, 1 inch in size and plum-colored.
A few days ago, my Mauritanian morning glory (Convolvulus mauritanicus) started to bloom.
This is a plant that is almost impossible to resist. It has miniature gramophone-shaped flowers of violet blue that open up in profusion from among nearly circular sea-green leaves. It is a mounding, trailing plant that spills over walkways and tumbles out of terra cotta pots.
Give it most of the day’s sun.It looks fine underplanted to either yellow-flowered Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) or orange-flowered lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus), or both.
Tip of the week
Claire and Dave Blackwell of Santa Clarita have a grapevine that yields more than 200 pounds of fruit. They explain their success by construction of an arborthat was built over their patio to direct the growth of the vine.
Formerly, when the vine grew up against a fence, production was modest. They attribute increased yield to improved air flow around the vine as it grows across the arbor. In early spring, new shoots are cut back to two buds each.
To keep airflow at its maximum and to enhance yield, excessive vegetative growth and bird-exposed grape clusters (around 150 of them) were thinned out a week ago.
The vine is not watered directly but is growing in sandy soil into which water seeps from an adjacent planter.
Fertilization with a product that contains iron is minimal.