This article first appeared as “Spotlight on Ornamentals: Time to Think Spring!” in IR-4 Newsletter 44(3):5
Crocus and other early spring flowers are the harbingers of warmer days after a cold winter. Easter lilies and hyacinths commonly are given to celebrate the spring holidays. Daffodils, tulips and Frittilaria brighten up an otherwise dull border before spring annuals and early flowering perennials. Iris, Crocosomia, daylilies and gladiolus often are great companion plants for rose, lavender, hosta or other perennials. What do most of these flowers have in common? They are grown from bulbs or corms and usually need to be planted in the fall for bloom the following spring or summer in commercial and residential landscapes. Many will return year after year if they are planted in a suitable location allowing them to overwinter and receive enough chilling to induce flowering.
In addition to landscape settings, bulb or corm crops can be forced to flower by simulating overwintering conditions and providing the chilling requirement. Often this will lead to flowering potted bulbs as temporary houseplants in winter months, such as Amaryllis during winter holidays or grape hyacinth paired with crocus to brighten the day in late January or February.
U.S. growers produce $48.5 million bulbs and corms annually and propagative materials (USDA-NASS, Census of Horticulture, 2009). In other words, domestic production includes bulbs and corms for commercial and domestic landscapes as well as for specialty forced bulbs and for cut flowers. Gladiolus, lilies and freesia are commonly placed in floral arrangements, but many other bulb crops are found in these special occasion arrangements.
Main Disease Problems
Bulb and corm crops are prone to disease and pests and in field production weed management is key to optimal crop production. The search for methyl bromide alternatives has been an important avenue of research to minimize initial weed seed and disease inoculum for field grown bulbs. Disease issues include bulb and corm rots and root rots caused by Fusarium, Rhizoctonia and Pythium and foliar diseases such as Botrytis and downy mildews. Viruses and bacteria can plague production systems. Nematodes and arthropod pests often cause economic damage in addition to vectoring viral diseases. For more information about bulb crops, please consult ‘Ornamental Geophytes: from Basic Science to Sustainable Horticulture Production’ by Rina Kamentsky and Hiroshi Okubo.
To aid growers, IR-4 has screened bactericides, fungicides, insecticides and herbicides for crop safety on a number of bulb and corm crops including daffodil, iris and tulip. In addition, IR-4 has screened products for Fusarium on gladiolus and facilitated research on the invasive pathogen gladiolus rust.