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Ranunculus asiaticus, also called Persian ranunculus
Ranunculus flowers are beautiful early spring bloomers with 3-5 inch blossoms consisting of many petals, making them big and fluffy. They come in an ever-expanding array of colors, some strong and bright and some soft and light. All are cheery in the spring.
Ranunculus is the genus of the buttercups. It comes from the Mediterranean and Middle East region where springs are cool, summers are dry, and winters are cool and wet. This makes its best growing climate in Zones 8-10 in the US. But you can trick it and grow it in Zones 3-7, as well.
Considered casually as a bulb, it’s actually a corm.
See the Special Info below for an interesting story on how this flower was developed by a few people in southern California. And where the name Tecolote comes from.
Tecolote Ranunculus flowers have a vase life of 10 days, are fully double, 3-5 inches wide. Several flowers are borne on 18-24 inch branched stems. Each flowering stalk bears one to four blossoms. The Tecolote mix contains bright colors, including red, yellow, orange, white, and pink. More recently purple and salmon, and other colors have been introduced. Some are available as picotees (this is where the petals are edged in a contrasting color).
They bloom from early spring for up to 7 weeks. Later if they are planted in the spring.
The plants grow from corms that look like little sea creatures with many legs. The end with the legs goes down and the top, that looks like nothing could possibly come out of it, points up. They reach up to 2 ft. tall and wide.
When planted the top should be no more than 1-2 inches below the surface of the soil.
By the way, if you were to plant seeds of these plants they would create a wide range of variability in the flowers, some double and some may even go back to single flowers. Over many years Edwin Frazee chose the fullest flowers for their seed to develop the strain.
In mild winter areas the foliage starts to emerge in late fall and blooms in spring.
Growing the Plants
Plant the corms with the “legs” pointing down and the bare little top up, with the top 1-2 inches below the surface of the soil. Space them 4 inches apart.
Zones are important
Mild winter zones 8-10 are the best places to grow ranunculus. They enjoy long cool springs. You may be able to grow them in Zone 7 if you give them some winter protection, like a frost cloth over them or a low tunnel with frost cloth over it.
But you can grow them in colder zones but you’ll have to lift the bulbs. More on that in Harvesting.
In Zones 8-10, plant the corms in the fall. This yields the most and the largest flowers. In zone 7, if protected from hard frosts in winter, plant in fall.
In colder zones you can grow them if you plant in very early spring, lift the bulbs out of the soil for the winter, and store them in a cool, dry place. This is extra work, but the flowers may be worth it to you. When you plant them in spring, wait till the last hard frost of the spring to plant (cover with frost cloth if it’s iffy). Your flowers will come in in early summer.
To get a head start on them, soak the corms in lukewarm water for 4 hours before planting. This will get the plants to flower a few weeks earlier.
But, if you want to put in the effort to pre-sprout them and plant them after the last hard frost, you’ll get your flowers even earlier.
Pre-sprout your ranunculus corms
Soak the corms for about 4 hours. Fill a seed flat part way with potting soil. Place the corms into the soil covering slightly. Keep the flat in a cool spot for 2 weeks, but check regularly to make sure the soil is not too wet or too dry, and check for mold.
The corms will swell and start to grow roots. Once the roots are between ¼ to ½ inch long, they’re ready to plant. Since they have roots, be sure that your planting bed is well prepared and loose. You want to be careful because the roots will be brittle and break off easily.
Ranunculus needs well–drained soil. They come from a dry climate and don’t like to stay wet. Soil should be a good garden soil, but be sure it’s light and not heavy. If your soil is heavy clay, add plenty of organic compost, mixed in thoroughly, to lighten it up.
They need full sun, a minimum of 6 hrs. per day. But they don’t like hot weather. Since our summers are getting very hot, and earlier, I plant mine in a slightly shady spot.
Ranunculus originated in a dry-summer region, so they don’t need a lot of water. Plant the corms in moist soil then water only when the soil dries out. Once the flowers have been harvested do not water anymore. So you must plan a spot for them so they won’t get overwatered.
For best vase life, harvest when the buds have just started showing color, mostly closed but feel a little squishy. They’ll open in the vase. You may certainly cut when they’re open, but you’ll get a shorter vase life.
Trim off the foliage from the stem and place in water. See more about cut flower conditioning here.
After the foliage has all died down then it’s time to lift them to store them for the winter, if you’re in a colder zone than zone 7. Do not do this earlier because the foliage keeps feeding the corm to make a new plant the next year.
The standard Tecolote Mix is a mix of strong bright colors: red, orange, yellow, pink, and white and it’s the only one I’ve grown so far.
But there are many other blends and colors to choose from. This year I’m adding the Romantic Mix I’ve gotten from Eden Brothers. It’s a mix of soft pinks, coral, and salmon which should be lovely in the spring time.
How Many Plants
Most packages come in bags of 12 or 20 corms. This is a good start for ranunculus. You’ll get more from them the next year and you can add more bulbs if they do well for your area.
You just need to keep them dry-ish the rest of the summer if you’re leaving them in the ground for the winter, so choose the right space.
It’s an American developed flower and an interesting story. Tecolote is the buttercup strain for cut flowers and was developed from the species over 85 years. Luther Gage immigrated from the Mediterranean region, bringing his buttercup seeds with him. These were the straight species, Ranunculus asiaticus. He settled in coastal Southern California and grew his buttercups next to the farm of Frank Frazee. The original flowers were single, just five petals, growing on 18 inch branched stems, in red, pink, white and yellow. Mr. Gage started his business selling the bulbs and called them Luther Gage Giant Tecolote Ranunculus bulbs. The name Tecolote is from the name of the owls that nested on his property.
Later, friend and neighbor Frank Frazee took up flower farming and added the Tecolote ranunculus bulbs to his business. He handed the ranunculus flowers over to his son, Edwin, to grow and learn from. They were still single flowers and weren’t very popular yet. Edwin went full bore and carefully selected the seeds from the fullest and prettiest plants and developed what we now know as the Tecolote ranunculus, the big, very full, colorful, long-lasting spring flowers that are so popular today. Tecolote Giant is the strain of ranunculus that is popular and used in the floral trade and so popular for weddings.