Curiouser and Curiouser

– Posted in: Colchicums, Plant info

As you may be aware, the Northeast has been getting rained on for most of October. The rainy, warmer-than-typical October coming after the unusually hot and dry summer has made for some unusual plant activity:

  • Many of the plants that went dormant or semi-dormant in the heat came back and produced another flush of bloom. Most notably, the tunic flower that I thought had died is regrowing. Yay!
  • The sequence of bloom for colchicums was both lengthened and altered. Colchicum autumnale ‘Alboplenum’ bloomed much later this year, and still has a few blossoms on it. ‘Waterlily’ is still blooming, but that’s not surprising; it’s normally the last colchicum to flower every autumn. What is surprising is that ‘Harlequin’ sent up a tentative bud after ‘Waterlily’ had been blooming for a few days. The bud has been up for more than a week now, but still hasn’t opened. Perhaps it’s just a bit too nippy? I can see a second flower bud just at the soil’s surface, but I wonder if that will ever emerge, because . . .
  • There’s a winter storm watch in effect for my county, as well as half a dozen counties in upstate NY. The rain is gonna turn to snow, sooner or later, and higher elevations could get up to seven inches of snow. Say what? You know, we’ve had a couple of light frosts so far, but the marigolds and petunias near the house are still going gangbusters. There are plenty of plants that don’t even look touched by frost yet, and it’s going to snow–and stick–before another 24 hours have passed? There were some chores that were waiting for the hard freeze to do its work before they could be attempted. My understanding is that Oriental lilies are best moved in the fall after they’ve been knocked down by the cold. That hasn’t happened yet. I guess I can hope for Indian summer after this storm blows through, or just put it off for another year.

But golly, what a year for weather!

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

~Albert Camus in Albert Camus quotations

Comments on this entry are closed.

Lisa January 4, 2007, 12:03 am

Thank you Judy
I really appreciate your help with this matter. I will try them in spring.


Judy Miller January 1, 2007, 10:28 pm

Hi Lisa–You might check out the weather links listed above. Spirit Lake gets quite a bit more snow than Coeur d’Alene, I know, and the growing season is thus somewhat shorter. The mesowest links would help there–I’d guess an average of 110 days? Roughly frost free from end of May to early Sept. I’m including a link to some more weather graphics for you too. But as to where to buy starts–I’d say the Kootenai County Farmers market would be a good place to start, they will likely start up the end of April or beginning of May. Garden centers have come and gone a bit in your area over the past few years and I’m hesitant to point you further! There are some lovely places but a bit spendy maybe. . . . and while my stuff isn’t spendy, I don’t do a lot of the veg end. The farmers market will be your best bet there.
Here’s the link: –it has some real estate blah but you can just ignore that for the graphs of weather.

Lisa January 1, 2007, 7:16 pm

Hi we just moved to Spirit Lake and plan on putting in a garden this spring. Can any one tell us how long the growing season is here and where to get the best veggie and herb plants without costing and arm and a leg?

Judy Miller February 28, 2006, 8:16 pm

I posted a new entry for answers as the first two tries got eaten here. The barometer today was as low as I’ve ever seen it: 29.06! Typhoon, anyone?

Heather February 28, 2006, 4:43 pm

Thanks you Judith for your advice on the bulbs and morning glory!
My true love is roses and I brought some with Ca suntans and winterized them and truly hope they made it! My questions is.once the ground thaws may I also begin planting new rose bushes purchased from the area. Thanks again for your time and wisdom! Heather

Betsy February 28, 2006, 3:35 pm

Hi Judith! Well, I made it through my first North Idaho winter…..oh great, are you laughing now because we probably have months left of it?!?!? Anyway, it has been so much fun and I LOVE snow shoeing! I want to do my first veggie garden…do you have any advice for when I need to start seeds inside, and which ones? I know I should start tomatoes, how about carrots? I saw a seed starting chart on Organic Gardening website that I am about to print out. Thanks!!! -Betsy

jenn February 28, 2006, 8:36 am

Hey Judith!

Thanks for the advice – I had forgotten I had pulled up dahlias to winter-over, I guess I should take a look at them and then plant them up.

And I’m betting this is the time to start the Cannas back up, too. Maybe if I start them early enough they will actually BLOOM!


Judith February 27, 2006, 11:35 pm

—when the ground thaws. 😉

–Depends, of course, on which kind of bulbs. Begonias, callas, caladiums & other warm weather types should be started as soon as possible (last month if you can manage)–in a very warm place in the house. Dahlias benefit from an early start too though maybe March or April.

Ask the county extension folks or your neighbors what your average last frost date is, or poke through the Meso west data, and work around that for your growing season length.

Glads, dutch iris & other nearly hardies can go in when the ground is nice enough to dig.
That will depend on your site. Here I still have lots of snow and the ground had thawed only about 1-2″ before yesterday’s snow & today’s rain–any bulb planted out now would drown.

But PF is a chunk warmer and if you have a south facing slope, you could start much earlier there. And with glads, as they take about 90 days to flower from planting, you can work backwards from when you want to have them to when you will plant them.

If you have the room and the itch, you could pot bulbs like lilies & dutch iris and keep them cold, just off freezing, and get a few weeks jump on the season. They’ll be happier than in the bags of shavings they come in and you can enjoy the planting.

Morning glories! A woman after my own heart. They do well here and are not at all invasive, so plant all you want. I start them early in peat pots so they can take off in the garden. You’ll need a really warm site to get Moonflowers to bloom, like a south facing wall & maybe a nice concrete planter, but the general varieties are all reliable. There’s an electric pole in Sandpoint in someone’s yard and they’ve trained Heavenly Blue up them for years—all the way to the top.
Welcome to the neighborhood.

Heather February 27, 2006, 10:51 pm

Hello, I am also a new Northern Idaho resident in the area of Post Falls. I was wondering when it will be safe to start planting bulbs? I also wondered does morning glory grow well up here? I am loving the new climate situation and excited about planning my back yards. Thanks Heather

Judith October 28, 2005, 7:18 pm

We’re very close–I’m about 20 miles north of you. Elmira is in a cold spot–the wind across the flat south of you to Sandpoint is nasty in the winter. If you have a warmer-than your neighbors microclimate, you’re lucky.
As you will have noticed today, our November rains have begun, and the snow is quite a way down the mountains. The fall crocus and colchicums have mostly finished, but the hellebores have started and there’s those great weird mushrooms of every color wherever you set your foot.
I’m madly trying to get things finished before snow: last deer fencing, greenhouse tightening, plants bedded down, beds cut back, bulbs planted. In a week or so, generally, the slush & snow should start. Anything you have left in the yard will magically disappear, only to be found again on the weekend Sandpoint schedules its winter carnival & ice carving contest, when it Chinooks like mad and all melts off. Oh! There’s that rake!, etc.

That roller-coaster weather, swinging from -20F to 40+F in a day or so, and back again without snow cover, and the large amounts of winter wet when it thaws, are the real limiting factors on plant survival here. If you’re putting bulbs in around the house, be sure they aren’t in low spots or they’ll drown.

If you don’t have your garden fenced, you will need to before planting the veggies; there are elk, moose and especially deer all through here who just love a nice veggie or flower garden. I use steel t-posts and sheepwire, topped with field fence as they will jump a 5 or 6 foot fence easily.

And yes, gardening is hard work, but the results are magical and enthralling, and worth every sore back and blister. Welcome to gardening in North Idaho, and to the community here.

Betsy Canfield October 28, 2005, 10:56 am

Hi Judith! Thanks for the response! I am in Elmira (about 12 mi. north of Sandpoint) Where are you? I noticed some frost down in the valley from our house but none here yet. The previous owner told us we are in a micro-climate and his garden always froze after his neighbors. It’s all new to me- I have just spent the summer and fall watching and researching and taking it one step at a time. Right now I just have about a 12 foot square of the garden cleared, and hopefully will grow some veggies next spring. The most I’ve ever done is tomatoes in a pot in the Virgin Islands! I feel so grateful and blessed to have this opportunity! Even just digging in that dirt thrilled me…but boy, I have a whole new respect for gardeners, that is HARD WORK! -Betsy

Judith October 27, 2005, 9:19 pm

Sorry! Mesowest:

that’s for Idaho; for other states start at

and two cool snow pages: Noaa’s operational daily snowcover analysis

a graphic loop of snowcover’s advances/declines on the continent in the previous 30 days.

Judith October 27, 2005, 9:10 pm

Hi Betsy—-where in North Idaho are you? We’ve had killing frosts already here (though they were late for normal and haven’t really whacked things yet. For some graphical weather data on Idaho, you might enjoy a peek at

to find first & last freezes, monthly & daily snowfall averages, etc. Just click on the station nearest where you live. The site gathers data since records started being kept. And then there’s mesowest, which has current data (precip, temp max & min, wind, etc.) for each observatory in your county (in my case, 4 choices). You can sort this by elevation (Kathy, maybe this will interest you too, it covers the whole country, just click on your state.)

—And it is early for cold weather in almost the entire state, Betsy. Halloween is our classic first snow date here, but it generally (!) doesn’t stick until Thanksgiving.
I’d wait to mulch things until the ground freezes because the idea is to keep it frozen, not from freezing (which you likely can’t do, unless you live in Lewiston)–which is for late harvesting of carrots, etc, or to keep a place open for those lilies mentioned above to move to. Here that would be a neon sign to all the Rodentiae that I’d opened a utilities paid condo for them.

Kathy Purdy October 27, 2005, 7:22 pm

Jenn, I’m so sorry. Somehow I had thought the Midwest had started getting rain before we got some; I guess I was mistaken. Drought is truly appalling. I guess any natural disaster is, for it shows us how utterly helpless and dependent we really are.

Betsy–Holy Cow! I can’t think of a greater climatic leap than from the Caribbean to Northern Idaho. Judy Miller, one of our contributors, is also from northern Idaho, quite close to the Canadian border.

According to the wikipedia, “The Southern Tier is a geographical term that refers to the counties of upstate New York State west of the Catskill Mountains along the northern border of Pennsylvania, with the exception of the counties in the far west of the state near the city of Buffalo.” So, yes, Olean is definitely in the Southern Tier.

jenn October 26, 2005, 10:58 am

And southeast Michigan is still starved for precipitation, I’d take snow at this point, just to get ANYTHING on the garden…

What a year, indeed. My poor plants.

We’ve had the light frosts – annual lobelia and lady in red salvia seem untouched.

I’m waiting for the knock-down for my dahlias and cannas, too.

Betsy Canfield October 25, 2005, 8:16 pm

It’s “brand-new” Betsy again…I am in North Idaho and I have just moved here from the Caribbean and it will be my first winter in 20 years! I also have never gardened before and now have 12 acres with a big old organic garden (WAY overgrown). I was mystified and intrigued by such a thing as “vacu-mulching” and hope someday I can have one of those, too! And Kathy, I have major family roots in Olean, NY. Is that the southern tier? And as far as our weather here, it is much warmer than I had feared…so far! It hasn’t frozen at night yet and today was sunny and in the 60’s! I’m not supposed to mulch the gardens until after the first frost, right? Thank you! -Betsy

Kathy Purdy October 25, 2005, 8:06 pm

Alice, Talitha is my daughter. We live in the same house. She told you where we live so I didn’t think I needed to. Also, as I mentioned in that comment thread, the locations of all the blog writers are found by clicking on Contributors on the sidebar. I live in rural upstate NY–it’s called the Southern Tier. Also, if you click on the name of the commenters, you will be taken to their blog, and they often state their location. For example, OldRoses is in Middlesex, NJ and Amy is on the coast of New Hampshire.

Alice Nelson October 25, 2005, 7:16 pm

Nice replies! But I wish I knew where all of you live; it would make it even more interesting.I still don’t know where you live, Kathy (though I have asked). It wouldn’t be hard to say where, people. Here in MI-U.P. we’ve had cold intermittant rain for the whole week, and things just look soggy. A friend form near Detroit says her reblooming iris are blooming. Here in my yard half the leaves are off our century old maple lying in a soggy layer. Hopefully they will dry out in the next few days to be vacu-mulched. I’m going to try digging vegetable garbage directly into spots in the garden. Many years ago, when I had mostly veggies I did that, and every shovelful later had dozens of worms. Shortcut to a much pile! doing a lot of potting up since I like to buy large perennials on sale and then split and repot them. Also, I am clearing a lot of plants our of client containers, and potting up those that can be kept over. Just received two orders of bulbs, one from VonBorgandien And one from Von Engelen, most for clients or for a memorial garden at our church. Keep me busy for awhile!

Kathy Purdy October 25, 2005, 7:25 am

OldRoses, I wonder if it would be worth the bother to pot up some of those still blooming annuals in a container? That would make pulling out blooming plants less painful, but would take away time from the planting of bulbs and perennials.

Still no sign of snow–it’s all rain–and the outdoor temp is 38 degrees F. Usually when a weather report says “higher elevations” that means us, so I wonder if anyone is getting snow?

OldRoses October 25, 2005, 4:28 am

I have calendulas, marigolds, zinnias and cosmos still growing and blooming in a bed I want to totally revamp. I hate to just pull out live plants, but I need to plant bulbs and perennials there. This weather is so frustrating!

Rosemarie (Kathy's Sister) October 24, 2005, 9:17 pm

I know with tulips, they always wanted you to cut the flowers off before seedheads formed, but I never seemed to get around to it.

I also need to did Dahlias, but was waiting for a hard frost.

Amy October 24, 2005, 7:10 pm

You are right it’s crazy weather. We had a second fruiting of raspberries in October, and they are not the everbearing kind.

Kathy Purdy October 24, 2005, 6:04 pm

Hi, Betsy. Glad to make your acquaintance, and please call me Kathy. You don’t need to do a thing to them. The flowers wilt and then turn brown and disappear. If the look of the wilted flowers really bugs you, you could cut them off, but it makes no difference to the plants, and the gardener usually has more pressing chores to accomplish.

Betsy Canfield October 24, 2005, 6:00 pm

Dear Ms. Purdy, I have had the amazing luck of moving into a new(to me) home in North Idaho that now has huge amounts of purple Colchicums blooming. I am totally new to this, however, and would love to know if I should cut off the blooms after they wilt? Thanks so much, glad I found this website! -Betsy