A true spring flower that flourishes in cool weather: ranunculus. For me, this beauty is the spring equivalent of the dahlia. It needs a little pampering and care but comes with a beautiful result.
Ranunculus were one of the first flowers I tried to grow because I absolutely drooled over images of these beautiful flowers. I had already missed my fall start window but decided to try my hand at spring planting the corms. Unfortunately, not much happened. I had one lone beautiful red ranunculus that bloomed that year, but it was enough to hook me. I have loved growing ranuncs ever since.
Care & Maintenance
Ranunculus bloom from corms. When you receive corms, they look like little shriveled up octopi. You can plant out the corms directly into the ground and rely on rain and water to plump up corms and help them begin to root. I prefer to soak my corms and presprout them so that my field space is entirely dedicated to viable plants.
To presprout the corms, I soak them for 2-3 hours and place them into damp soil medium in a tray with holes. I lightly cover them with dry soil medium and put the tray in a dark and cool spot to begin to develop roots.
Make sure to water the tray just enough to keep the soil moist but not wet. You can plant out the corms in a sunny location with well-draining soil when they begin to develop roots or wait until they have grown leaves. Make sure to harden off your plants before planting them outside. Plant them on an overcast day after watering the tray well or right before a rainy day. I fertilize my ranunculus in the field each week with a foliar spray of fish emulsion and calcium extract that I make from egg shells while they are growing and putting on leaves. Once they begin to flower, I cut back on the nitrogen and use a foliar spray from a homemade weed tea.
I plant my first succession in late fall, followed by successions in early and late winter. If you are in planting zones 8-10, ranunculus are winter hardy. If you are in zones 4-7, make sure to protect your crop of ranunculus over the winter with frost cloth. When it gets below 20 degrees, I double cover with a layer right on top of the plants and a layer over the wire hoops.
In late spring, keep an eye out for pests. Aphids, especially, love to feed on these blooms. Interplant ranunculus with onions, garlic, leeks, or alliums as a natural deterrent for aphids. I am battling rabbits, at the moment. I am using a rabbit and deer repellent to keep them away from the plants.
As ranunculus love temperatures around 55 degrees, when the temperature rises above 70, the plant will stop blooming and will go dormant. You can extend the blooming season by providing shade cloth above your ranunculus plants.
Harvest ranunculus when they are beginning to show color and are at the stage called "marshmallow stage." This means that the bloom is not hard but also not completely open. It has just begun to loosen its petals and is slightly squishy. Harvest throughout the day into a bucket with a flower hydrating solution. Deadhead to encourage continued growth.
Blooms have a vase life of 10 to 14 days. They store well in refrigeration, but the longer they stay in cold storage, the shorter their vase life will be.
When plants have stopped producing flowers, let the leaves die back and turn yellow. Stop watering the plants. You can dig up the corms, dry them out, and store them in a cool and dark space for the following year. (Be aware that some varieties are patented and protected, meaning that if you choose to regrow the corm, you still owe the breeder royalties on the corm the following year. Make sure to do your research and make an informed decision).
Other things to consider
When purchasing ranunculus, look for the largest corms you can find as the larger corms will have more stored energy to devote to creating a larger plant and healthy blooms.
This post is part of a year-long series on flowers and plants that we love and grow on the farm. Check out other flowers that we love.