Tritonias will extend the spring flowering period in the garden

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Tritonia Mixed Picture courtesy HadecoTritonia Mixed Picture courtesy HadecoTritonia look brilliant wherever they are planted and go very well in rock gardens and sunny borders. They also do well in containers, and if your soil is well-drained they can be left in the ground over summer, allowing them to naturalise and spread freely.  Read all about growing them below.

Tritonia is a cormous genus of plants with about 27 species, and belongs to the beautiful Iris (Iridaceae) family of flowering plants. They are naturally distributed across southern Africa, and their range includes Lesotho and Swaziland, and extends northwards almost to the equator in Tanzania, in Central East Africa.  In South Africa the genus is represented in all nine provinces, but their greatest concentration is in the southern part of the Western Cape. Tritonias occur in a variety of habitats, and in the summer rainfall regions they can be found growing in grassland, and in the in winter rainfall areas they occur in renosterveld, karroid scrub, and fynbos.

Tritonia crocata was originally described as Ixia crocata by Linnaeus in 1762, and the genus is closely related to the genus Ixia, and looks similar to both Ixia and Crocosmia. Two South African species, namely “Tritonia crocata” and “Tritonia squalida” were the two species used in the creation of the brightly coloured garden hybrids we know and love today.

Tritonia garden hybrids are widely grown in temperate gardens throughout the world, where they are also known as “Flame Freesia”, Garden Montbretia” or “Blazing Star”. In winter they grow their strappy green leaves, and in spring they produce rod-shaped stems about 30 to 50cm tall, which are covered in small buds that open from the top of the stem first and then work their way down. The cup-shaped flowers bloom a bit later than most winter and spring flowering bulbs, starting later in September and continuing into October.  Flower colours range from cream and white to bright orange and salmon pink, and all the shades in-between, and each flower stem can have between 5 to 10 flowers.

In the Garden:

Because tritonias flower a bit later than most winter and spring flowering bulbs they are great to extend the spring flowering period in the garden. They are similar to Freesias, but have taller stems and naturalise more effectively.

Tritonia look brilliant wherever they are planted and go very well in rock gardens and sunny borders. They also do well in containers, and if your soil is well-drained they can be left in the ground over summer, allowing them to naturalise and spread freely.

Cultivation/Propagation:

Tritonia can be grown throughout South Africa in winter, and in the winter rainfall regions it is a wonderful water-wise plant which can rely only on winter rainfall, unless of course, there is a serious drought, and because the plants go completely dormant during the long, dry summers, sprouting again readily at the first signs of winter rains. The plants will tolerate temperatures as low as 0°C, but cannot resist prolonged periods of heavy frost. In extremely cold regions tritonias are planted in pots which are placed in sunny and protected spots. Tritonia even does well in subtropical gardens, but in these regions they may not naturalise easily and need to be planted from fresh corms each season.

Tritonia corms are available from March till the end of May and can be pre-ordered from Hadeco as early as February. Keep the corms dry and refrigerated until planting time, from mid-April to mid-June. Planting times may vary slightly from region to region, but generally they are planted in autumn, once the soil temperatures have cooled down, but before they become too cold.

Select a site which receives full sun or light shade, and one which is sheltered from strong winds, which will decimate the flowers. Tritonia will adapt to most well-drained garden soils but does best in light, friable soil with excellent drainage. Dig the beds over well before planting at a depth of 4cm, with 8cm spacing between the corms. In cold regions, mulch the corms after planting to help retain moisture, and to provide a ‘blanket’ for the soil which will protect the corms.

In the winter rainfall regions tritonia usually survives on rainfall alone, but if there is a drought a deep watering every 10 days is advisable.  In the summer rainfall regions the plants must be watered regularly throughout winter and spring, keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged.

Tritonia are easy to grow in pots that are 20 to 30cm in diameter, and as long as the soil used has perfect drainage. Adding washed river sand to the potting soil may be necessary for drainage. Do not use building sand because it compacts with age like concrete! You can make your own potting mixture by mixing together one part fine sand, one part course sand and one part potting soil or leaf mould compost. Space the corms and plant them at the same depth as those growing in garden beds. Always check your potted plants regularly for water, as pots dry out quickly, especially those positioned on hot patios or roof gardens in full sun.

Bulbs from the winter rainfall regions not only prefer a sandy growing medium, they also do not require additional feeding, or the addition of bone meal or superphosphate to the soil, as the soils in their natural habitat are usually very poor, especially in phosphates. If you really want to fertilise your pots they can tolerate a water soluble fertiliser with high potash content, or an organic fertiliser with low phosphate content.

If you wish to leave the corms in the ground after flowering so that they can naturalise and grow again next season, water the corms regularly in winter, spring, and into early summer. After flowering has finished, the plants should then remain fairly dry throughout summer and most of autumn. In the summer rainfall regions this can be done if the soil has perfect drainage and you should try to site your plants in a low water region of the garden, where no additional watering is required. If the soil does not have high drainage, the corms can be lifted and stored in a cool, dry place over summer to be planted again next season.

Once tritonia has naturalised itself in the garden, the corms will only need lifting and dividing when the clumps become very thick. After flowering, reduce your watering and allow the leaves to turn yellow and die down naturally, as this is when the corms store up energy for next seasons growth. Once the leaves are dead, dig up and split the clumps, selecting only good, healthy and plump-looking corms to replant immediately, spacing them 8cm apart.

The plants also set seeds which grow readily, so collect them to sow next season. 

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

In South Africa the most common pests are amaryllis caterpillars, aphids, snout beetles, red spider mites, flower thrips, slugs and snails, mole rats, porcupines, rats and mice. Consult your local garden centre for the best organic control methods

If tritonia is grown correctly in well-drained soil and is correctly spaced and placed in an area of the garden which is sheltered from strong winds but still has good air flow, fungal diseases should not occur, but if they do they can cause rotting, damping off, red blotch, rust, fungus, and soft crown rot. If you suspect a fungal infection, consult with your garden centre for the best control methods and implement them immediately.

Viral infections cause deformed leaves, mosaics and leaf streaks which are transmitted by aphids, mealy bugs, mites, snails and even secateurs that have not been disinfected. Prevention is better than cure, so keep an eye out for these insects and spray immediately you notice an infestation.

Warning:

We did not find this plant on poisonous lists, but it is always best to supervise small children in the garden, and to discourage pets from chewing in plants.