How to Grow Italian Ranunculus

Starling Flowers Ranunculus

I discovered the incredible Italian Ranunculus during my floristry training in London. They have longer, stronger stems than normal garden Ranunculus and larger flowers, as wide as a teacup, in the most incredible colours: salmon, violet, ‘pastello’ (a mix of pastels), chocolate and ‘rosa chiaro’ (a soft pink). There is something so perfect about the tightly packed, overlapping petals on strong, felty green stems. And the more stems you cut from this incredibly generous plant, the more quickly they are replaced during their eight-week flowering period. As the weather warms and the flowering eventually slows, Ranunculus reveal an entirely new aesthetic, more relaxed and open, revealing their centres, rather like Anemones or Iceland Poppies.

The Italian variety is so impressive and versatile it’s now the main Ranunculus we grow for cutting. Plant your corms in autumn with the rest of the spring flowering bulbs. It’s important to plant them with the spikes facing down.

In the Northern Hemisphere where snow can lie on the frozen ground for months, growers have developed a system of soaking and pre-sprouting the corms in trays before planting them in hoop-houses in early spring.

In warmer and drier climates this labour-intensive approach is unnecessary. Although Ranunculus are tender, they do cope with passing cool temperatures and work well on the well drained flower farm when planted directly, without soaking, in the ground in autumn. The flower farm soil is sandy and well drained which is important. If your ground is heavier, try to find a well-drained spot that doesn’t become too wet in winter. Otherwise, the corms may rot. If you have heavy frosts, plant some in your garden and others under cover. Through trial and error, you will eventually settle on the best approach for your specific growing conditions.

Ranunculus corms will become a soggy rotten mess if they freeze or languish in waterlogged soil. Plant them directly into the ground without soaking if you have mild winters and good well drained soil (or access to row cover and poly tunnels to protect corms from freezing or rainy conditions). Otherwise, store corms somewhere dry and frost free over winter before pre-sprouting two weeks before planting out.

How to Pre sprout Ranunculus and Anemone Corms

  1. Soak corms for three to four hours in room temperature water, changing the water every hour. Do not soak any longer than this as the corms may rot.
  2. Fill a tray with moist potting mix and lay the corms on top. Cover with a layer of potting mix.
  3. Check the corms every couple of days. Remove any that have rotted. As the corms develop fine rootlets and little shoots, plant them in the garden or in pots.
  4. The plants will flower more generously if compost is added to the soil before planting and are sprayed fortnightly with a seaweed fertiliser.

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Our Ranunculus generally start producing their pretty, fern-like leaves in late winter to early spring. When the leaves appear, apply a foliar feed with seaweed fertiliser and repeat this fortnightly until the flower buds show. As the weather warms keep an eye on soil moisture levels. Water if necessary; this way the plants will have longer stems and more flowers.

While Ranunculus are perennial and will flower year after year when left in the ground, on the farm we need the space for summer flowering annuals so lift our corms and store them somewhere warm and dry. The corm clumps can be prised apart, and replanted for even more plants the following year.

Harvest flowers using the squeeze test. The flower bud should feel a bit like a marshmallow, lasting a good 10 to 12 days in the vase.

 And if you needed another reason to grow these incredible flowers, they dry brilliantly. Hung upside down in the corner of a well-ventilated shed or spare room, the Ranunculus retain colour as they dry, resembling the most delicate paper flowers.

Drying ranunculus starling flowers
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