man with an eagle in Central Asia

Ranunculus: a charming and attractive friend from Central Asia

When you think of Central Asia, what do you envision? Since 60% of the area is desert, you probably think of wide, open, sweeping savannas and mountains. What you might not think of are rivers and swamps. Well thank goodness for those–that is where one of our favorite flowers grows–the ranunculus!

Related to the buttercup, the ranunculus came to us via the spice route through what we commonly call “the ‘stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). So it makes sense that the origin of this story would involve a Persian prince. He found some beautiful nymphs (and really, has there ever been such a thing as an ugly nymph?), and he began to singing to them around the clock. Maybe he wasn’t attractive, or maybe he didn’t have a very good voice, but whatever the reason, it annoyed the nymphs. So they turned him into a ranunculus.

The Victorians were very enamored with the ranunculus. Young men would give these papery, ruffled blooms to a young lady to say, “I find you charming and attractive.” And since the color of the ranunculus can be anything except blue, these young suitors had ample varieties to choose from–over 600 species today.

Ranunculus bloom in spring and early summer, making them a popular addition to bridal bouquets.

Charming a ranunculus in your home

Watch for ranunculus to pop up at your local farmers’ markets just about the time the tulips disappear. They will typically last for about 2 weeks in a vase. To get the most from these beauties, choose a bouquet with a mix of buds and blooms with healthy-looking leaves. They are a bit top heavy, and the stems bend as they grow–which means you can create some really interesting arrangements.

Tray arranging them with other spring flowers for a pretty bouquet, or highlight their beauty by placing them two or three blossoms at a time in to smaller vases. As always, clean and sanitize your vase before putting your flowers in them. Mix up a solution of one quart water, 2 tablespoons of sugar for plant food, and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to kill bacteria. Put them in a cool, shady spot and enjoy!

Charming ranunculus in your garden

What better way to enjoy ranunculus than to grow them yourself! If you read our series on growing a cutting garden, then you know you cannot forego the ranunculus.

Soil and moisture are key to growing our charming friend outdoors. They simply won’t grow in clayey soil, so you will either have to amend it like crazy or skip down to how to grow ranunculus in containers. Otherwise, for those of you in US growing zones 8 to 10, amend the soil with sand (for drainage), a composted fertilizer, and anti-fungal solution.

Ranunculus are most successfully grown from rhizomes (as opposed to seeds). Wait until there is no more danger of frost and plant the rhizomes 2 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches apart, claws down, and use a biohumus fertilizer every two weeks or so. Plant them in half-shade and protect them from wind.

In their native climate, ranunculus grow near water. However, they do not like to be soggy, so water in moderation. If you are losing flower buds and notice mold on the leaves, you have root rot. Ease up on the watering, loosen the soil around the root for some air, and remove the damaged parts of the plant.

Your ranunculus will bloom in about 2 to 3 months, so depending on where you live and your last frost, you may have earlier or later blooms than what most guides typically tell you. At the end of summer, when they have stopped blooming, cut off the stem at the base. Dig them up before the first frost and store in your refrigerator.

light pink ranunculus on a basket

Charming ranunculus on your balcony

Ranunculus are a fairly easy plant to grow in containers, so you can have a balcony or patio full of them in a couple of months if you start them indoors now. You will want to find a container with good drainage and big enough to plant several rhizomes 3 or 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep in organic, peat-based potting mix. Water it well, but then don’t do it again until you see sprouts. At that point, only water when the first couple of inches of soil feel dry to the touch. As mentioned above, ranunculus is prone to root rot if it stays soggy.

Put the pots (we’re assuming you’ll want more than one) in a sunny spot, but be sure you wait to put them outside until a few weeks after the first frost. After your plant blooms for the first time, move it into the shade. Deadhead or cut the flowers, and at the end of the season, allow the leaves to dry up on the stalk. Store in a cool spot until it’s time to grow them again.

Who’s charming whom?

With all this talk of charm and beauty, it leads us to wonder–are we charming blooms out of ranunculus, or is ranunculus charming us? What a wonderful symbiotic arrangement. As the young woman attracts the young man, the young man must charm the young woman. And like that moment when they fall in love with each other, we hope you have the same moment with your ranunculus.