Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bulbs Baby Bulbs

As you are resting this Fall season, it's a good time to think about planting Spring flowering bulbs. We often just think of tulips and daffodils but there are perhaps hundreds of other bulbs that can enhance your gardens.

When it comes to Spring flowering bulbs, size does matter. The larger the bulb, the better the chances of a large healthy flower, sturdy stem, and plant. It may also mean you will have a better survival rate over the years.

Tulips are not a "forever" plant. They will be healthy and abundant for several years and then they begin to die out. It's why I recommend planting a few bulbs every Fall.

Daffodils on the other hand, tend to multiply and have no real pests. They are considered deer resistant. They may last generations with minimal care.

Most Spring flowering bulbs need sunlight during their bloom season. This makes it easier to plant under trees and bushes that loose their leaves in the winter. They need sunlight on their leaves to garner nutrients for next year's flowers.

Never cut back the leaves of spring flowering bulbs until they have turned yellow/brown and are laying flat on the ground. Do not tie them in a bunch or trim. The only thing this accomplishes is to shorten the bulb life and reduce your display forever.

This is the reason to plant them among perennials since the emerging leaves will eventually hide the messy bulb leaves about the time they no longer need the nutrients supplied by sun.

The beautiful beds planted exclusively with tulips that may be seen in display gardens are typically dug up when bloom time has finished and stored in a cold house until they are replanted next year. This is hugely labor intensive and the reason most gardeners plant bulbs where they will remain for their life.

To fertilizer or not is debatable among gardeners. Some swear by bone meal when they are planted but if you have dogs, chances are they will dig them up to get to the smell. An all purpose bulb fertilizer each Spring is enough if you feel you must do something.

If you have rodents that eat your bulbs, plant in wire cages filled with soil. Use nothing too fine as it prevents the shoots from penetrating the wire.

If planted in a well drained spot, with Spring sun, they will usually do well. If your soil is heavy wet clay in the winter & spring, amend with compost. Soggy water-logged soil will rot the bulbs.

If you plant crocus or other small bulbs in the grass, it can be a beautiful display BUT it can not be mowed until the foliage dies back for the same reasons I've listed above.

When you see fields of blue grape hyacinths, daffodils or others, we are in awe and want that look for our own expanses. These fields are either not mowed until the foliage dies (pictures of this state are typically not in the catalogs) or there are two zillion gardeners doing the mega task of lifting and storing and replanting. I'm not criticizing these beautiful catalog and display gardens, I'm just saying it's not without it's own issues.

Some Spring flowering bulbs are more delicate than others and some are really not all that hardy in our Zone 5. Be sure and do your research before buying a bag full.

A few facts:

  • There are no pink colors on daffodils or jonquils. The picture in the catalog may be pink, in your garden it will be peach.
  • There are no blue tulips only shades of purple and lavender.
  • Double or ruffled daffodils and peony tulips may not attract beneficial insects because they can't get to the nectar. If you love these, consider planting both variety.
  • Parrot tulips are actually infected bulbs but that process causes no problem in your garden, it is used as a breeding device.
  • Check the size of the flower and length of the stem when selecting plant locations.
  • Always plant in bunches for the most visual show. I usually dig a good sized hole (exactly the depth stated on the packaging) and plant several at a time.
  • Stand inside and notice where a few Spring flowers could be viewed from inside the house (cause some Springs are too ugly to get outside much).
  • There are several devices for making bulb planting easier (not much but still...): attachments for the electric drill, small curved spades, etc. Unless I'm planting in the grass, I still use my big hole method for the fastest results. Always make sure you plant at the right depth.

I find planting Spring flowering bulbs the height of tedious. It's usually nasty weather, it takes loads of digging and bending and I'm totally out of the mood for any kind of gardening. BUT THEN: When spring comes I've ever so grateful for having stuck it out last Fall.

Whether you order on line, from a mailed catalog, a local nursery or a big box store, consider planting a few Spring flowering bulbs this year - the reward next Spring will be worth your effort.

“I have long been a Lunatic on Bulbs,

though screened by my friends,

as Lunacy on any theme is better undivulged.”

Emily Dickinson (1883)

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