Sunday, October 31, 2010

Done? Not Quite.

Done with your garden chores?  You may not be if you enjoy cannas in the summer and tulips in the spring.  

It's time for most of us to dig up our canna, dahlia, gladiolus and others if you want to save them for next year.  Many (often me) just don't.  This year, I'm trying to be more frugal and plan to dig-dig-dig.  At best, saving these tender bulbs is a gamble and I'm not one to take a chance if it means loads of messy work at a time when I want to be inside with a hot cup of coffee.   

I've bought several packages of mixed tulips and daffodils and it's finally time to plant-plant-plant.  Are you like me?  Full of plans and enthusiasm when you buy the bulbs, then, not wanting to dig another thing, wash another tool, and get cold when it's planting time?  I must admit, in the spring, I NEVER regret having planted spring flowering bulbs.  In the fall, it's another story altogether.  

The following care instructions are (in part) from one of my favorite sites   Old House Gardens talks garden reality better than most other sites that are selling something and the selection of heirloom plants is top notch.  If you want something pretty or if you are enhancing the heirloom design around an old house, they are a great resource.

WINTER CARE for bulbs and rhizomes which are tender in Zones that have deep freezes 

After frost “blackens” the leaves in the fall. cut the stalks off a few inches above the ground and dig the rhizomes. There’s no rush; the ground will protect them from freezing, usually for weeks. You can then either (1) leave the rhizomes in clumps with soil intact, pile them up someplace that’s cool but not freezing, and cover with plastic, or (2) wash the rhizomes, divide them, let them air dry for a day or two, maybe give them a dusting of garden sulfur (a low-toxicity fungicide), and then store them with some peat moss, perlite, or coarse vermiculite in plastic grocery bags or covered plastic storage boxes to keep them from drying out. A temperature of 40-55° F is best; do not allow them to freeze. Check every now and then and either allow excess moisture (look for condensation) to escape or if they seem to be shriveling sprinkle some water on the rhizomes. You will probably need to experiment to find what works best with your conditions.

(In zones 8-11 (with lows to 10°F) – and often in zone 7 – cannas can be left in the ground all winter. Leave the stalks intact and mulch with 6-12 inches of leaves, straw, etc. Thin clumps every few years for best performance.)

Fall Planting for spring flowering bulbs in Zones that have deep winter freezes:

You can plant most bulbs in the fall when soil temperatures in your area drop to about 60ºF. You can also keep planting, as necessary, LONG after the first frost, as long as the soil remains workable. This is much later than many people realize, requiring many nights below freezing.

However, since small bulbs dry out in storage more easily and their shallow planting depths subject them to earlier freezing, they should be planted in most zones IMMEDIATELY. This is also true of all lilies, Fritillaria, Hyacinthoides, and Camassia.

Hyacinths root better in not-too-cool soil, so plant them next, then narcissus, and finally tulips, which prefer the coolest soil. Don’t wait too late, though, because if the soil freezes down to the bulbs before they root well, health and performance will be impaired. To keep soil warmer longer, apply a thick, light winter mulch such as straw or pine needles — but not if you have bulb-eating voles.

Small or fleshy bulbs are very perishable and should be planted IMMEDIATELY! Others may be stored briefly in a cool (40-50ºF is ideal), dry, relatively dark place. Leave bags loosely open to allow some air circulation. Temperatures over 70ºF can cause problems, especially for tulips. So can gasses from ripening fruit and vegetables and automobile exhaust fumes.

Interesting on the "automobile exhaust fumes" since I generally toss my bag of bulbs on the garage work bench until I can get them in the ground.  Heaven only knows how many bags of bulbs have been exposed to dry weather, exhaust fumes and other less than ideal or even killer conditions even prior to being purchased. 

Remember:  Don't plant spring flowering bulbs where you simply have to mow them off before the leaves die back of their own accord.  They take in nutrients from the leaves long after the flower is gone. 

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