Thursday, October 8, 2015

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It's Time to Plant Bulbs (Part II)

In the previous post I shared a bit of what's going on in spring flowering bulbs. This time I'd like to share more of the fun aspects of spring bulbs. Here are some bulb tips, tricks and factoids.

Shall we just own up? Honestly, don't you have at least one neighbor who is always doling out horticultural advice? Regardless of the fact that it's free and often unsolicited (let's not even start on accuracy) I'm not above suggesting a few ways to "one-up" the back fence garden guru.

* Consider a monochromatic color scheme, say white tulips. Measure the bed space and calculate how many tulips you're going to need. At 6" apart you'll need 4 bulbs per square foot. At 4" apart you'll need 9 bulbs per square foot (a knockout display, for sure).

ABC's of a longer bulb display

Let's say you have 10 square feet and you're going to do 6" spacing. That means you'll need forty-ish bulbs. Think about dividing into thirds. Get thirteen each of a white: early, midseason and late variety. Plant them in an ABC/ABC/ABC pattern. Guess what? That 10 square feet will be in bloom three times longer than if you had planted forty of one variety. The neighbors will be agog that your tulips are lasting so much longer than theirs.

* Here's a variation on that. Same bed- buy forty of the same variety. Plant 1/2 pointed up as conventional practice dictates. Place the remaining 1/2 on their side. Mother Nature is seldom fooled and "gravitropism" will kick in. The bulbs on their side will upright themselves, but be a week or so behind their correctly oriented counterpoints, essentially doubling the bloom time for the same space.

* Or you can do bulb "tiers" or "bouquets" as a colleague of mine calls them. Dig a hole 8" deep and a diameter of your choosing. Place something like large-cupped daffodils in the bottom. Cover with 2" of soil and then put tulips or hyacinths over that. Then you can add a third tier with crocus or the other minor bulbs 3" or so below the surface. You've just added multiple flowers to the same footprint and extended the bloom period.

Critters don't like these!
* If you have deer or rabbit issues there are a few bulbs that are naturally varmint resistant and will not be bothered by roaming livestock. Daffodils, fritillaria, scillas and hyacinthoides (not to be confused with hyacinths) are all distasteful to four-legged marauders.

The early spring blue "carpet"
* Have you ever noticed a spring lawn that seems to be "blooming blue" and wondered "What's that?" That's a very commonly asked spring question at our garden center and the answer is, "Scilla siberica, Siberian squill." Beautiful and multiplies like bunny rabbits.

* Know that a  new bulb planting may flower up to two weeks later than an established bed of the same variety, in exactly the same location. 

* A bulb planting, new or established, may bloom 7-10 days earlier on a south or west exposure than an east-facing site.

These tulips will last
* Daffodils are the peonies of the spring bulb garden. That is, they get better and fuller for many years after planting. Most (underline most) tulips are not as accommodating in that respect. If you want the longest years of garden service from tulips (called perennializing) consider the fosteriana, greigii, and Darwin Hybrid classes.

* Largest bulbs = largest flowers. True. Hyacinths are one case where bigger is not necessarily better. Topsize hyacinths will produce topsize flowers that will be so heavy they'll tend to list and topple, especially under heavy spring rains. Save the big hyacinth bulbs for indoor forcing, go down a size for garden beds.

* On the subject of hyacinths, people often react with a rash after handling the bulbs with bare hands. They have silica in the outer husk that can be very irritating. Simply wear gloves and avoid direct contact with your skin.

Give pink dafs a little shade
* Daffodils with any "pink" (term used loosely) flower parts should be situated in partial shade to prevent fading.

* Mice love crocus corms (bulbs). Birds, especially sparrows, may be attracted and peck at open crocus flowers, especially yellow. Please, don't even ask how I know that. Consider repellents for both.

Don't let your garden be the one on the block missing the soul of spring- the beautiful colors of Dutch bulbs!  

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