Thursday, September 24, 2015

Nu is het de tijd om de bloembollen te planten (Dutch for...

It's time to plant bulbs! As a Dutch bulbsman (don't look in Webster's, not there) said to me recently, "It's a long winter in Chicago. I know spring is coming when the first bulbs start peeking through in the garden. That's much more exciting to me than the darned groundhog seeing his shadow." Those Dutchmen know how to turn a phrase, don't you agree?

What's new in bulbs? Let's face it. Even if you're a garden curmudgeon it's hard to deny that bulbs are fun and beautiful. A spring garden without bulbs is a garden missing its heart. A new product, Easy Bloom Pad®, makes an incredible bulb garden a snap whether you're new to bulbs (and intimidated), or a seasoned gardener whose knees now demand squatting clemency.
Create a bulb bouquet the easy way!

Easy Bloom Pad® - You can choose straight colors or mixed combos. The bulbs are encased in biodegradable materials that are about the size of a salad plate. Dig the hole 6" deep, loosen the soil, drop the entire pad flat in the bottom of the hole, cover with the soil you removed, water and you've planted a bulb bouquet! Instructions tell you which side is "down". You don't even have to kneel! I think this is one of the most innovative things to come down the proverbial garden path in a long, long time.

"Collections" - Whether it's appropriately color coordinated mixes of tulips, themed daffodils (example: only pink-flowered varieties), mixes of different species (say, daffodils and grape hyacinths), the guesswork has been eliminated for those that believe they're color wheel-challenged. It's now so-o-o-o easy to have a beautiful spring garden.

Bulb collections take the guesswork out

Bouquet or multi-flowered tulips - Not new, but often overlooked. That's right, multiple, full-sized flowers PER each bulb! These varieties ('Toronto', 'Quebec', 'Night Club', to name a few) have been around for a while. Who doesn't want more flowers in the same space for the same effort and investment? Grow them once, you'll add more every year.

'Toronto' gives you more blooms per bulb

Tips for those new(er) to the world of bulbs:
  • Buy early (September) to make sure you get the varieties you want. Store them in a cool, dry place until the soil temperatures cool appropriately for planting.
  • Soil temperatures should be below 60° F., preferably 55 degrees or so. Cooler is better. For those whose life is soil thermometer-less first frost is a good indicator of time to plant.
  • Don't overlook using a complete fertilizer (one that contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potash). For new plantings, don't put the fertilizer in the bottom of the hole and set the bulbs on top of it. Instead, place bulbs, cover with 1" or more of soil, then add fertilizer, OR fill the hole completely and then place fertilizer on top of the soil.
Bulbs like to eat, too

  • Always do an initial deep watering to settle the soil and trigger the start of rooting. If fall is dry, water periodically until the ground freezes.
  • Squirrels, in particular, are drawn to the smell of freshly disturbed soil. Bulbs can become a casualty of their curiosity. If your garden is a squirrel way station there are a number of great repellents to discourage such maddening hi-jinks. These repellents are usually available both as liquids to spray on bulbs and soil, or as granules to place in the planting holes and/or on top when finished.
  • Spring flowering bulbs like well-drained soil. Never plant them in areas where there is standing water (any time of year) or even squishy under foot. Don't water, water, water in summer when they're resting. You won't be happy with the results.
  • As hardy as bulbs are it's great general practice to mulch the beds heavily. Apply 3-4" of coarse organic matter (leaf mulch, compost) to the frozen soil surface. This will keep the soil cool longer in the spring. This results in later, more uniform, and often larger bloom!
Meer Komende opvolging  ("More information is coming" in the next post...) 


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Prime Time for Peonies

A frequently asked spring garden center question is: Can I plant / transplant /divide peonies now? The answer is yes / no / no. You're owed an explanation.

Good ol' die-to-the-ground, pop-up-next-spring-bigger-and-better peonies are popular for a lot of reasons. Good foliage. Beautiful flowers with a wide range of colors, forms and fragrance. Great as cut flowers. Rock hardy. Low maintenance. Many even show lovely fall color.

Aside from generous sun and well-drained soil the only thing peonies ask is to be left undisturbed. A Hosta can be moved around like a sofa, and at practically any time of year as long as a few precautions are taken. Peonies, on the other hand, are homebodies and like to settle in one place for years, even decades.      

So, what's the difference between planting, transplanting and dividing a peony? You can plant a potted peony any time you can work the soil - April through November. Why? Because you're not disturbing the root system. You're just giving the roots more elbow room to grown when you remove it from the pot.
:) peony!

Transplanting and dividing are more stressful :( and time-sensitive. Transplanting is moving an established peony plant (say, 2 or more years in the ground). Peonies don't mind that if it is done at the proper time, which is mid-August through early November. Even so, moving at that right time is still an adjustment. The plant will take a minimum of a year to get its roots back and start performing normally.

Peony ready for "washing"
Dividing a peony is best done in the upper Midwest the same time that you would do a transplant, mid-August through early November. By mid-August next year's buds (called "eyes") are well developed at the base of this year's stems. The eyes are usually maroon, pink, cream or some combination. Each eye will become a new stem next year.

Peony root with red "eyes" showing
In the fall you can cut off current year's stems to work around the plant, and see the roots and eyes better. When digging up to transplant or divide make sure you use a sharp spade. A well-established peony (15 or more stems) can have a root system like a large shrub. Dig deeply and life the entire root system intact. I like to place them on a paved surface and turn the hose on the (car wash nozzle stream). The point is to wash the soil away to check for number and health of eyes and roots.

Cleaned root, ready for dividing
At this point cut any damaged, soft or obviously diseased portions off. If you're transplanting think twice about putting a big multi-stemmed (again 15 or more stems) plant back in the ground intact. There's something less vigorous about a mature, woody plant and how quickly it will rebound. Consider dividing it down to 7-10 eyes. In my experience this is best accomplished with a big, sharp kitchen knife. Look for natural separations where you can cut through creating multiple plants with strong roots.

Another word of caution - Don't go to extremes and cut down to 1-3 eye divisions. Those would take several years to get the stem count up so you have a blooming plant. A nursery standard is called a 3-5 eye division. That will give you a nice sized, vigorous plant that MAY produce a bloom or two the spring after transplanting.

Peony divisions ready for planting
A you prepare the hole be sure to thoroughly mix 1 part organic matter (well-aged compost or dehydrated manure, NEVER fresh) to 3 parts soil taken from the planting hole. The only other caution is to make sure you don't plant too deeply. If the uppermost eyes are placed or settle more than 2" below the finished soil grade you'll never have flowers. Leaves yes, but probably no flowers.

As you now know, the answer to the question of fall peony is:  planting, transplanting and dividing = yes. Enjoy for a lifetime.