It’s October 27th and I am amiss at writing the October post of the Gardening Series, but not too late for one of the most important things to do in October and early November; before the ground freezes. Plant spring flowering bulbs- tulips, daffodils, hyacinth and crocus. These wonderful harbingers of spring should be planted now. You can buy bulbs at your nursery, at box stores and online. There are too many varieties to list. When buying them in person make sure that the bulbs are viable…..it’s like buying an onion at the grocery store; if it is solid with a bit of skin on the outside, it’s good; don’t buy anything that is shrunken and hollow feeling or has mold on it. For better blooms, buy big bulbs; not the inexpensive, tiny ones.

Follow the planting instructions on the package. Don’t be too concerned if you cannot dig a hole as deep as the instructions say, but they must be covered over with soil. Basically, take the diameter of the bulb and times it by three and that will give you the right planting depth. The only reason to care about exact planting depths is if you want the bulbs to bloom at the same time, but even then if they are planted in different areas that get different sunlight, they will bloom accordingly. Isn’t it fascinating to know that those little bulbs placed under the ground know where the sunlight is? Well, of course, where there is greater sunlight the ground will warm sooner and that is what triggers the growth.

I once had a grand idea to plant 800 pink impression tulips along a border of roses and catmint. I imagined the catmint blooming with its lovely lavender flowers and within those the stately pink of the tulips all coming alive at the same time. This image was not realized in life….the catmint bloomed fine, but the tulips did not cooperate. They bloomed in blocks and segments according to their orientation to the sun. So much for my grand vision!!!

Here’s a good thing about varied bloom times….planting spring flowering bulbs in different places in your garden can give you a feast of spring lasting from late February to the end of April, depending on the orientation of the garden. These little bulbs can give you much joy and happiness and they require no care. In some places, there are rodents who dig up the bulbs and if you live in one of those places and really want the flowers, you might have to go to extremes to plant them with wire around them, but for the most part, in Northern Nevada, we don’t deal with that. If you do….I suggest planting them in pots.

It is not too late to buy the bulbs; if you want to become more familiar with spring flowering bulbs go online, as everyone does these days, and you will be amazed at all the offerings. Tulips come in almost every color; some are variegated and there are the frilly ones with ruffly edges- parrot tulips they are called. Tulips range from 8 inches high to 24 inches high. There are early and late blooming tulips.  Read the bloom times on the labels and plant those with a variety of bloom times. Daffodils or narcissus have so many forms, you just have to look at a catalog to see all the ones available. Beware, when looking at a catalog of bulbs….you will want more than you will have time to plant.

More planting tips….buy a bulb planter that attaches to a hand drill; probably battery operated so you don’t need to connect to a power source. It’s worth it. In my opinion there is no need to supply other nutrients, like bonemeal or a special bulb food. If you have it, add it. Water after planting, then don’t worry about watering again.

Growing tips….deadhead or cut the flower stems after they bloom.  Don’t cut the leaves off of the bulbs after the flowers are done. Let them die down naturally. That is the secret to having bulbs that continue to produce flowers in the next season. The leaves need to take in the sunlight and nutrients in the soil and save them in the bulb for the next generation. The dying leaves are unsightly and that is why bulbs are traditionally planted among perennial plants that will hide the dying leaves. With that said, trim your perennials down to the ground now so that you can see to plant your bulbs close to the perennials; they will not have grown very big before the bulbs bloom and this way the bulbs dying leaves will be hidden by the perennials leaves as it grows.  Leave your bulbs in the ground and fertilize them as you fertilize the plants around them.

Naturalizing is a term most often used for daffodils and the family of narcissus- the same. These bulbs can most readily create babies and continue to spread. They are hardier than tulips, but they will only continue to grow if left undisturbed. The idea of naturalizing only works when one has a big area of otherwise undisturbed ground like a pasture or meadow. It does not really apply to our suburban gardens. Happy daffodils will produce larger bulbs and babies, more readily than tulips.  You can dig them up and divide them after a few years.

Crocus are the earliest tiny ones that will show up in late February and it is good to plant them for that reason. It is always a wonderful surprise to see the little crocus flowers blooming. I left out dutch irises….they are another bulb that is really nice to grow, especially for a cut flower to put in a vase. These are not the same as the other irises- which grow from rhizomes; a.k.a. bearded iris. Another really great bulb is “allium”- giant allium and globe allium and other varieties.  There are many ranging from about a foot tall to three feet tall. The giant allium is one of my favorites. They look like a giant hyacinth, but with finer, spiker blossoms- they bloom in May? June? and after blooming they still look great as their seed pod heads are very interesting and they take no special care. And there are grape hyacinths….and regular hyacinths which smell wonderful.

If you buy bulbs and don’t get around to planting them before the ground freezes,  just dig in or drill in and cover them up with soil.  You can even throw them on top of the ground and cover them with soil; I tried that once in desperation and it worked! You can also just plant them in nice pots and give them out as Christmas or Hanukah presents or keep them for yourself. The bulbs need a period of cold weather to flower, so put the pots outside and give them a small amount of water if they do not get any naturally (once a month).

I am looking forward to spring now….just talking about it!

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