A lesson in bulbs
September 15, 2005
OK, we’ve been talking a lot lately about planting bulbs – those potato-sized lumps that bloom in spring or fall and in between. But when David Ruf of the Greenhouse Garden Center, decided to offer a seminar on bulbs, it seemed it was time to wrap up the subject. Ruf, tall and in his usual cowboy hat and massive belt buckle with a can of pop on hand, recently greeted an audience of 30 gardeners with some ideas about bulbs. Here are some of many points:
• Add organics to local soils. Always. “We’re pretty alkaline out here.”
• The bigger the bulb, the bigger the flower. The smaller the bulb, the smaller the flower. Clear enough.
• A bulb will flower three or four years, and then it sort of withers away. But it often leaves bulbettes, which will continue to flower.
• Don’t cut the leaves after the bulb has flowered and declined in June or July. “The bulb needs the food that those leaves generate for next year.”
• The amaryllis makes a nice Christmas-time flower. Pot it and bring it inside.
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• Cyclamens are nice fall bloomers. Plant now and have flowers “before the snow flies.” They also come as mid-spring bloomers.
• In Europe, the tradition is to plant new bulbs annually, toss last year’s collection. “We let them stay for a couple of years.”
• Plant annuals over bulbs. “Then you can have nice flowers all summer long.” Lots of people plant bulbs, go on vacation for three weeks and never see the bulbs blooming. Just bad timing and they complain about no flowers. Plant-ing annuals over the surviving bulbs won’t hurt the bulbs.
• Dead bulb foliage pulls off easily. But “don’t rush it.”
• Critters are a problem in open area gardens. Planting hyacinths will deter critters; “They don’t like the smell.” But wear gloves when planting hyacinths. Garlic and onions also dissuade pests.
• When building a fence to shelter plants from rabbits, don’t just edge the fence in the ground; rabbits will dig under it. “Get it 18 inches into the ground. That seems to discourage rabbits.”
• Plant fall bulbs right now for late flowering.
• It helps to add organic to the soil before planting, also sulfur. And wind protection can be important in Nevada climates.
• Dealing with problems, use bone meal, bulb feed when plant-ing.
Ruf also handed out some Greenhouse Garden Center advisories. Under the heading of spring bulb planting tips, he offered these:
• Where to plant: Spring bulbs look great almost any place. In front of shrubs, along a walkway or fence, around a tree. Group them in clumps of 10 or more for dramatic effect. Give them sunshine for several hours daily. Dig a big hole and toss in 50-100 bulbs for a grand display.
• No swampy sites. Don’t plant in places where water stands. Work in peat moss, compost or sand for good drainage.
• Plant when the soil has cooled to below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, usually late September or October here.
When it comes to planting bulbs in containers, here’s what the Greenhouse recommends:
• Do it in layers. First put in a foundation of drainage and soil. Eight inches from the top of the container add a layer of large flower bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils. Put the bulbs close together, touching even, but not touching the side of the container. Add three inches of soil. At five inches deep you can add small bulbs, such as grape hyacinths. Add more soil. Water well, and protect from extreme winter temperatures.
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• Most bulb flowers offer a scent, often slight, so the plants need to be at or close to nose level. Even those flowers with a faint scent offer the fresh, earthy smell of spring. The tiny little Iris reticulata has purple-blue flowers that suggest violets. Dainty Puschkinia libanotica exudes a sweet-spicy hint. The Grape Hyacinth has a honey-like scent, and many of the miniature Daffodils and Narcissus remind one of fresh fruit.
Most fragrant flowers combine to make bouquets. Cutting the flowers from the bulbs won’t hurt the bulbs if the foliage is left intact. Cut the flowers just as the bulbs are showing color, and let them unfold where you can watch them.
n Contact Sam Bauman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1236.