Thursday, November 3, 2011

Still time to plant Spring bulbs.

Gardening is all about hoping for the best.  This sense of hope is well represented by the spring bulb. Spring bulbs are nature’s little bundles of delayed gratification.  In each bulb is a harbinger of spring; a snow drop or crocus, a daffodil or tulip.  All this will be yours in exchange for some hard labor now in the fall. 

It is very easy to get carried away with purchasing spring bulbs. I should urge you not to go crazy purchasing bulbs, but it is hard to resist their allure. But remember, you will have to plant every single one of those bulk discount bulbs.  In our climate we can plant bulbs up until early December in some years if the ground doesn’t freeze, which happens at about 20-24 F.  However, it is best to plant them when there will still be some time for them to develop a root system before they go completely dormant for the winter.  Plant them too early and the heat will cause them to bloom and then be damaged in the coming cold periods.  If you have purchased so many that you cannot plant them all at once, as I have been known to do, they can be placed in a paper bag and put in the refrigerator until they can be planted.  Be sure to label the bags so you don’t plant alliums where you wanted the fritillaria.  Plant all bulbs, including tulips, to a depth of three times the height of the bulb. This depth will help them weather temperature fluctuations and supposedly foil squirrels. However, I never underestimate a squirrel’s ability to dig up something it wants and squirrels love tulips.  I try to preserve the tulips by rolling each bulb in chili powder as a repellent (remember even though chili powder is not toxic to humans, you do not want to inhale it or get some in your eyes!) Bulbs in pots are practically like cookie jars for squirrels, so cover tulips in containers with a bit of chicken wire. The wire keeps the squirrels from digging the bulbs out but lets the plant emerge. 

Bulbs are really some of the easiest flowers to grow and perhaps the most rewarding.  They only need sun, well draining soil and water if it becomes very dry. Remember that many bulbs emerge before trees have their leaves so a shady spot in summer will be sunny in the early spring.  For fertilizer I prefer to dig in some compost when planting, or organic bulb fertilizer. Don’t fuss too much. The truth is bulbs are little powerhouses of life.  Inside each bulb are the nutrients that the flower needs to bloom in spring.  So, be patient. If the flowers can make it through the winter only dreaming of blooming, so can you. 

TIPS: If you see little tips of bulbs coming out of the ground during a freak warm spell just cover them up with some shredded leaf mulch. 

Don’t forget the culinary bulbs, like garlic and shallots.  Divide a head of garlic or shallots into cloves and plant each one tip up. After the green shoots emerge, mulch with shredded leaves.  Next summer you will have plenty of garlic and shallots to eat and share. 

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA is a local source for bulbs. <>

Fall: It's All About the Leaves

Where to pile the leaves, how to gather them up and what to do with them. Don't just bag them and throw them in the trash.

I  like to  (Or I should say my neighbor with the lawn mower does it for me)pile them up and go over them with a lawn mower to shred them for storage as compost.  They can be placed directly on top of beds to act as winter mulch but they will clump, so shredding gets rid of most of the clumping problems.  You can gather them with a gas blower, and that is how my neighbor helps me gather mine.  But I wish I had a manual leaf collector, it is quieter and doesn’t use up energy, except your own.  In many neighborhoods the local government will collect leaves for composting.  This is a great way to get rid of leaves that you don’t use yourself for compost or mulch.  But there are caveats.  First make sure there are not too many twigs and branches or larger objects.  Second, if you have any diseased plant debris, do not add this to the collection pile or add to your own compost.  The diseases which injured or killed the plant may survive the compost process and invade your garden again.  Also, if you use chemicals on your lawn or garden, do not add grass or plant clippings from things with chemicals on them.  These chemicals can be harmful to the beneficial bacteria and fungus in the compost.  Dispose of diseased and chemically treated yard waste through the trash. 

If you have a place to pile the leaves please keep them for a lovely compost material.  They can be used as the carbon component in your composter, or just let them rot where they are.  Or, add them to your layering when making a new “no dig” bed.