Irene Virag's Garden Party

I'm Irene Virag -- a writer, a gardener, a cancer survivor. I think ideas are like plants. They need nurturing to grow. And gardeners share both. So welcome to my blog. It’s all about what’s happening in my garden and beyond.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Bulb Basics

Bulbs are little miracles. You put a small non-descript brown thing in a hole in the ground, cover it with dirt and wait for spring. And lo and behold, you're almost never disappointed. It's an act of faith, a trust in nature. And now is the time to get it all in motion.

If you can dig a hole, you can plant a bulb. That said, there are a few basics to keep in mind.

Inspect bulbs before planting. Give a good squeeze to make sure they're firm. Don't worry if there are small nicks or loose or missing tunics, which is what the bulb's papery covering is called. But dump any that are deeply scarred, mushy or moldy.

Take mail-order bulbs out of the box or crate and store them in a dry, well-ventilated area. But remember, you can't tell a yellow tulip from a pink double by looking at the bulb, so don't take them out of their labeled mesh bags until planting day.

Plant after the first frost but before the ground freezes. November is prime time. Once bulbs make roots, they shouldn't freeze.

Choose a well-drained site. Soggy soil can cause bulbs to develop fungal diseases and rot so avoid areas where puddles collect. And remember, daffodils need about 6 to 8 hours of sun even after the flowers fade. The foliage uses sunlight to replenish the bulb for the following spring. So plant in sunny beds and at the edges of woodlands. And don’t cut, tie or bend the foliage after the flowers peter out – let leaves yellow and flop over before removing them.

Plant large bulbs like tulips and daffodils eight inches deep and small bulbs like crocuses and grape hyacinths five inches deep. You don't need a ruler. My friend Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center, offers this handy helper: Use your own hand as a measuring tool. Generally speaking it's about 7 to 8 inches from your wrist to the tip of your middle finger, and about 5-and-a-half inches from the crook at the base of your thumb to the tip of your index finger. The length of the last joint of the thumb should be between 1 to 2 inches. I measured my hand -- Sally's rule of thumb works.

Plant the pointy side of the bulb up. If there's any doubt, plant the bulb on its side.

Plant in bunches or drifts -- don't plant in rows. Try combining daffodils with daylilies; the emerging Hemerocallis foliage will hide the bulb’s withering leaves and carry your garden into summer.

Top-dress with an organic bulb fertilizer or a slow-release formula after planting. Don’t put fertilizer in the planting hole – it could burn emerging roots. And don’t use bone meal – it attracts rodents and dogs and does nothing for the bulb.

Water after planting but don't mulch until the ground freezes. Once the big chill arrives, cover the bulb beds with a layer of pine needles or well-chopped pine bark or boughs from your Christmas tree.

There's still time to buy or order bulbs. Here are some of my favorite sources:

Van Bourgondien: 800-622-9997
Brent and Becky's Bulbs: 877-661-2852
Old House Gardens: 734-995-1486
White Flower Farm: 800-503-9624


Anonymous Terry said...

Very informative blog, Irene! It makes an amateur gardener like myself feel confident about planting bulbs!

Thanks and keep up the great work!

10/09/2006 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Thanks Irene for the reminder about not removing the bulbs from the bags until you plant them so you know what you have! I have to admit that planting bulbs has intimidated me a bit in the past. This is great information and just in time! Here's to those beautiful spring tulips!

10/09/2006 10:40 AM  

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