It's not spring without fall bulbs

by The Garden Goddess

ello fellow Earthlings and welcome to a discussion on bulb planting and the enjoyment and surprise of a bulb garden in any spot or pot. But first a little science...

Bulbs are actually a common description given to the bulbous storage tanks of certain types of perennial plants that have a distinct dormant season. The plant actually disappears and stores energy and food for the following growing season in a fleshy, modified root that acts as a insulator and storage facility for the dormant plant's life force. Although many different types of storage organs are called bulbs, many are corms, tubers and rhizomes. So, enough of the semi-technical stuff and on to the garden.

Fall bulb planting is something that can be done with a master plan or with total abandon. Planned bulb gardens are beautiful places where drifts of flowers are placed in areas of the garden to show off a kind of display of color in an organized manner. Many gardeners, however, plant bulbs with no plan or organized scheme. I like this method just as much as the organized style because the bulbs become a sort of surprise of color when it is their time. Both of these methods are exciting and rewarding for many years if a few steps are taken ahead of planting time to ensure that your bulbs give you a good display of colorful flowers from the first year and for many years afterward.


Refrigerate before opening


The first step is to select the type of bulbs that you have an interest in growing. It should be noted here that since we live in a very mild climate, there are a few types of bulbs that will require refrigeration to simulate a "cold snap" so that they may properly go dormant. These bulbs include tulips, hyacinths, crocus, snowdrops and muscari (grape hyacinth). These bulbs should be stored in the refrigerator for no less than six weeks; I prefer to store them for ten weeks. The prolonged cool season really seems to let the plant rest and go fully dormant, making the spring flush of growth even more spectacular when they are placed in the garden.

I also like to plant these types of bulbs in pots. By doing this, I make less work for myself when it comes to digging the bulbs up to store them for next season. The mobility of pots also make the display more flexible.

Other types of bulbs like daffodils, paperwhites, freesias and bearded or Dutch iris don't really require chilling, so you can just plant them directly in your prepared soil.


Picking good ones

  Selecting bulbs at a garden center is a lot like shopping for tomatoes. Selection of large, firm bulbs will always make your life easier. Undersize bulbs, bulbs that have molds or mildew growing on them, or bulbs that have an odor of rot should be passed over. There are lots of places where good bulbs can be purchased, including the Home Depot and Grangetto's.


Feed 'em right


Once you have selected your bulbs and have them in your shopping cart, scoot over to the section of the garden center where they have their bulb foods and pick up a box or a bag of an organic bulb food to mix into the soil. Whitney farms makes a very good bulbs food that can be purchased at Grangetto's. Use this product according to the instructions on the box and you will have very healthy bulbs with good color.

I like to mix my own bulb food:

2 parts soft rock phosphate
1 part cottonseed meal
1 part alfalfa meal
  I use about an eighth of a cup mixed with the backfill soil for each bulb at planting time. Because my organic bulbs food lasts so long, I only apply it at planting time. It lasts long enough to feed the growing bulb plant all the way though the blooming cycle.


Remember the Mulch!

A good 2"-3" layer of mulch will also make your bulb garden a cleaner place while feeding the soil organic matter at the same time.

Next month we will be discussing the cool season vegetable garden again. I just had to get this bulb information out due to the many requests for information on bulb planting. See you in the garden!

  Got Questions? Fax the Goddess at (760) 632.8175 or email her at The Garden Goddess is a trademark of The Organic Gardener's Resource Centre of Encinitas. The Garden Goddess is a consulting horticulturist and an award winning garden designer. Her columns on environmentally responsible gardening are found in many newspapers and magazines