Friday, March 27, 2009

The Spring Bulb Blues, Yellows, Purples………..

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are proud to tell you that KCB rules as the 2008 Maine Master Gardener of the Year. And we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family.

There is nothing as welcoming as that first sprout of a crocus. I have been known to dance with joy, squeal with glee. Grape Hyacinth, Daffodils, Hyacinth, Snow Drops and Scilla receive a welcome nearly as jubilant. Alas, I forgot tulips, though forgotten they are not. Sometimes just a disappointing memory. Yet I digress; the fact that buds and blossoms of the popular tulip are not devoured by a cute groundhog or stately deer is deserving of a celebration all their own.

As I meet with new clients this time of year, a common theme is spring bulbs. Those without the first colorful friends of spring are envious of the lucky landscapes sporting pops of yellows, purples, even whites. Others are frustrated as their bulbs have disappeared (squirrels, chipmunks anyone?) Then there are several whose bulbs are not doing well. All have a little less spring in their step, feel a little bluer, then their buddies boasting of bountiful blooming bulbs.

We do know that in order to be blessed with these early spring offerings we must plan and plant in the fall. For some reason many have revealed to me that by the time October/November rolls around they are ‘gardened out’. They are on to the new school year, holiday preparations or spending energies and money doing inside chores and repairs. Alternatively they are among the group who feel left out of the emerging colorful palette that welcomes the season. If you are part of the latter, mark your journals and plan for the future. Sign up for the e-mail newsletter from a favorite nursery or garden center. You will be among the first to be alerted that the bulbs have arrived. Much more inexpensive than a late winter Caribbean vacation.

One advantage of utilizing my services or of any landscape/gardening professional is that we will help you to meet your bulb goals. I do not profess to be a miracle worker yet there are things that anyone can do at this time of the year to help their bulbs. These are some of my springtime bulb maintenance tips:

*Deadhead spent blooms. You want the energy to be sent to the bulb and not produce a seed head. (see below regarding naturalizing)
*Remove flower stalk unless you want the plant to naturalize, as in the case of daffodils.

*Allow foliage to fade to yellow and/or brown before cutting back.

NOTE: If you want to utilize companion planting to hide the declining foliage there are many choices. Since it may be sometime before you choose and install a desirable companion the exact spot of your bulb plantings may not be evident. Mark bulb area with golf tees. They are relatively inexpensive and withstand many seasons. I choose neon colored ones purchased at surplus and salvage stores. Simply push into dirt next to bulb or around area if bulbs are grouped. When you begin to dig later in the season and a tee is spotted then you know you are in danger of digging up a bulb or two. Move your hole slightly.

*Fertilize with a balanced mix with high phosphorus P (middle number in plant food & fertilizer blends).
--Espoma’s Bulb Tone is my favorite.
--Bone meal is often used yet may attract animals.
NOTE: The ’to fertilize or not to fertilize’ is often a controversy. Some only feed newly planted. Others will do upon first sight of the sprout. the practice of applying after the blooms have all faded has been successful for my gardens. Make sure to water in well in any case.

What to do if you know you planted bulbs yet nothing comes up?
o Check to see if the bulb is still there of if it was planted pointy side up.
§ If gone, then some chipmunk or squirrel enjoyed a treat. Try sprinkling red pepper around bulb and again planting hole next you plant.
§ If upside down, try again next year.

You have tulips that have no blooms.
o If there is a stem surrounded by leaves then a deer, groundhog or perhaps a visiting rabbit enjoyed a treat.
o No stem; the bulb is spent. Most tulips will last 2-5 years. After that they will produce weaker and weaker blooms and eventually none.
§ Some will dig bulbs, divide, and/or remove any week bulbettes and replant. This is not a practice I maintain. It IS important to dig up the bulb, however. It will continue to put forth foliage for many years. It is best to dig up and begin again next fall.

For those who do not want to wait to fall to put forth their bulb passion, there are some that are made for spring planting, especially in our Zone 5/4. Refer to individual plant instruction on depth and space of planting. Most will require digging and storing over the winter.

o Canna Lily
o Gladiolus
· Some varieties are able to over-winter in ground for 2-5 growing seasons
o Dahlias
o Agapanthus (Lily of the Nile)
o Freesia (as annuals)

Personally, I do not plant ‘annual bulbs’ for my clients unless I can treat them as true annuals and begin afresh next season. In my travels I have seen the most spectacular Dahlias that are generations old. I have spoken to proponents of the Grand Gladiola and would not imagine a summer floral arrangement without them. I met a couple with dozens of majestic Lily of the Nile in terra cotta containers that each spring and fall had to be wheeled to their summer home from an onsite green house. All of these are labors of love. Any who attempt such an undertaking truly have my utmost admiration and envy.

It is never too late to put some spring in your step, or your garden. There are more than one way to accomplish the ‘blues’……….

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
March 27, 2009

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