Sunday, November 20, 2011

More on Bulbs

Many bulbs "naturalize," meaning that once they are planted they will reproduce and spread on their own. Once you have planted a few thousand of them, you will fully appreciate this feature. Those gorgeous tulips you have always admired, however, do not have this virtue. Even when fertilized annually tulips gradually lose their strength and eventually die out altogether.. For this reason, many public gardens treat tulips as annuals and replant them every year.
Most bulbs, however, will return every spring and give you years of pleasure.

     One difficulty with planting in the autumn is that you find yourself putting plant morsels into the ground just a squirrels are beginning to dig similar morsels out. Squirrels are not terribly fond of daffodils or grape hyacinth, but they do enjoy a tasty tulip or crocus bulb. Lazy gardeners like me find ourselves liking what squirrels don't. Those willing to do battle can plant their bulbs more deeply than recommended in the instructions. Your can also use one-inch chicken wire or a tough plastic netting to discourage digging. This can be laid after the bulbs are planted and then covered with a layer of mulch. When the first spring shoots appear, it is easy to lift the netting up through the remaining mulch and let your bloomers grow unimpeded.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

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            By March most Chicago residents are thoroughly sick of winter. We desperately want to see some sign of new life. The first plants to announce the return of spring are bulbs, but if you want the boost of spring flowers early in the season, you have to plant them in autumn of the previous year.

             Bulbs can be planted up until the ground freezes. That means you can still plant them now in the Chicago area.

            The earliest bloomers and the easiest to start with are snow drops (Galanthus) and Crocus. The bulbs are small and the plants themselves are small (6”) and are the earliest bloomers in spring. Snow drops are white and you can plant crocus in white, yellow and purple. These bulbs can be planted in the very front of your flower beds, and, for that matter, in your lawn as well. Their leaves are small and they can be mowed along with the grass without injuring their ability to bloom in following years.

            Grape hyacinths (Muscari), a blue flower, also bloom early in the season. (April).

            The most common among the later and taller bulbs are daffodils (Narcissus) and tulips. These are taller plants (12-24”) and bloom later in the season. Daffodils are mainly yellow and yellow and white. Tulips, as everyone knows, are the most gorgeous of spring bloomers, with spectacular red and multi-colored flowers blooming closer to May. Both daffodils and tulips have many varieties that bloom at different times. A shrewd gardener can stagger bloom time by planting different varieties. One example: while many muscari bloom in April, you can mix them with the "comosum" variety that does not bloom until later in May.

          More on bulbs in my next post.