Monday, October 5, 2009

Planting Bulbs for Big Impact

I've planted a couple hundred various bulbs in my garden over the last few years. Until now, I've concentrated on Tulip bulbs, but do have over 20 different varieties of Daffodils, just a small handful of Allium, and a nice ring of Grape Hyacinths.

After years of admiring the wonderful effect of mass planting bulbs at places like the Keukenhof in Lisse, Netherlands (photo left), this fall I am giving my hand at a mass planting of Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum). I've taken about 100 sqft. of rock bed, and converted it to soil and mulch with a treasure of these tough little bulbs beneath. This coming Spring, the hope is a flowing crescent-shaped ocean of blue with 3 large rocks plunked down in an archipelago formation.

Though Grape Hyacinth bulbs tend to be deer and rodent resistant, I am trying to defend the bulbs from the inevitable onslaught of squirrels. The squirrels may not eat the bulbs, but it doesn't slow them from digging into the soil and tasting numerous bulbs before giving up. I've used a red pepper coating to remove the temptation. We'll see if the bulbs or the squirrels emerge victorious in the battle of the bulbs in the Spring.

Planting density is at 16 ridiculous bulbs per square foot (though higher is not unheard of in mass planting). The final count was 1525 bulbs. I thought I would be limited because of a crabapple and its surrounding roots. Turns out that you can plant right up to the tree, and the roots barely registered.

I purchased the first round of bulbs (1300) from Great Lakes Nursery Co. http://www.greatlakesnurseryco.com a subsidiary of De Groot Inc., for the great price of $0.12/bulb. The quality of the bulbs was outstanding. A second round of bulbs was needed because I underestimated the area where I thought roots would be a problem. I bought this batch of 300 from a local nursery at $0.13/bulb. Great price and instant gratification. The bulbs themselves come from De Vroomen.

There was a definite difference in the bulbs between the two suppliers. The size of bulb was excellent in both groups. The DeGroot bulbs were very clean with light papery covering (tunic), while the De Vroomen bunch had a thicker paper-like covering with a bit of dirt and mold on them (not necessarily a negative, just something of note). Also, almost all of the bulbs had two to three bulblets, not quite ready for dividing, on them already in the De Vroomen purchase.


Great Lakes Nursery bulbs photo 1, and De Vroomen in photo 2.

I'm excited to see what they look like when they bloom in spring. I am curious to see if there is a difference in productivity. I may even dig up a couple to see the quality of the bulbs later.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Time to Bring the Outdoors In

It's that time of the year again, when I bring the outdoors back inside for the winter. I have a small number of tropicals and temperate plants that I like to over winter. I maintain them inside until next summer when I can enjoy their beauty, once again, on the patio.

I have two methods of overwintering plants. The hardier of the bunch, the ones that can handle being in 30 degree temperatures without hard freezing spend the winter in my 3 season room. Even when the temps drop to hard subzero temperatures, they manage to make it through with little damage. They don't thrive, but they haven't declined and that's the important part.

The second method I use is to store the tropicals in a sunny window in my garage. The average temperature in the garage won't usually dip below the 45 degree range. I don't leave the garage open for extended periods of time in the winter. Moving the car in and out of the garage on a normal basis hasn't damaged the plants either.

When overwintering plants, keep in mind that you don't want to over fertilize the plants. Vigorous fertilization can cause tender new growth that may not make it through the winter, and may cause decline of the plant. Also, you will want to water moderately through the winter.

A note of overwintering durability:
I have a large Spike Plant (Dracena spp.) that was very old. I overwintered that plant in the garage one year and failed to water it for 2.5 months. Gave it just a sip of water, enough so that the water didn't just pour through the dessicated soil, and left it until spring. It looked a bit rough for a couple of weeks. Then it perked up and was fabulous when spring came and the plant was put out on the patio. The Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus) made it through too. Durable!
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