A GROWING CONCERN: Go big or go home when planning bulbs

TODAY IS THE start of early midsummer. That means one of my favorite planning, buying and planting times is upon us now.

It is bulbnificent time. That is the only way to describe it, because a fully integrated bulb planting will be one of the most magnificent floral displays you will ever plant.

The tricks to accomplish this are easy and few but most important exist in numbers — big numbers. We’re talking bulbs planted and ordered in 50s and 100s. Just like individual plugs in a tray of summer bedding plants, high numbers are the only way to go.

Go big or go home.

I personally believe no tulips in a yard is better than 20 tulips planted one by one here and there. The look is weak, spotty and sparse. So as we begin our travel through bulb-land, remember, the more the merrier.

Simply said, bulbs are great.

Great because with proper selection and planting, your spring bulb show will last from late January (early midwinter) to mid June (late late spring).

Great also because the colors, textures and heights will continue to vary and add full interest to the yard. They’re double-down great because after the long haul of gray and rain throughout the winter months, bulbs awaken the garden to vibrant color and plant rebirth in our yards — and boy, do we need it after the rains.

With proper selection, spring bulbs will have all of you believing you’ve become master gardeners.

Now, on to selection.

First, quality. Size does not always constitute value or quality, although there is a crucial link here. As a whole, the bigger the bulb, the bigger the flower (or the more flowers the bulb will have).

The firmness of a bulb, its weight and condition are great influences on bulb production and flower quality. A true bulb (think daffodil, hyacinth, lily or tulip) has layers or scales, and they should be firmly joined.

There should be little sense of give when compressed in your hands. They should not feel loose or soft. Other spring plants with corms or tubers (think dahlias, crocus, gladiolas, winter aconites) should be solid chunks of stored food starches. These should be plump and fairly hard.

Next is your soil condition. Spring bulbs will tolerate our poor, sandy soils. They do, however, prefer good garden soil with high-organic material, so heap on compost, bark mulches or top dress with topsoil and till in thoroughly to the original soil.

Bulbs do not like their feet wet, so you must have well-drained soils. Most if not all spring bulbs will do well under deciduous trees where the foliage can grow before the trees leaf out.

Then, under the filtered sunlight of the summer leaves, the bulb can ripen its own leaves that will then reproduce food to store in the bulb for the following year’s flowers.

Planting in full sun is fine, too.

Next on the list is your planting hole.

Again, please refrain from the lone soldier syndrome. Plant bulbs in groups of 10 to 100 to make bold statements of color and vibrant yards come alive.

When planting a grouping, dig out a pit the size of your grouping. Dig the hole one inch deeper than required and add compost, bone meal (a must), then lightly till the hole.

Now place your bulbs, cover and water them thoroughly. Water five times on Day One, three times on the second day.

One of the biggest problems with bulbs is that too many people water too little after planting.

Another common mistake is that certain planted areas are under the cover of a roof, eaves, porch cover or windowsill.

If this is the case, watering your bulbs during the winter monsoon is a critical must — because it is dry next to the building and the bulb needs the moisture to survive.

Let us here inset a wonderful trick of bulb layering. Yes, layering.

Dig the hole 7 inches deep, prepare the bottom as mentioned before and start by layering in daffodils, then cover slightly (1 inch) and plant some early tulips.

Cover these with soil and at the 2-inch-deep level, layer crocus and cover the entire pit.

One hole, three plantings and an entire spring accent spot (why you’re buying by the hundreds). This technique will allow you to play.

Another hole could have 25 early red, double tulips with 25 midseason tulips and then finish with 25 late and wonderful fringed parrot tulips.

One pit, 36 inches by 36 inches, will take 75 bulbs and layered with another three months more of blooms.

One more thing before we review the list and progression of spring blooming bulbs: This is the best spot in all of America to grow bulbs.

Our cool, cool, cold spring that progresses very slowly in soil temperature increases makes this bulb region supreme. Spring bulb flowers last two to five times longer than almost all other places in the nation.

This means individual flowers last for weeks, not days. Here on the Peninsula, bulbs are more than an appetizer; they’re the main dish.

If you have problems with the chipmunks, bury chicken wire a half-inch below the soil, and for problem deer, a single electric wire will make bulbs a first-year failsafe. The second year, you must do a fall bulb fertilizer.

Purchase a lot of bulbs according to these months of blooms:

• January: winter aconite, snowdrops.

• February: snowdrops, aconite, species crocus.

• March: species iris, rock tulips, large flowering crocus.

• April: early double tulips, early single tulips, miniature daffodils, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, scilla siberica, specialty daffodils.

• May blooms: hyacinths, daffodils, emperor tulips, double late tulips, triumph tulips.

• June: ranunculus, late large trumpet daffodils, fritillaria, allium, late single tulips and parrot tulips.

Clip the above list and place it on the refrigerator, preparing for the bulb catalog to arrive.

While this list is by no means complete, please feel free to add on wildly and become the artist for your garden masterpiece.

Realize that proximity to water is a time-altering thing.

Just like being up in the mountains slows the development and makes plants bloom later, being close to the waterfront speeds up that blossom process.

While it might be starting to look like back-to-school shopping time, it is actually spring bulb shopping time, so go out and fill your crayola box with magnificent spring bulbs with variety, pizzazz and dazzling color showstoppers.

Bring on the bulb catalogs.

Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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