A GROWING CONCERN: Cruise mode for end of summer

IT IS ONLY Day 9 of the mid-late summer growing period.

We should be in cruise mode — deadheading, pinching, leaf-stripping and cultivating, because next Sunday is the last Sunday this summer, as fall arrives Saturday, Sept. 22, at 6:54 p.m.

Have I mentioned ornamental kale and cabbage? They, along with mums, grasses, dusty miller, pansies and dianthus are the perfect plant to fill those holes made by all the annuals you are starting to pull up as they die.

Today I’m going to show you why I am always harping on the early-mid-late thing.

Bulbs — you have to love them.

Planted in the fall, covered with soil, hidden beneath the surface, they will emerge in spring so vibrant and bright, just at the time we are all so tired of winter’s gray, dull and drizzly days.

Mid-late summer (Aug. 1-12) to late-mid-fall (Nov. 13-23) is the perfect time to plant spring flowering bulbs for several reasons.

First, this band of time corresponds with the “clearing of land” happening in your yard. As previously discussed, we are in that several-month process of culling the garden. As those annuals die, impatiens beds frost, or the begonias are dug and stored, these areas are then open to plant bulbs.

The window to plant bulbs can be wide, so planting can easily take two months. As an added advantage, the same variety of bulb, planted several weeks apart, will bloom at slightly different times, thus extending that bulb’s bloom time in your garden.

Let’s plunge into the timing of bulbs.

I love spring bulbs, but they are the shortest of the flowers for duration of display. The mix of bulbs and their bloom times then becomes the key to a four-month bulb display.

Let’s take red tulips as an example. Fifty red Darwin tulips planted 6 inches deep in a well-composted depression will bloom about mid-May. The result is three weeks of red tulips.

Now, if in that same pit, we put 50 early Red Riding Hood rock tulips along the border, add the 50 red Darwins (a late-mid tulip) and add between them 50 Red Parrot tulips (known for their late bloom), we now have created the same red tulip pit, except this display should bloom from early April to the first weeks of June. The result here is eight weeks of red tulips.

If we repeat this procedure with other tulips, daffodils, iris, crocus and eve hyacinths, our yards become a never-ending show of spring.

Another trick I have personally found to work in extending display time is different planting depths.

The depth of the bulb is measured from the tip of the bulb to soil surface.

Let’s take the 50 Darwin tulips and buy 50 more.

Tulips are planted at a 6-inch depth, so we plant the first 50 bulbs 6 to 7 inches deep. Then we cover that layer with 2 to 3 inches of soil, add another handful of bulb fertilizer (essential when mixing bulbs in the same pit) and put the other 50 Darwins at a shallower depth of 3 to 4 inches.

This process produces a delay in bloom of two to three weeks. The red tulip pit would now bloom from late April until the first week of June, almost doubling the time your red Darwin tulips would bloom in the same area. We’re talking six weeks of bloom time.

Back to bulb timing: All bulbs are categorized into early, mid and late response. This relates only to bulb plants, not the season.

The individual gardener, along with good source books, learns how his or her own property breaks out an individual bulb variety into early, mid or late subgroups.

I have found that the Appledoorn varieties of Darwins (mid-response tulips) are early and Spring Song is a late-mid Darwin.

Foothill folks’ bulbs bloom later. The higher your elevation, the later they bloom. The window of planting is also shorter.

I would recommend folks above 800 feet have their bulbs planted by Oct. 25. Bulbs planted along the shoreline or out in the Dungeness Valley bloom earlier and might require extra waterings in October and November.

Everyone else — East Jefferson County, West End and those 200 to 700 feet in elevation are the control group, blooming on the seasonal time.

Most of the bulbs I plant are done in November.

Bulbs and blooms

With this in mind, here is the list of bulbs with bloom times, from February (mid-winter) to June (late-late spring):

• Snowdrops (galanthus nivalis): the first blooms of the year, fast reproduction, great for perennial gardens.

• February Winter Aconite (eranthuus hymalis): great for naturalizing, bright yellow blooms, low growing. February to March.

• Siberian Squill (scilla siberica): small downward blue bloom, they will cover the grass or garden with blooms in a few years. February to March.

• Dwarf Iris (specie iris): Miniature iris, blooms are perfect iris flowers that float above foliage, 4 to 5 inches, bring colors, perennials. March.

• Snow Crocus (species crocus): miniature crocus are an early version of giant crocus and great to commingle, perfect border or for woodland gardens. March.

• Giant Crocus: lovely large cupflowers in bright colors, long-lasting bloom, bigger and better every year. March.

• Grape Hyacinths (muscari armeniacum): useful in woodland garden, rock garden, and borders, beautiful blue blooms in unique flower head. March.

• Hyacinths: blue ribbons, fragrance, plant near windows and doorways, great for perennial beds, a must. March to April.

• Tulips: mainstay of the bulb garden, extremely useful flower, great as a cut flower, bold color strokes and patterns, wide range of type and response. March to June.

• Narcissus and daffodils: They are indispensable in the spring garden. They can be planted in the woodland or grasslands, they are perfect as the spring bouquet and they are versatile from miniature borders to tall showy trumpets. Late March to May.

• Fritillaria meleagris: Now here is a spring lily to try. It is a beautiful bloom as the bulk stinks. It is 3 foot flower with multi-cupped flower head, a companion plant with summer lilies. May.

• Wood hyacinths (scilla campanulata): very hardy clumping late spring bulbs, a dozen or more drooping scented, bell-type flowers. May to June.

• Dutch iris: great late spring plant to bridge the gap between early species iris and the summer iris blooms, unbeatable cutflower. June.

This is far from a complete list of late winter-to-spring bulbs. It is, however, enough to keep you busy and comprises most of the readily available bulbs.

As you pick out bulbs, remember they should have a distinct look. They should be plump, firm and heavy for their size. They should physically look good and the skin should be shiny and clear of blotches or scars.

In bulbs, the bigger the better is the rule, as long as they are healthy. So water, water, water after planting, until November, just remember to fertilize and compost as you layer the bulb pits.

Now doesn’t this make you want to go out and purchase some bulbs today? Or if it is rainy outside, at least start organizing your layers, the bloom timing, the color collections and get your bulb fertilizer mixes ready for planting next month.

Bulb on.


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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