A GROWING CONCERN: Start summer by thinking spring

IT’S SUMMER! BUT I was told years ago by a very established local “old-timer,” it rains on July 4 and then the next day summer begins.

Ever so slowly your soil temperature is rising, so soon “warm crop” plants like zinnias, coleus, tomatoes, peppers and the like will really start to take off.

So regardless of when summer begins (please do not get me going on meteorological summer) our local Peninsula temperatures are on the rise.

I know then this will sound strange, since it’s just a few days for the official start of summer, but here goes.

Now is the time to be thinking about and buying spring-flowering bulbs.

Yes, you read that correctly. Even though it is June and it will be 8 months or more until the crocus bloom and the snowdrop tulips and daffodils show their pretty little faces, now is the time to be thinking bulbs.

“So how can this be?” you might ask.

The answer is quite simple and probably already has appeared in many of your mailboxes.

All of the various bulb companies have or are now sending out their colorful catalogs chock-full of spring bulbs and enticing photos. They do this for a variety of reasons that involve inventory, pick schedule, shipping and planting times.

First, inventory.

Bulb growers throughout the nation (think Skagit Valley), as well as the rest of the world, are digging up tulips, daffodil, hyacinths, crocus and the like as we speak.

As with all perishable agricultural products, the growing season’s weather, and especially moisture, drive the amount of the harvest.

Insects, disease and other natural influences regulate the quantity and quality of the harvest, too — just think about this year’s caterpillars.

So the year-to-year environmental influences greatly affect the availability of next year’s spring bulb harvest.

Second, the natural cycle of the bulbs dictates an early summer dig. One truly does not know what the number of good, clean, salable bulbs will be until they are actually dug, washed, graded to size and inventoried.

This is vital because an actual account is needed for each species and variety of spring bulb in order to know how many are available for sale — and, more importantly, once a particular cultivar is sold out.

Remember first come, first served.

Shipping by September.

Then, shipping comes into play. The bulbs need to be ordered, picked out, shipped and received. And all this needs to happen by September, when most of the nation starts to plant them for next year’s flowers.

Finally, it is that national planting timeline that drives the buying time frame.

By mid-October the vast majority of these bulbs are in the ground elsewhere in colder climate areas.

Here on the North Olympic Peninsula, one should never plant before November. But if you wait a few months to order, the vast majority of bulbs already are sold out.

It’s the ones you really, really want that are gone first — thanks a lot, Murphy, and your dang laws.

So order your spring bulbs soon, or be prepared to have many substitutions forced upon you.

I also want people to remember that every year, I extol the virtues of our unique weather and how even compared with Holland, we are living in the best area of the world to grow these magnificent blooming flowers.

Our weather and soil profile are both ideally suited for production and our climate fosters a longer than normal duration of bloom.

If you grow only one type of flower here on the Peninsula, have it be spring blooming bulbs.

So with all that said, gather up those catalogs, order more catalogs and buy your spring bulbs soon.

Here is my short list of necessary bulbs:

• Snowdrops, species crocus, winter aconites species iris for the January/February bloom.

• GrandiFlora crocus, miniature daffodils and rock tulips for the February/March flowering.

• Hyacinth, tulips and large flowering daffodils for the April/May bloom.

• Dutch iris, alliums and wood hyacinths along with parrot, fringed and lily tulips for a late May/June showing.

Do this, and 5 months of winter and spring flowers are yours. How can you beat that?

If you really are an advent gardener, you will have planted Asian lilies, oriental lilies and a variety of dahlias for flower through October.

Please do not be through with your Corona Garden — just this week I sowed more rows of beets, greens, lettuces and radishes.

And of course … stay well all.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and 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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