A GROWING CONCERN: Today’s preparations make tomorrow’s flowers

AS THE HOLIDAYS draw near, so does our preparation for them.

However, now is an ideal time to think about some plants you may (or could) save for next year.

This occurred to me as I was loading the van with beautiful, berried holly for use in a multi-evergreen arrangement that will serve its purpose as mulch over bulb beds. A question always comes up about leaves.

Specifically, “Should I rake and remove the leaves from my lawn?”

Yes, yes, yes — or more appropriately, absolutely.

Leaves left on your lawn will severely deteriorate the grass, weakening it so weeds spring up profusely in these leaf-infested areas.

So please, everyone remove all fallen leaves atop your lawn, perennials, ground covers, bushes or shrubs if you wish to have an appealing landscape next year.

With that said, we should discuss the watering of plant items such as fuchsias and begonias, and how to overwinter them in an unheated greenhouse or porch. And discuss the question of having an unheated greenhouse — but only because heated greenhouses are by far the ideal setup if one wishes to produce his or her own superior horticultural products.

Bulb storage

I also promised here to impart some sage advice on how to overwinter and store bulbs, corms and/or various tubers, so here we go.

First and foremost, bulb-type storage is all about moisture.

Too little (No. 1 killer) or too much (No. 2 killer) moisture is 99 percent of all problems for the homeowner. The key to proper storage, vis-à-vis moisture, is the medium in which one chooses to store said bulbs, corms and tubers.

Ideally, you want a mixture of sand, peat and, if you can secure it, vermiculite in which to store bulb-type plants.

Peat moss and sand can be mixed in a one to one ratio. If you have vermiculite, a one to one to one ratio is ideal, but only use coarse or medium vermiculite.

Next, and just behind the storage medium in importance, are moisture content and control. The amount and control of water is crucial — remember the two top killers above.

Manage moisture content and control. This is why sand and vermiculite are so critical for this mixture, allowing moisture to be held momentarily but also to pass through the medium freely. The peat moss at one-third the mix is there to hold on to the water, but will not cause high saturation levels or rot.

The idea is to mix the ingredients into a slightly moist but not wet medium, then bed down your bulb-type plants into this mixture, submerging them two-thirds of the way down into the medium.

You do not want to fully bury the bulb-type plants into the mix, that will kill them. One third out, above ground level is the ideal depth.

Improper air ventilation will kill them as well because of mold and rot, so air circulation is vital.

I adore grape crates because their construction allows air movement. The wooden slats between trays works also.

Make sure, if you store bulbs, that air circulates fully around all storage units, but be very careful because this can dry them out.

Finally, temperature and the amount of ambient light are the last critical factors.

Bulb-type plants prefer dark storage conditions because even the smallest amounts of light triggers growth.

So always store your bulb-type plants in the dark.

As far as temperature is concerned, below 50 but above freezing is the name of the game.

Actually, temperatures in the lower 40s are highly preferred to any other setting.

Many times, I find the perfect situation involves a set up in the garage with an oscillating fan blowing around the bulbs.

Last, storage bins drying out is the death knell of overwintering bulbs. Make sure you have both a spritzing spray bottle full of water and an inspection schedule in place, once every week or two, to check how dry your stored bulbs have become.

With a light misting action, you can moisten, but not wet, your bulbs. Keeping them ever so slightly moist is the key, so weekly monitoring is essential.

Good luck and happy storage, and above all else, 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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