Forcing Bulbs for Preseason Color, Practical Gardening

file0002136272075When I plant containers of bulbs in the fall, I am thinking about the color they will bring indoors during late winter days or as outdoor focal points early next spring.

To force a bulb means that you are manipulating its environment so that it will bloom out of season. Before spring flowering bulbs can be forced to flower in a container, they require a cold period of 12-15 weeks at temperatures between 38°-48°. This allows production of a good root system. A spare refrigerator is excellent for chilling the potted bulbs.  I have even used my basement window wells and covered the pots with a heavy layer of straw…much to the delight of the field mice!

Paperwhite Narcissus and Amaryllis do not need to be cooled when you buy them. They have already been prepped for forcing by the supplier. Plant them as directed, set them in a sunny location, and let nature take its course. Paperwhites can also be grown in water, much like hyacinths.

Hyacinth bulbs are first chilled in a doubled paper bag for 13 weeks and then set in a special water vase to grow; the basal plate of the bulb must touch the water for the roots to start developing. To prevent diseases, Hyacinth bulbs are treated with an agent that will irritate skin. Be sure to wear thin plastic gloves and wash after handling.

Forcing spring bulbs in a container is simple. Select a container from 6-24” wide with good drainage. Fill 2/3rd full with a good potting mix; do not use garden soil or fertilizer. Plant the bulbs so they almost touch each other and cover with more potting mix, leaving about a half an inch from the top. Tag your pot with start date and cultivar. Water the container and place it in a cold (38°-48°) dark location for the duration. Check it periodically to be sure the mix has remained damp, but not wet. Too wet and the bulbs will rot.

If you have a beautiful container or basket you want to use when your bulbs start blooming, find a plastic pot that will fit inside it. Plant and chill the bulbs in this plastic pot. When the time is right, place the pot with a saucer inside the container and set in a sunny location

The number of bulbs for a 6” pot: narcissus, 3 large bulbs and up to 6 if smaller bulbs are being used; paperwhites or tulips, 5-6; hyacinths, 3; minor bulbs like muscari or crocus, 12-15.

For a 24” pot and using a single kind of bulb you will need up to 50 tulips or smaller narcissus, or 30 of the larger flowering narcissus, and possibly 80-100 of the minor bulbs.

When using one kind of bulb per container, create several containers with staggered blooming periods. You can also plant an assortment of bulbs in one larger container but be sure they have the same bloom period. When using an assortment of bulbs, plan on layering them in the container. Plant the larger bulbs deeper and first, add potting mix and then place the next layer of bulbs on top and add more mix. End with the minor bulbs planted closer to the edges, keeping mix a half inch from top.

As time draws near for removing your containers from the cold treatment, you may see pale whitish tips emerging. This is the start of your bulbs, and once placed in the light, they will soon begin photosynthesis and turn green. It won’t be much longer and your blooms will emerge for the long awaited color!

 

A Walk through the Garden

For those of you taking your daily walk through the beautiful prayer garden that is Margaret Realy’s blog post, you may notice a different gardener today. As Margaret is on retreat for a few weeks, she has very kindly allowed me to help tend to her garden while she is away.

In the garden

Image courtesy Marty Rymarz.

As an Oblate novice at the same monastery as Margaret, I have been blessed to become friends with her and see her daily blogs. For me, reading her daily post is not unlike taking a leisurely stroll through my local greenhouse in the spring. There, I see many beautiful flowers starting to bloom, waiting to be taken home and planted where they will grow and flower further. Margaret’s daily prayers are inspired flowers of thought that I take with me each day and allow them to germinate in my mind and flower in my soul. Like the lilies and petunias in the greenhouse, some of Margaret’s prayers are perennials and some are annuals. Some will stick with me year after year while others flower brilliantly for a time and may fade away with the season.

It is the loving embrace of God’s light and warmth that allows these flowers to blossom and our prayers to bloom to their full beauty.  A little seed that looks insignificant and gets tenderly planted in the soil may eventually blossom into a beautiful flower. Another type of seed may produce the vegetables that feed us. Though unseen, these seeds are quietly but faithfully striving upwards, ever upwards, towards heaven, until one day, they burst forth from the earth, straining towards the sky and the sustaining power of the Son.

So it is with God’s word and the prayers of others for us. These start as a little seed in our soul that can be covered for a time in the dirt of our concupiscence. Our daily prayers and contemplation give these seeds of our soul the water and warmth they need to grow.  They may manifest themselves, flowerlike, as a beautiful smile that we share with a stranger or a helping hand that we lend to those in need. They may also bloom as succulent fruit and healthy vegetables to feed our own spiritual needs when we minister to those in need. Our job, as gardeners of Jesus, is to cultivate these seeds, while pulling the daily weeds that can so easily sprout, until these seeds grow and others may appreciate the beauty of them as they are reflected not only in our words, but more importantly, in our actions.

So on this day, as we have taken the time to walk through this prayer garden, do we also take time to gaze in childlike awe at the beauty of God’s creation in both this garden and in the beauty of each other’s souls? Do we truly strive to see Jesus in everyone we encounter? For if we did, if we sought to see Christ in both our friends and those who challenge us, we would truly be living in a modern day Garden of Eden. And that garden, my friends, would not be a bad place to live until we reach that final destination that we know, as Christians, is the loving eternal communion with our Father in heaven.

Big Difference in Naturalizing and Perennializing Bulbs, Practical Gardening

file0001620205354

Image morgeufile.com

Well, autumn is upon us and it’s nearly time for planting spring bulbs.

Let’s start this column with definitions that will help you get a handle on nomenclature: True bulbs contain their leaves and flowering parts inside. These include tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. Corms carry their leaf parts on the outside to support interior bud development and include crocuses and gladiolas. Rhizomes like Canna lilies and iris form leaves and buds from a growing end or tip. Tubers, like potatoes, have “eyes” that develop roots, leaves, and flowers and include dahlias, anemones and ranunculus.

For the purpose of brevity, I will group all of these together and call them bulbs. From last week’s column, you learned about tender bulbs that are not winter hardy in our Zone 5. This second column on bulbs (with a third one next week) discusses hardy bulbs that spread.

There is a difference between naturalizing bulbs and perennializing bulbs—especially when talking about tulips. A naturalizing bulb will return year after year and multiplies, spreading out into the garden. A perennializing bulb grows and blooms for a few years with the bulb possibly increasing in size but not spreading.

Most hybrid tulips are perennializers—note that, perennializers. They look amazing for maybe two of years and then you are left with only leaves.

Species or botanical tulips, including Tulipa bakeri (aka saxatillis), T. batalinii, T. clusiana, T. fosteriana, T. greigii, T. humilis (adorabvle!), T. kaufmanniana are excellent candidates for naturalizing as are Darwin Hybrids. Some cultivars have mottled or variegated leaves, others have bi-colored blooms, and range in height from a demure 12” greigii to the sturdy 24” Darwins. I’m partial to the spreading T. greigii because of their adorable leaves and their ability to hold their petals longer on wide flowering faces.

Nearly all cultivars of Narcissus are naturalizers. Dwarf and species daffodils are excellent for rock garden because they are often more petite; Tete-a-Tete looks like its larger yellow cousins, and Minnow, my favorite of the dwarfs, is a dainty multi-blossom white with a yellow corolla.

Another good bulb for use in rock gardens is the species crocus. It and the Dutch crocus will both naturalize easily. Other smaller bulbs that will spread, and sometimes quickly, are: Glory-of-the-snow, Chinodoxa; Snowdrops, Galanthus; Summer Snowflake, Leaucojum; Grape Hyacinth, Muscari, and Wood Hyacinth, Scillia; and the precious Star-of-Bethlehem, Ornithogalum.

I love the looks of a grassy area dappled in these smaller spring bulbs. My grandmother’s front lawn was planted this way. If you have a lawn that you do not treat with weed-and-feed, try growing these harbingers of spring. Mow your lawn really short late in the autumn, and then plant groups of bulbs according to directions. After they have flowered in the spring, wait as long as possible to mow again, or do as grandpa use to—mow around the small clumps for a while so the leaves have a chance to nourish the bulbs.

Van Bloem Gardens, a Dutch supplier, recommends that naturalized plantings should blend in with the existing landscape and mimic nature. To achieve this, lay out your planting areas so they follow the contours of your land and be generous with the size of the areas to be planted. The impact of your planting will be much greater if you have several large areas of naturalized bulbs than if you have lots of small areas. Naturalized plantings look best when they are planted densely in the center then feather out to fewer bulbs at the edges of the planting. And finally, swaths of one solid color generally have greater visual appeal than drifts of mixed colors.

 

The Threat of a Listener

I’m catching on to why its so unsettling to be in the presence of chatty elderly women. Its because I like to do and there is nothing to be done beyond my presence. In my discomfort I default to what is most familiar, silence, and listening.

Here is the problem. When you’re dealing with someone who is a good listener, they wait.  A good listener doesn’t try to alter what it is you’re thinking, or bring their personal bias into your words. It is in their waiting that you have to keep going, sharing and revealing to fill the silence of preconception.

And then its all out.

As from the confessional, not knowing yet what to do with what was revealed, I bow my head in prayer.

On this day, the feast of St. Hildegard, let us all pray to be attentive to those who come to us to be heard, and not just listened to.

 

 

 

Storing Tender Bulbs, Practical Gardening

Image morguefile.com

Each year I would plant a few tender bulbs for their summer blooms or dramatic leaves. They are a wonderful addition to the home garden.

The term tender bulb refers to bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes that will be winter killed by our Zone 5 winters. These tender bulbs need to be removed from the ground before winter sets in. A few of the more commonly grown tender bulbs are Canna, Tuberous Begonia, Gladiolus, Caladium, Belladonna Lilies, Elephant Ears, and Crocosmia.

Most tender bulbs are dug after the first frost has killed the tops and temperatures have not dropped enough to freeze the ground. Others such as Belladonna Lilies, Caladiums, Elephant Ears (Alocasia and Colocasia), and Callas, are removed before air temperatures regularly drop below 45 degrees.

Start by gathering containers to hold your bulbs as you dig them. I tag each container with the name of the bulbs and color, reusing this tag for final storage. The thin plastic slats of an old venetian blind work perfectly and are easily cut to size. Use a permanent marker for writing.

Lift bulbs carefully using a spading fork. Loosen the soil by working around all sides of the bulb, giving it a wide berth to avoid damage to the root structure. When you remove the bulb from the ground, gently loosen or shake off excess soil. Cut off the tops to within an inch of the bulb, and place it in the container with its tag.

Cleaning comes next. An easy method that keeps things relatively clean and saves my back is to lay a large piece of hardware cloth over the top of an empty garbage can. Put the bulbs on top and gently hose them off; the water and soil fall into the can. This set-up is located beside the compost pile—periodically tip the garbage can with its soil and water into the heap. With Gladiolus, break off and retain new fleshy corms from the older corm, and discard the older into the compost as well.

To cure the bulbs and allow them to dry, spread them out in a single layer in a shady location where there is good air movement. A mesh top patio table is perfect because air can circulate underneath the bulbs. Let them cure for a day or two. Protect them from frost during this time.

Before storing, inspect bulbs for damage. It is good practice to dust the bulbs with an insecticidal fungicide before storing. Read the package label to be sure it will work for your bulbs.

Storing Gladiolus and similar corms is little different. They will need to dry for about three weeks. Afterwards, store them in a paper bag in a cool dry environment.

Most other tender bulbs are stored in open containers, covered in vermiculite (my favorite) or sphagnum peat and stored in the dark at around 45-50 degrees. The area must also be low in humidity and free of ethylene gas produced by apples and other fruits.

Because tender bulbs in storage are still living things, you will need to inspect them periodically during the hibernation period. If bulbs look like they are shriveling, mist lightly. Remove those that look diseased and cut away soft rotting sections from fleshy tubers.

For more information on specific bulbs and storage requirements, see the extension bulletin Storing Tender Bulbs and Bulb Like Structures” printed by University of Minnesota Extension.