Posts Tagged ‘Growing Bulbs’

Welcome to the first full day of spring.(if you happen to look at spring astronomically rather than meteorologically.) I started this blog a year ago yesterday thinking it would be a good place for local people to come and get their gardening questions answered. But, since nobody asked any questions I wrote 2 posts each week until fall, when the gardening blog then morphed into a nature blog.

Now here it is spring once again and people have the gardening itch, so to celebrate a year of blogging, spring, gardens, and my finally understanding the macro capabilities of my new (used) camera, here is what spring here in southern New Hampshire is looking like so far.

 Forsythia blossoms should be fully opened within a week.


 Also starting to show color is the scilla or Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica). These grow from small bulbs like that of grape hyacinths and have small blue star shaped flowers that nod towards the ground. I planted 50 of them last fall and I’m waiting impatiently for the show.

 By now you’ve probably seen plenty of crocus pictures, but it wouldn’t be spring without them.

 The native honeysuckle is ahead of almost everything else and is already showing small leaves.

It will be a while before we see leaves on the lilacs, but you can see just a hint of color on the flower buds. This French hybrid has very dark purple flowers.


The flowering crabapple won’t show leaves for a while either. This tree has dark pink flowers.

 The Viburnum is showing great promise. This cluster of buds will be a snowball of white, very fragrant flowers in May. Or maybe earlier this year since it is over 70 degrees as I write this. 

You don’t need macro mode for these large PJM Rhododendron buds.  Clusters of purple flowers will cover this shrub slightly after the forsythia blooms. Soon yellow and purple will be everywhere you look.

 In one recent post I showed the blossoms of vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), which blooms in very early spring. There is also a very late fall blooming witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). The above photo shows the bracts that are left behind after the petals fall from the fall blooming plant. If you see these in spring they are not a flower waiting to happen, but a flower gone by.

This is an attempt at macro photography that went very wrong. These maple buds didn’t turn out quite like I had hoped. (I should have used a flash and tripod) The only reason I kept it was because I like the sky colors and blurred clouds in the background.

Thanks for stopping in. If you live in New Hampshire be patient and don’t work the soil just yet-it is still much too wet and you’ll squeeze out all the oxygen and destroy its friability. For now, wait a week or so to plant those peas and just enjoy spring!

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I spent part of last weekend planting Siberian squill around and under the old honeysuckles in the front yard. Siberian squill is a small, early spring flowering bulb also known as Scilla. A neighbor once told me that several people had spoken to her about how seeing my flowers on their way to work each morning brightened their day. If that’s all it takes to make people happy, I’m all for more flowers and Scilla are a good choice because they multiply rapidly and in just a few years there should be large drifts of small blue, star shaped blossoms.

The recent rains knocked bushels of leaves off the maples. They were too wet to do anything with in the early morning but once they dried I shredded them with my mower and tossed them on the compost heap.  I’ll have to remember to keep any that blow around this winter off the scilla so the blooms aren’t smothered. 

I also spent some time cutting back more perennials and wondered how I ever came to have so many as I dumped tarp after tarp full on the compost pile. (And I haven’t even tackled the beds in the back yard yet.) As the weather cools and the soil begins to crust over during the day I’ll come back and do some mulching around the shallow rooted plants. I don’t have to worry about plants like hosta, daylilies, and Siberian Iris but foxglove, yarrow, campanula and sedums can heave right out of the soil on warm days.

On the way to the compost pile I noticed that the leaves on the new bottlebrush buckeye that I planted in the shrub border last spring have turned a beautiful lemon yellow. This shrub really seems to glow against the darker forest behind it and I’m glad that I bought it.

When I finished puttering around in the yard I took a ride down to the farmer’s market for some fresh vegetables. I’m always amazed at the huge selection available there-they even sell furniture and jewelry. One person had several different kinds of chutney preserves that were hard to pass by, but I kept my focus. It’s getting to be beef stew time so I bought some carrots and small turnips. The carrots are sweet and the turnips mild. I could have also bought potatoes and beef at the market but I already had those. An added bonus was the nice tops on the turnips. Those fresh turnip greens sautéed in bacon fat with a little onion and a hint of garlic and then sprinkled with crumbled bacon are great eating! I was hoping I’d stumble upon a nice freshly baked apple pie for desert but unfortunately, I didn’t find one of those.

Well, I think it’s high time I get my mind off food and tackle some more leaf raking.

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The big difference between paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus tazzeta or papyraceus) and any other daffodil is that paperwhites don’t need a cool period, which means that they can be easily grown indoors as soon as you buy them with no extra work.

These bulbs are native to the Mediterranean region and are hardy only in zones 8 through 11. Here in the northeast if we plant them outside we have to treat them as we would any other summer flowering bulb, like dahlias or gladiolus. Paperwhites are available as soon as tulips and other spring flowering bulbs appear. When buying them, buy enough for a lengthy succession of bloom so you’ll have flowers throughout the winter.

To grow paperwhites all you really need is water, sunlight, and something to keep them from tipping over. (They can get quite tall if they don’t get enough sun.) I use shallow glass bowls about 4 inches deep and big enough to hold 3 to 5 bulbs. You should use a bowl with no drainage holes that is deep enough to contain the roots. I usually use plain pebbles or marble chips to give the bulbs support, but colored glass beads, washed gravel, or even colored aquarium gravel will work.  Put about an inch of gravel in the bottom of the bowl and nestle the bulbs down into it so the bulb sides are touching. Then fill around the bulbs with more stones or gravel until only about 1/2 to 1/3 of the bulb tops are exposed. Finally, fill the bowl with enough water to cover just the base of the bulbs. Set them on a cool, sunny windowsill and in about a month your house will be filled with their sweet fragrance.

  • Once bulbs are watered they should never be allowed to dry out or they may not bloom.  Check water level every other day with a finger if not using a see through container.
  • Pot up new bulbs every 2 weeks for winter long blooming.
  • As soon as bulbs set buds move them out of direct sunlight and they will blossom longer.
  • If the plants get too tall and begin to flop over, for your second bowl of bulbs follow the above directions but after a day of allowing the bulbs to absorb water, pour out any remaining water in the bowl. Immediately replace the water with a mixture of 9 parts water to 1 part alcohol. This can be vodka, gin, tequila, whiskey, or rubbing alcohol. Water the bulbs with this mixture from then on.  Researchers at Cornell University have discovered that alcohol affects the height of paperwhites but still allows them to bloom as usual. Do not use beer or wine as they contain sugar.
  • Paperwhites can also be planted in potting soil. Plant so 1/2 to 1/3 of the bulb is exposed above the soil line and keep constantly moist.
  • People bothered by strong fragrances may be sensitive to paperwhites. They are very fragrant and just 3 bulbs will fill an entire house with fragrance. You might try growing just one to start with if you have questions.

Photo copyright University of Florida Extension Service

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When planting bulbs in the fall it’s easy to forget how their foliage will look in the spring after the flowers fade. Let’s face it-ripening bulb foliage is not pretty, but since photosynthesis is the way the bulb makes and stores enough energy to bloom again the following season it is important that the foliage isn’t removed. Bulb foliage also shouldn’t be tied into bunches or flattened down to the soil surface either, because doing so will impede the process.

Unless planted in a bed dedicated only to bulbs, ripening bulb foliage is best hidden among the plants in a perennial bed or behind ornamental grasses. The foliage of bulbs planted between and behind perennials that reach a foot or more in height will be visible only until the surrounding perennials or grasses grow taller later in spring. From then on it will blend in and be much less noticeable.

If bulbs are planted in a bulb-only bed, their ripening foliage can still be hidden by planting taller annuals among them. Since most annuals have shallow root systems the holes don’t have to be dug so deep that bulbs are disturbed.

Another method of hiding ripening bulb foliage is moving the bulbs and “heeling them in” in another location. This is labor intensive and requires accurate labeling of the bulbs so they don’t get confused.  A label that says “Red Tulips” won’t be much help when re-planting in the fall, so variety, height and blooming time should be noted.

To heel bulbs in first dig a trench about six inches deep and as wide in a sunny spot. With a spade or fork, carefully lift the bulbs from their current location, keeping the foliage intact, and replant them in the trench. When the bulb foliage is brown and pulls from the bulbs easily the bulbs can be dug up and dried, out of direct sunlight in a spot with good air circulation like a carport or porch. Once dry the bulbs should have all loose soil brushed from them before they are stored in a cool, dry place until fall planting. Any soft or damaged bulbs should be discarded. As I said-labor intensive!

Bulbs that are naturalized, which is a process in which handfuls of bulbs (usually daffodils) are tossed on the ground and then planted where they fall, also need time for foliage ripening, so naturalizing should be done only in areas that don’t have to be mowed until early summer.

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