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Joy's Garden Patch

Join in the fun of the season with gardening tips and advice

Next to spring, fall is a perfect time to plant. Plant hardy perennials early so they have more time to settle in before the first hard freeze. Wait until later in the fall to plant deciduous trees when they’re dormant.

Fall is also the time to think about bulbs for spring blooms. I love tulips. However, squirrels and voles and moles have turned my attention to other bulbs. Alliums are my new favorites. They don’t seem to be bothered by many animals. And I’ve always loved narcissus and daffodils. By the way, narcissis and daffodil are the same as far as I can figure out. The only difference is the name. The genus is the same. Both bulbs are not really bothered by rodents.

Jeremy Bergantino, the manager at Agway-North Haven says to go ahead and plant bulbs anytime now. His Agway store sells a variety of loose and packaged bulbs and he has a few tips on what to look for when you are ready to buy:

  • Make sure bulbs are firm and dry, but not dried out
  • Pass on packaged bulbs with excessive moisture inside
  • Check to see that the roots are in good shape and alive

Bergantino also says it’s “a myth” that the outer wrapper or skin of a bulb has to be intact. It doesn’t matter as long as the bulb has not dried out.  

In order to give your bulbs some protection from voles and moles, Bergantino recommends a non-toxic product called Soil Perfector from Espoma. “The texture,” he explains, “is similar to small bits of broken cement.”  Place the product under the bulbs and it repels the rodents. “I recommend it to everyone.” he said.

I, myself, also use deterrents to keep rodents away from bulbs. I’ve mainly stocked up on crushed red pepper. Some years, I buy it by the barrel. I sprinkle that around and on top of the planting beds. The squirrels used to dig up the tulips, and leave them about. They really haven’t done that after I used the red pepper. Coincidence? I’m not sure.

You can also use planting cages, plastic bulb bowls or make your own chicken wire anti-theft device. I’ve tried them all, and am not a fan. It’s too much work for me. It’s okay if you are organized and pull up the cages and chicken wire each season. But, I’d rather not bother. Plus, after a few years, I forget where things are and I go to plant something and hit a cage or two. Hate that!

When you plant, the rule of thumb is to have a planting depth about three times the size (length) of the bulb. And which end up? Pointy side is the easy way for most bulbs. Also look for the roots. It can be tougher to find on some smaller bulbs, like Muscari (grape hyacinths).

I’m not a firm believer in fertilizer at the bottom of the hole when you plant. I definitely think bone meal sends off a signal, Come and Get It, and actually encourages rodents!  But using other types of fertilizer is fine. Also make sure the soil where you plant drains well. Bulbs do not like wet feet.

One of the last tips is about spacing. If you plant solitary bulbs in a sparse straight line, along a walkway for instance (I’m not kidding, I’ve seen it), the results are unimpressive. Instead, plant your bulbs in repeating groupings (3-5 or more) for a dramatic impact and a sweep of color that’s eye-popping and traffic-stopping. 

Where to Buy: You really can’t go wrong. I’ve bought bulbs at Home Depot and Walmart without a hitch. You can buy from your hometown garden centers like Agway-North and Bell Nurseries. There are specialty bulb importers, such as John Scheepers, Inc. here in Connecticut. That’s a good source, as well as White Flower Farm.  You can also use the bulb and flower suppliers who send out catalogs. I’ve used Dutch Gardens and others in the past. As with any good business, if there’s a problem with the bulbs (on delivery and not caused by you), it’s usually resolved quickly. If you have a favorite supplier, please feel free to share.

Town Note: The Town of North Haven will help with storm tree debris. You can take your tree debris to the transfer station, at no charge, through September 11. Also note the above link for information on the town’s curbside collection of stumps and large tree limbs.

Oma Tike Tip: Plant Smart. Better to dig wide for your plant rather than dig deep. If the soil settles, your plant might find itself in a hole that’s way too deep. 

Chores: Help to extend the tomato growing season by placing concrete blocks or bricks next to or around your plants. You can also get out the row covers again (the ones first used in spring), or try the water towers. All will help keep the tomatoes warm.

Get plants into the ground (those you bought, but still haven’t planted!). Clean and disinfect pots. I’m happy to say there's a little sun in the forecast, so you could leave the pots in the sun to dry!  Use up opened bags of potting, compost and garden soil and throw the bags away.

Events:
Wallingford Farmer’s Market, Saturdays from 9am-12pm through September 17

September 10, 2011  Garden Conservancy Open Days, Murray Garden, Glastonbury

September 11, 2011 Invasives Pulling Party with Walt Brockett at Peter’s Rock. Meet at 1:30pm at the pavilion at the entrance to Peter’s Rock. For details and questions, call 203-239-5269.

From the Garden Bookbag:
Oma Tike’s Pick
: “Landscaping with Stone,” by Pat Sagui, Creative Homeowners

Unusual and interesting patio, landscape, rock garden and water feature designs done in a variety of stone. This book takes you from designing and planning to the tools and techniques needed, and then on to specific projects. Even if you never pick up one stone or chisel, this is a great little book to curl up with and invest your time on during a rainy day.  

Joy’s Pick: “The Time-Life Complete Gardener: Bulbs,” by the Editors of Time Life Books

If you know absolutely nothing about bulbs, you will fall in love with this book. If you have a rough time with blending the various bulbs into spectacular displays, this is the book for you. From Eranthis Winter Aconite to Corn Flag Gladiolus (I never knew there was one) to Haemanthus Blood Lilies, Tulips and Zephyranthes Zephyr Lilies, this is a good book to have on your shelf at home.

Next Week’s Column:  Fall-scaping; Trees; Bookbag;   

Bev September 17, 2011 at 01:58 PM
Brecks Bulbs are guaranteed forever. I am not kidding and the back it up. I have never had a problem getting a refund if the bulbs disappear or if they are not as promised.

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