For Angels in the Garden . . .
By Don Trotter



Hello fellow Earthlings and welcome to the garden of surprises and colorful treats. You guessed it, it's the bulb garden. Planting bulbs can be a wonderful gardening experience that rewards you with beautiful flowers exactly when you need beauty. But first let's discuss what bulbs are...

Bulbs are actually a common description given to the bulbous storage tanks of certain types of perennial plants that have a distinct dormant season where the plant actually disappears and stores energy and food for the following growing season in a fleshy modified root that acts as an insulator and storage facility for the dormant plant's life force. Although many different types of storage organs are called bulbs, many are corms, tubers and rhizomes. So, enough of the semi-technical stuff and on to the garden.

Fall bulb planting is something that can be done with a master plan or with total abandon. Planned bulb gardens are beautiful places where drifts of flowers are placed in areas of the garden to show off a display of color in an organized manner. Many gardeners, however, plant bulbs with no plan or organized scheme. I like this method just as much as the organized style because the bulbs become a sort of surprise of color when it is their time. Both of these methods are exciting and rewarding for many years if a few steps are taken ahead of planting time to ensure that your bulbs give you a good display of colorful flowers from the first year, and for many years afterward.

The first step is to select the type of bulbs you have an interest in growing. It should be noted here that we live in a very mild climate and there are a few types of bulbs that will require refrigeration to simulate a cold snap so that they may go dormant properly. These bulb types include tulips, hyacinths, crocus, snowdrops and muscari (grape hyacinth). These bulbs should be stored in the refrigerator for no less than six weeks. I prefer to store them for ten weeks; the prolonged cool season really seems to let the plant rest and go fully dormant, thus making the spring flush of growth even more spectacular when they are placed out in the garden. I also like to plant these types of bulbs in pots. By doing this I make less work for myself when it comes to digging the bulbs up to store them for next season. Pots also make the displaying more flexible due to the mobility of pots. Other types of bulbs like daffodils, paperwhites, freesias and bearded or Dutch iris don't really require chilling, so you can just plant them directly from the garden center in your prepared soil. Selecting bulbs at the garden center is a lot like shopping for tomatoes. Selection of large firm bulbs will always make your life easier. Undersize or bulbs that have molds or mildew growing on them, or have an odor of rot should be passed over. There are lots of places where good bulbs can be purchased.

Once you have selected your bulbs and have them in your shopping cart, scoot over to the section of the garden center where they have their bulb foods and pick up a box or a bag of an organic bulb food to mix into the soil where you are about to plant your bulbs. Whitney Farms makes a very good bulbs food and it can be purchased at Grangetto's Farm and Garden Supply at any of their four location in San Diego county. Use this product according to the instructions on the box and you will have very healthy bulbs with good color.

I like to mix my own bulbs food consisting of 2 parts soft rock phosphate, 1 part cottonseed meal and one part alfalfa meal. I use about an eighth of a cup mixed into the backfill soil for each bulb at planting time. Because my organic bulbs food lasts so long I only apply it at planting time, it lasts long enough to feed the growing bulb plant all the way though the blooming cycle. Remember the mulch! A good 2"-3" layer of mulch will also make your bulb garden a cleaner place while feeding the soil organic matter at the same time.

Next we will be discussing the care of bulb plants once they have emerged from the soil and caring for them after blooming is over to ensure even more blooms next season. Come up and see me sometime!

Got Questions? Fax Don at (760) 632-8175 or e-mail him at  . Don Trotter's columns on environmentally responsible gardening appear in many newspapers and magazines. Look for his book Natural Gardening from A to Z coming soon from Hay House Publishing. Don operates the Organic Gardener's Resource Centre in Encinitas, CA.

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