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Oct. 28, 2004

In the Garden

100 bulbs... but who's counting?


HAVE YOU EVER SEEN SUCH AN ABRUPT CHANGE OF season? One day it was sunny and warm, and I was feeling guilty about not watering enough. The next day the garden was drenched and I found myself standing in the hallway, shivering, trying to figure out how to get the heater cranked up again.Photo of garden bulbs

Another sign that autumn had begun is the arrival of 100 daffodil bulbs that I'd ordered last spring in a moment of weakness. There are great deals out there if you order early, and that's what I did -- ordered a collection from White Flower Farm that I'd had good luck with before. In fact, this may be the third time I've ordered a bag of 100 daffodils from them. They're robust bulbs that multiply quickly so that during spring, there are always enough flowers to fill the house.

Why I thought I needed another batch is beyond me. Still, I'd done some rearranging in the garden, so in between rainstorms I walked around with a shovel, looking for any empty spot where I might drop one in the ground. If you've got more bulbs than you know what to do with, here are some suggestions for getting them planted:

Look for space around summer perennials. Are there sprawling, blooming perennials in your garden that need to be cut back anyway? Catmint is a good example of a flowering plant that can be sheared back to the ground in winter. Salvia and hydrangea respond well to a winter pruning. Often this creates pockets of empty space in the garden that will be filled back in again next summer when the plants leaf out. Plant bulbs around the base of the plant, and enjoy early spring blooms before the plant starts growing again.

Consider the lawn. Lawns are a traditional planting area for early spring crocuses, but I'm surprised that more bulbs don't get interplanted with lawns. Grass grows more slowly in winter months, and you can often put off mowing while the bulbs are coming up. I have a neighbor who has filled her entire lawn with rugged wildflower-style bulbs that can compete with grass and tolerate being mowed down after they've bloomed and once their foliage has died back slightly. Scilla and the ubiquitous Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) work well in lawns, as do miniature daffodils, miniature irises like the four-inch Iris danfordiae, and the grape hyacinth, also called Muscari. And don't worry about confusing your lawn by adding bulb food to it -- the bone meal will not only encourage bigger blooms for the bulbs, it will also help the lawn establish a deep, healthy root system.

Fill your containers. If you keep pots of summer annuals like pansies and alyssum on your porch, you've probably got some extra space for bulbs. Go ahead and plant them shoulder-to-shoulder in the pot at the recommended depth, and make sure you feed them regularly to compensate for the crowded conditions. (Most bulbs should be planted about twice as deep as they are tall. For instance, a 3-inch-tall bulb should be planted about 5 to 6 inches deep.) In the spring, you can transplant the bulbs into the garden before you fill the pots with annuals -- this is assuming that you've magically found some more space in the garden -- or just keep them in pots and tuck annuals in around the withering foliage.

Bring them indoors. Daffodils, amaryllis and tulips all look great inside at the holidays. Hyacinth, crocus, and paperwhite narcissus will grow in a vase filled with water and pebbles, but other bulbs need potting soil. For a more laid-back, garden-style arrangement, gather together small pots and plant just one bulb per pot. If you keep the color scheme unified -- for instance, white hyacinth, tulip, amaryllis, and crocus -- you can fill a window with holiday decorations that look both planned and natural at the same time. This also lets you move flowers inside as they come into bloom. Most bulbs will bloom a month or two after planting depending on the type of flower and light and temperature conditions, so it's a good idea to plant some every few weeks to ensure a good holiday display.

Give them as gifts. Yes, it is possible to overindulge at the nursery to such an extent that you may have to reclassify some of your purchases as holiday shopping. Store bulbs in paper bags and keep them in a cool, dry place until the holidays Then you can package them along with a pretty pot, a little bag of potting soil, and a scoop of bulb fertilizer in a plastic bag. Or get them growing a week or two before the holidays so that the young shoots will still be short and easy to transport, but well on their way to blooming during the long, dark months of winter.

You know, the more I think about it, the more it seems like there will always be space for another 100 bulbs. Good thing, too, since I just remembered that I bought 100 tulip bulbs in Amsterdam this summer and arranged for them to be shipped to me after I got home. They should arrive any day now. Move over, daffodils -- company's coming.

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The Redwood Region Audubon Society and the North Coast Chapter of the California Native Plant Society are looking for gardens that are designed to attract birds, bees and butterflies, or are focused on native plants, for their Third Annual Wildlife and Native Plant Garden Tour next July. Contact or call 442-5444 by Dec. 10 and let them know if you're interested in putting your garden on the tour.


garden-related announcements and news to Amy Stewart.


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