Saturday, November 17, 2012

Plant Color Now

leaves art.JPGPhoto illustration by Christa Lemsak / The Post-Standard / Thinkstock

An afternoon spent digging and planting bulbs now will yield weeks of color next spring.
Crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, snowdrops and tulips, among others, require a long period of cool temperatures to spark the biochemical process that causes them to flower in spring.
"You have to be a planner and a dreamer and picture it months from now and get it done," said Lisa Ballantyne, master gardener and co-owner of Ballantyne Gardens, 4825 Hopkins Road, Salina.
"I can't tell you the number of people who come in in May and want to buy tulip bulbs."
The earlier you plant, the better root systems the plants will have, Ballantyne said. If we have another winter like last year, with little snow cover, plants with good root systems will have a better chance of surviving heaving, as the water in the soil thaws and freezes.
A thick layer of mulch will also help. "We never know what kind of winter we're going to end up with," she said.
Ballantyne shared tips for planting and designing with bulbs:

Size matters.
"The better garden centers have larger, higher grade bulbs," she said. "The bigger the bulb, the better result you'll get."
Bulbs are graded by size, with the largest and highest quality labeled "top size."
Look for bulbs that are firm and blemish-free, not dry or moldy.

"Pick bulbs as you would fresh fruit in the grocery store," she said.


Earlier is better.
"There's not a great deal of difference in brands. It's more about the grade and how they're packaged," she said.
A bag of bulbs sitting in the middle of a giant pile is more likely to be moldy or unhealthy.

"Bulbs are like potatoes if they're sitting too long," she said. "Hopefully, the bulbs were packaged real dry and stored so they are kept dry."

Depth is key.
"Different bulbs are planted at different depths. A good package will tell you that. Some distributors go to a lot of trouble to put really good information on the package.

Planting at the right depth is more important than planting at the right time," she said.


Look at bloom time.
People "make the mistake of planting 400 bulbs of varying types and never have it look like a big show," she said.
Bulbs should be labeled whether they are early, mid- or late-season bloomers.

"If you want a big show, match the bloom times, and plant a big enough mass of each time," she said. "If you spread it too much, it doesn't ever look showy and full. For the most dramatic display, plant one mass of the same variety and it looks great. You can mix colors and variety, but keep bloom times the same."

Mix and match.
If you don't have space or don't want to plant bulbs in a mass, mix and match them with perennials and annuals. Plant bulbs in groupings, rather than in mass.
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"For a more casual garden, mix bulbs in with perennials. Small daffodils mixed with forget-me-not and primrose are beautiful," she said.
Mix daffodils and daylilies. "As one poops out, the other perks up.
"You can marry bulbs with perennials and annuals pretty smoothly," she said.
Plants with shallower root systems can be planted on top of bulbs, which generally are planted 4 to 6 inches deep. If you do plant on top of bulbs, "I would just do some extra fertilizers, since they'll be competing for water and food."
Bulbs can by planted with hostas, which "can take up a fair amount of space. If you're putting in a new bed, space accordingly, and plant for bulbs being that far away."

Mix daffodils and large cup jonquils. "You can mix those up, and it looks very pretty, with the shades of yellow and white."

Peaceful co-existence.
"If you live in an area without a deer problem, tulips are still a good idea. Otherwise, plant daffodils, hyacinths and allium, which deer don't care for. They won't eat smaller tulips," she said.
"More and more we're making sure we have deer-resistant varieties. That's one thing we've trending toward."
People also battle squirrels, who love to dig up just-planted bulbs.
But like deer, squirrels leave alliums, a member of the onion family, and hyacinths, which have a natural irritant, alone.
"We've got a repellent you can spray the bulbs with, but nothing lasts forever," she said.

"It's my experience that where you've disturbed the soil, they'll dig it back up. So pack the soil in real well and water well."

Everywhere and often.
"Make sure everything is deep-watered the day you pack up your hose for the winter, so plants will be well hydrated for the winter," she said.

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