Copyright©Jim Long 2012
It’s a challenge to think about next spring’s garden right now. Most of us feel like our gardens have been whipped, beaten, starved and tortured by Mother Nature. Some folks have just given up and plowed under whatever was left of the summer’s garden. But those of us who are stubborn, hardcore gardeners know that come spring, we’ll be thirsty for some green and some colorful flowers.
Spring is, without a doubt, my favorite time of year. Remembering what spring is like, is what gets me through the gray, dreary days of winter. Knowing that by spring, morels will come up, dogwoods will bloom and the tulips and other bulbs will burst out of the ground like pompom girls at a football game motivates me to plant.
To have spring color means getting down on your hands and knees and planting bulbs (or talking your grandkids into doing it). Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other spring bulbs, have to go in the ground in the fall. Anytime between the first of September and the first of December is good timing. Make sure the bulbs are healthy (meaning fleshy, rather than hollow or dry-feeling). Plant tulips, jonquils and hyacinths about 6 inches deep. For smaller bulbs like grape hyacinths, 2 inches deep is adequate.
Forget the sales pitches about adding bone meal when you plant tulips and jonquils. Bone meal is for building up bulb size, it’s what the commercial growers use to grow the bulb you eventually buy. Bonemeal does absolutely nothing to make the blooms better next spring - I learned this directly from a commercial bulb grower. If you want to fertilize and use bone meal, use it in the spring after the blooms have faded to build up the bulb’s strength for the next year.
Fall is the time to dig and divide iris and peonies and those will benefit by some bonemeal and some compost. Don’t use anything with a lot of nitrogen or you will get big leaves and no blooms next spring.
Garlic is another crop that should be planted now. I’ve planted as early as August and as late as the end of November, but the ideal time is mid to late September. It will grow throughout the winter and spring and by early summer, garlic will be ready to harvest. Because you are wanting big bulbs on the garlic, it too, benefits from bonemeal. I apply a cup of bonemeal for about every 18 inches of garlic row. And like all bulb crops, don’t get carried away with nitrogen. If you’re thinking of using fresh or not yet rotted cow or chicken manure on such plants - don’t. The high nitrogen content will give you great big, green leaves and little else. That holds true for any bulb crop, whether garlic or decorative bulbs in the yard.
With a little effort now, a little bit of time digging a few holes, you will be rewarded next spring with loads of flowers. You’ll think back to this year and be glad you made the effort.