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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Buy Spring Bulbs While They're Fresh

Garden centers, nurseries and big box stores have been receiving shipments of new things for the garden. Many, like Lowes, Home Depot and Wal-Mart, have already put their bulbs and packaged bare root plants on display.

I have a bad habit of not looking at their offerings until late in the season when prices are marked down. By then, the packaged bare root plants are either growing out of the packages, or dead. Bulbs have turned into little, round mummies with no sign of life. Even at half-price, those are no bargain if they don’t grow.

This week I found 2 clematis I didn’t have in my garden, at one of the box stores. Clematis have notoriously tender stems and it’s easy to break them off from the roots. By the time a few hundred shoppers have dug through the display, lots of the plants will be damaged. But this week they were in pristine condition, and at a good price, so I bought them. Because they were bare root, in a bag with peat moss, I opened the bag and potted the plants. I’m keeping them in an unheated room to slow down their growing until time to plan them in the garden.

Bulbs such as gladiolas, callas and other summer bulbs, don’t do well when exposed to the dry, 78 degree air inside stores. Bulbs do best when stored around 40 degrees until planting time, so what happens in the store displays is that either the bulbs start sprouting, trying to grow, or they die. So if you wait until the close-out half-price sale, you can expect disappointment. It’s better to buy what you want now, while the plants and bulbs are fresh and undamaged.

When buying bare root plants, such as bundled strawberry, onion or leek plants, it’s a good idea to soak the bundle in water for half an hour before you plant them. The bundled plants are dormant and by soaking them briefly, they begin to wake up, breaking dormancy and will perk up faster once you plant them. The same holds true for bare root asparagus, berry plants or grapes. Keep those in a cool place with some damp newspaper or sawdust around the roots until ready to plant, then soak them in a bucket of water for half an hour.

If you are tempted by the inexpensive rose bushes sold in a bundle of sawdust, keep in mind you don’t want them breaking dormancy this early. While the tops have been dipped in wax to somewhat keep them dormant, should you bring them indoors where it’s warmer, they will start growing. It would be better to keep the bushes outdoors in a protected area to keep them from trying to grow too early. Otherwise the new growth will get damaged by freezes and frosts yet to come and that can sometimes kill back a new plant like bundled rose bushes.

Happy gardening!

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