In this issue:
Being smart when planting bulbs
Spring bulb show: Watch it, change
Waiting to prune re-grown redbud
Up to tracking rain in case Nature
Down to tent caterpillar over-kill
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Plant bulbs in clusters
for most dramatic spring display
Dear Janet and Steven,
I recently purchased 120 bulbs, and would like help
designing how to plant them. I would ideally like to create large
clumps of maybe 9 or 11 bulbs. I've purchase three varieties of
early blooming and three varieties of late blooming tulips. Early
spring is my only chance at much color due to the shade in my yard.
They range in color from solid pink to solid white.
Do I just plant clumps of one color, or should I mix
varieties? I'm trying to get a more dramatic color
I was told that I should plant the bulbs six to eight
inches deep, and add either bone meal or bulb food. Is this
correct? When should I be planting these bulbs? - C.B. -
Mass plantings put in each fall and removed in spring are the
most dramatic, and may be your best bet since you have shade.
Even though your lot may be sunny during early tulip season before
the trees leaf out, if the leaves of those tulips don't get enough
sun after bloom time and the bulbs don't get enough heat during
summer -- shaded ground tends to stay too cool -- it's unlikely the
bulbs will bloom well in subsequent years.
To plant for the most dramatic display of bulbs as perennials,
start by locating several sunny spots in your yard that are visible
from the approaches you use and windows you frequent in April and
early May. Use markers, such as brightly colored paper taped to
bamboo stakes, to outline the width and depth of a potential
planting area. Then go to a selected viewing location to see if
that area's size and shape will attract and hold your
How many bulbs? Once you have know where bulbs
would make a good splash, you can figure how many bulbs you will
need. We put groups of three or four bulbs every couple of feet
throughout the area. The further the area is from the viewer, the
larger it has to be for impact and the more bulbs it takes to fill
Plant just one kind of bulb in each group -- just an early type
or just a late variety. To plant both early and late varieties in
one area you need double the bulbs -- the number you calculated
times early bulbs plus that number times late bulbs. We don't
usually double up on tulips because so many bulbs can be difficult
to fit without compromising the cover-up perennials or creating so
much bulb foliage that it's nearly impossible to interplant the
area with annuals until quite late the following spring. All that
yellowing bulb foliage, although important to the next year's show,
can be annoying to look at for a month before annuals can go
We like solid color groups but you can mix
colors -- one late pink and two late white bulbs in a clump for
instance. Or plant one whole area with late pink, another with
mixed late pink and white and a third with just late white.
Avoid making straight lines with your groups.
Irregular is better for perennialized bulbs.
Plant anytime in fall, until the ground
freezes. Earlier is better but if you can dig and the bulb's still
firm, go for it!
Go deep, too. Tulips should be planted at least
six inches deep. Deeper is better, to place them safely below the
reach of later digging and to keep them from splitting into many
small, non-blooming bulblets sooner than they must. I plant tulips
12 inches deep. Mix a slow release fertilizer such as bone meal or
Bulb Booster into each hole, or apply a water soluble fertilizer as
soon as the foliage appears next spring.
Out of season
Last but not least, don't despair if you've
already planted and are reading this. Take photos in spring so you
will know which bulbs are where, then dig them and move them next
fall. Every other trick of bulb-locating has failed us, including
the sounds-so-clever colored golf tees. (We who can't even find the
pruners we just dropped, can hardly locate a golf tee marker!)
Or just dig them and move them when it's
convenient for you. It's what we do. Even in bloom.
(Great examples in What's Coming Up 90's Transplanting
spring bulbs, and Divide and place
Short report: Wait to prune
tree's comeback growth
Hold off pruning that resurrected redbud.
So many of these trees, young and old, died this spring and had
to be cut 'way back. Where stumps were left, some grew back
vigorously as suckers from the surviving roots and are now three-
to five foot tall redbud shrubs.
Such a prodigious growth rate means a replacement tree can be
had pretty quickly by just letting some suckers grow back, thinning
the canes to leave only one or a few to turn into trunks.
That's a good approach, but wait to prune the new suckers until
a February thaw or early next April. That allows this year's entire
foliage crop every possible minute to produce starch and store it
toward next year's growth. Starch production in the leaves goes on
until the leaves fall, and distribution of this essential plant
food within the wood and roots continues right up until the ground
to rain dances. What was once a reliable event, the commencement
of fall rains in the third week of September, seems to be off the
calendar again this year. Many of our trees and shrubs won't make
it through another dry fall so get your dancing shoes on and start
chanting. Drag a few hoses out with you.
to burning forest tent caterpillars. These insects rarely do
lasting damage, no matter how ugly or extensive the
branch-encompassing tents, since they eat only current season
leaves late in summer after the plant has gained much from that
foliage. Your torch, on the other hand, burns wood and next year's
Originally published 9/20/03
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