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Better bulbs? One secret is to dig and store them after bloom.

Better bulbs? One secret is to dig and store them after bloom Spring-flowering bulbs are easy to love: most bloom early and come in clear, vivid colors that can really light up a garden. And once their bloom is gone, the plants die back and let summer flowers take over.

That summer resting period, when bulbs are easiest to forget, is the time to do the digging and dividing that will markedly increase the number and quality of your spring bulbs.

On these pages, we show exactly what to do. In the garden in our pictures are thousands of bulbs representing at least a dozen different kinds. Owners Don and Vange Miller of Edmonds, Washington, dig and replant about a third of them every year, so no bulb goes for more than three years without attention.

The digging

Though conventional wisdom says you should stop watering bulbs a few weeks after they flower, the Millers never do, since that would mean cutting back on water for the bulbs' companion plants as well. In any case, nature makes most of the leaves dry and die out on their own, so by the end of June all spring bulbs in the garden are ready to be dup up. Slightly damp soil is easier to dig than dry.

They do their digging with a shovel, though a spading fork would work as well. Because they surround every cluster of bulbs with a metal lawn-edging strip, they know just where to dig without cutting into the bulbs below.

As bulbs are unearthed, some are joined together and some are fully divided. It's a mistake to break mostly divided bulbs apart; if they separate naturally in handling, they're ready. If not, they should be left as they are. (Professional bulb growers tumble bulbs after digging. If tumbling doesn't separate them, the growers don't either.)

Bulbs multiply at different rates. Each of the 'Binkie' daffodil bulbs being dug in the large photograph above left produces one or two offsets every two years. That's about average for daffodils.

To keep bulb varieties separated, the Millers put each kind in its own bucket or nursery flat, then throw a label on top.

Washing up, drying, storing

Most soil shakes off the bulbs, but washing is important, since it easily lets you see insect or disease damage. The Millers use a plastic bucket and the edger-agitator shown at top, then dip the wet bulbs in liquid fungicide to keep rot at bay during the curing and storage process.

Bulbs can be cured anywhere that's dry and out of direct sunlight. It takes about a week for them to dry.

Daffodils need coller temperatures than other bulbs, so the Millers dry them in flats set in a cool, shady spot outdoors. For other spring-flowering bulbs, they line their greenhouse benches with flats, all but one on the end filled with bulbs. Each day, Mr. Miller dumps the bulbs from the second flat into the empty one, then fills the second flat with the bulbs from the third flat, and so on until all the bulbs have been transferred to new flats. This frequent turning makes the bulbs dry evenly.

Don't try this in a greenhouse with clear glass, since intense sun can scorch the bulbs. (The Millers' greenhouse is covered with corrugated, translucent plastic.)

Cured bulbs are treated with insecticidal bulb dust (available at any nursery), then moved to a dry, dark shed.

Out of the shed, into the garden

When fall planting time comes--the millers plant in September--do some rough calculation of how many bulbs there are and what space is available. It's smart to rotate bulbs to avoid buildup (in the soil) of insects or diseases that are specific to particular bulbs.

This preplanting inventory should also weigh how certain plants did in certan sites and which colors went well together. If you had daffodils, for example, on the south side of a walk last season, you might want to put them on the north side this year, since they tend to face the sun.

Also consider planting in sections (shown above). Mr. Miller takes out a 6-inch layer of soil, then rakes in fertilizer before he sets in bulbs, points up. The lawn edging strips that separate different types of bulbs go in next, the soil covering last. The process saves time and the loose soil gives bulbs the best possible growing conditions.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1988
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