These chilly days and cool nights have got me thinking about spring. Or more specifically the need to plant spring blooming bulbs this fall. There is something about gardening that makes us gardeners keep one eye a season or two ahead, even as we work with the challenges and pleasures of the present.
Catalogs for spring bloomers have already arrived. The Old House Gardens catalog is a favorite because I love thinking of the long history of the bulbs they offer. For example the Cloth of Gold crocus was being grown as early as 1587, and was commonly offered in catalogs during the 1800s because it was so popular. Cloth of Gold is a very early bloomer and the bees love it. That would be reason enough to grow it. We have to take care of our pollinators especially in those difficult early and late seasons.
I grow a number of small bulbs, grape hyacinths and scillas, but a favorite is the snowdrop. I have the Elwes snowdrop growing in grass and at the edge of the herb bed. I am planning to plant the Gravetye Giant Snowflake which is actually a Leucojum, not a Galanthus. The graceful, nodding bell-like blossoms with their green tips are very similar to snowdrops, but they are held on tall 18 inch stems and bloom a little later. Both snow drops and the snowflake are deer and rodent resistant.
Because they are deer and rodent resistant most of the bulbs I plant are daffodils. Often from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs great collection. Daffodils are a favorite of mine because they are so varied from tiny bi-color Jack Snipe and pale Toto to the large cool Ice Follies and big Precocious with its white perianth and deep salmon-pink cup.
I don’t grow many tulips because critters do like the planted bulbs, and because they are not as long lived as daffodils. Still, ephemeral beauty is not to be avoided just because it does not last over the years. I have planted viridian tulips like Spring Green with its ivory blossom feathered with green, and the flamboyant fringed Apricot Parrot tulip.
There are so many cultivars of these common bulbs, crocus, grape hyacinth, snowdrop, scilla, tulip and fragrant hyacinth that I still get a shock when I open the bulb catalogs to find a whole array of other fall planted spring blooming bulbs.
Alliums are flowering onions. Even non-gardeners identify and admire the large alliums like Purple Sensation and Ambassador with their large spheres of flowerets. There are also cultivars with white spheres like the creamy Ivory Queen and icy Mount Everest.
Less familiar are alliums with looser and more unusual blossoms. Allium bulgarium has a chandelier-like arrangement of tiny white, green and pink bell shaped flowers. Allium carnatum ssp pulchellum looks like a rosy fireworks display and A. flavum is a golden explosion with blue-green foliage. The John Scheepers catalog describes A. Hair as “a bit like an alien life form . . . with tentacle-like flowers.” This last would definitely be a traffic stopper during a garden tour.
Alliums are deer and rodent resistant. I have to say the fine stems and foliage of the drumstick alliums I have planted have been nibbled to nubs by deer long before they bloom. The other cultivars are bigger, sturdier, and smellier even when young and therefore more repellent.
Frittilaria imperialis Crown Imperial is another deer and rodent resistant show stopper. It is 36 inches tall, topped with an umbrella cluster of several pendant blossoms. Lutea Maxima is tall with a sunny yellow flower cluster and rubra maxima has a striking red-orange flower cluster.
Frittilaria meleagris, sometimes called the Checkered Lily has small, low maroon and white flowers. There is a white cultivar as well.
And of course, there are lilies. Not deer resistant, alas, but so beautiful. There are Asiatic lilies, species lilies, Chinese trumpet lilies, Orienpet lilies and Oriental lilies. All easily recognizable as Lilies, but differing somewhat in flower form, size and fragrance. Orienpets are a hybrid making use of the best aspects of the Chinese trumpet lily and the fragrance of the Oriental lily.
The challenge for those passionate about lilies is the arrival of the lily beetle. However the University of Maine has done research that shows Asiatic lilies may be the most susceptible to the lily beetle while some Oriental lilies are more resistant. The most resistant cultivars they have identified were Lilium henryi ‘Madame Butterfly’, Lilium speciosum ‘Uchida’, and Lilium ‘Black Beauty.’
The lily beetle is more active early in the season when the adult beetles that have overwintered in the soil emerge and almost immediately begin laying eggs. Neem oil and spinosad are organic controls that have been useful. Even so, if you have lily beetles close observation very early in the season and control, including removal by hand of the egg clusters and larvae, can save your lilies.
All bulbs need to be planted in well drained soil. Bulbs need phosphorus to bloom well which means that when planting bulbs the soil beneath should be amended with bonemeal or rock phosphate. To maintain the necessary nutrients the bulb planting should be given a fall helping of bone meal, two cups for a 10 foot square area. Repeat that feeding in the spring, when the shoots are starting to appear. A 10-10-10 fertilizer could also be spread. Whatever fertilizer I use, I try to spread it when rain is expected.
Between the Rows September 13, 2014