Fall Gardening -- Bulbs Anyone?

Okay..the gardening buzz in the fall is to plant bulbs. But which ones? Where should you buy them? How do you plant them and why even bother with them at all?

Let's start with the last question first. Why bulbs? In general, it's hard to find perennials or shrubs that flower in the months of February, March and early April. Bulbs are also very cost effective. A one time investment can yield years of spring color. Many bulbs will 'naturalize' which means they will multiply on their own to increase their showy display.

Which bulbs should folks in the soggy northwest consider? I'll come right out and admit my bias here....being of Dutch decent (Mother is a Holland native) I love tulips. However, not all tulips are created equal and as we tend to have a very wet March...I don't recommend early spring blooming tulips. Our heavy rain just tatters their lovely petals. If you like tulips, go for mid - to - late spring bloomers.
In the past few years, I've had a lot of success with daffodils. They naturalize well, their blooms last for weeks, they have sturdy stems..so they hold up to the heavy spring rains and they are just down right cheerful! Many daffodils bloom in February and generate excitement as they announce the arrival of spring....or the one week of sunny weather we average in February in the Pacific NW. Hey..we natives know you gotta take what sunny weather you can get as we might not see it again until May!

Where should you buy your bulbs? Do you get those pretty bulb catalogs from Holland or the Mid-West and wonder if you should give them a shot? My advice..no. My reasoning is this. If you are new to working with bulbs, it's going to take some experimentation on your part to figure out which bulbs work and which don't. While I love leafing through a pretty Holland Bulb company catalog, I tend to keep my purchases local.
If you really want to buy bulbs direct from a local farmer..try our Willamette Valley's own Wooden Shoe Company out of Woodburn, Oregon. www.woodenshoe.com I have personally enjoyed wandering through their fields many a spring. However, if you look at their website and feel overwhelmed about large selection of bulbs they have to choose from, just head on over to Fred Meyer and look at theirs. It won't overwhelm you, their prices are decent and if you decide you want something different in another year....well, it wasn't a big investment.
I recommend trying 'Mt. Hood' daffodils and when it comes to picking out tulips....again, stick with a mid - late blooming variety. To double your fun, buy a pack of snow crocus to plant with your tulips. I'll explain below.

Okay, you went to Freds, you bought a two packs of 12 tulips for $5.99 and another pack of 3o snow crocus...so now what?
First, we need to determine where to plant them in your yard. Rule of thumb for the NW...plant them west or south facing. We get the most sun coming from these directions. Next. What kind of soil do you have? Living in the northwest, you could have anything from a nice silt loam to clay. A silt loam is a nice and loose feeling soil, it will crumble in your hands. If you have this....you can grow just about anything you want without a lot of work or preparation to your soil....lucky bum! For those of us that have a bit to a lot of clay in our soil (Tualatin River Valley folks) you'll need to add some peat moss to help the soil break up. If you have a lot of clay in your soil, its hard to separate, it will just act like play dough or haha...clay in your hands. This type of soil holds a lot of water in it during the wet months and will essentially drown and/or rot your bulbs. (I know this from personal experience).
To work in peat moss, buy a bundle of it. It can be found in most gardening centers, but definitely farm stores and smaller nurseries/garden centers. Break up the peat moss into pieces and with the use of a garden claw, and some manual labor..just work it into the soil. Why go through all the labor? If you have a heavy clay soil, you'll be hard pressed to grow any plants successfully without breaking up the soil. So, do the work and then enjoy your garden year round!

For tulips and daffodils, they need to be 5-6 inches deep in the ground. You can buy a special 'bulb' digger deal..but really, I recommend just getting the shovel out and digging a good sized hole. My personal opinion is that a nice group of tulips makes for a better and more distinctive display than the one here, one there approach.
Planting crocus is a snap. Dig the hole for your tulips, get them in spaced out well (just a couple of inches in between is fine) and put a 3 inch layer of soil over them. Then put the small crocus bulbs in on the top and finish with laying the rest of the soil over. I try to make a small mound of dirt over my bulb plantings if they are not on a sloped flower bed. Anything you can do to help the water run off is a good idea.
The snow crocus will bloom in late January or early Feb, last for a few weeks, while you'll notice the tulips coming up in between and they'll bloom for you in April and May.

For those of you will little more than a patio to enjoy...fill a few pots with bulbs and enjoy them in the spring too! Just make sure they will drain as you'll need to keep them watered and be ready to move or cover them should we get a real cold snap. After your spring bulbs are finished you can plant some pretty annuals on top to enjoy the rest of the spring and summer!

I hope you'll consider giving bulbs a try and enjoy some early season color to brighten up our mainly gray spring days :)


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