The Bulbs Are Coming

by Don Trotter


Hello Fellow Earthlings, and welcome to one of the most exciting times of the year for gardeners. The Bulbs are Coming! Soon there will be an abundance of new fall bulbs in garden centers, nurseries, and home center garden shops for you to drool over (I always do). This discussion will be on how to prepare a site for those little gas tanks of color before you actually plant them. This way, when you do bring them home, a healthy plot will be waiting for them. But first a little background on bulbs.

A very large group of plants that store energy in fleshy capsules during their dormant period are referred to as bulbs. Only a few of these plants are true bulbs. Tulips, Lilies, Onions, Amaryllis, and Daffodils are some true bulbs. Gladiolus and Watsonia are classified as corms. Begonias, Ranunculus and Dahlias are classified as tubers. All of these plants store energy in a fleshy gas tank that allows them to live during harsh weather. This storage organ is commonly called a bulb. Enough science, let's actually talk about growing them.

Different types of bulbs require different methods of care. Some bulbs like tulips, hyacinths, and crocus may actually require that you refrigerate (not freeze) them for several weeks before planting. This is to stimulate a true dormancy response from the plant. Here in Southern California we are forced to perform this yearly ritual of digging and chilling our bulbs if we want to have these types of bulbs in our gardens. This is because the soil does not get cold enough during our mild winters to send the plant into dormancy. Other bulbs like narcissus, some daffodils, freesias, gladiolus, and watsonia will just grow and grow with little or no effort on our part. A little food in the spring and once again in the early summer, and they are totally happy. Other bulbs require that we dig them and store them in a cool, dry, dark place until it is time to set them out to grow. Tuberous begonias are this type of bulb. Bulbs that are actually rhizomes like bearded iris are another plant and forget type. The one thing all of these plants have in common is that they really appreciate it when a gardener takes the time to prepare a healthy bedding area where they are to be planted. I have a tried and true formula for site preparation when considering bulbs in our gardens. It has worked for me for years and is very simple to do. So let's do it!

First I think about which bulbs I will be putting in the garden and make sure that they will get the best sun exposure I can provide them with my site conditions. I then lightly cultivate the soil in the area where the bulbs will be planted. I then put out a little mixture of minerals and nutrients for them so the soil has a chance to digest these supplements before I actually set out the bulbs. This proactive approach to bulb gardening has been in practice for centuries in Europe and still works today. The last thing I do is apply what?, yup, you got it, mulch! A three to six inch layer of good organic compost as mulch over the soil and the minerals will loosen the soil. It will also add essential organic matter, and increase the availability of future nutrition to the bulbs by activating a legion of beneficial microorganisms that process these ingredients into plant foods. My favorite thing about this exercise is that when I do bring the bulbs home I'm not wrestling with the soil to dig holes. This bed preparation method really makes the hardest soil easy to work in within just a few weeks. My little mineral mix consists of the following ingredients:

  • 1 part cottonseed meal

  • 1 part alfalfa meal

  • 1 part kelp meal

  • 1 part Kelzyme

  • 1 part soft rock phosphate

I put this mix down at a rate of five to seven pounds per 50 square feet of bulb garden and then add my mulch. By using this mixture you will ensure that your bulbs will be happy and healthy when they emerge in the spring to shower you with color. This mix and the mulch will help your soil quality as well for future plantings. The really great part is that you only need to apply it once a year. I like that.

Next time we will be discussing what seeds to choose for that cool season vegetable garden and how to grow some veggies in the landscape for ornamental and (of course) for munching on. See you in the Garden!


Got Questions? Email the Doc at Curly@mill.net Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. Check out Don's books for lots of helpful gardening tips Natural Gardening A-Z, The Complete Natural Gardener, and soon to be released Rose Gardening A-Z, all from Hay House Publishing hayhouse.com and available at all bookstores and on-line booksellers.

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