PLANTING SPRING-FLOWERING BULBS

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I have three pictures above depicting flowers of heirloom bulbs.  The double daffodil is ‘Van Sion’ dated 1620.  The hyacinth is ‘General Kohler’ a rare double hyacinth from 1878. The tulip is an old Cottage-type tulip with variegated petals.  This type of tulip was much loved in the Dutch golden age in the 1600s.  Many tulips, hyacinths and daffodils still exist from hundreds of years ago, but are quite rare now.  It is important to keep growing and propagate them so they will not be lost forever!  I am going to list methods of culture and planting for spring-flowering bulbs in this article.

The best time to plant spring-flowering bulbs is when soil temperatures drop below 60 degrees.  In Montana this may occur as early as in August, but because of our frequent fluctuations in temperatures, October or early November is the best time.   Many spring bulbs establish root systems in the fall while the soil is not yet frozen.  If necessary, bulbs can be planted right up until the ground freezes, but will bloom better if you get them in earlier.

Bulbs prefer a well-drained location in the garden.  Tulips, hyacinths, and grape hyacinths need full sun.  Daffodils, snowdrops and glacier lilies (trout lilies) like part shade, though daffodils will grow in full sun in Montana and other cool areas of the Northwest.  Daffodils are deer and rodent proof, but most others, especially tulips, need to be in a place protected from deer and voles.  Dig your soil about 10 or 12 inches deep.  Sandy loam is the best soil for bulbs, but you can improve your soil.  Add gypsum to break down clay; peat moss or compost will also help.  Bone meal is excellent food for bulbs.  It adds phosphorous, which promotes larger and more numerous blooms.  Mix bone meal well with the soil in the bottom of the bed for best results.  Soil pH should be about neutral for these bulbs, but hyacinths and tulips will tolerate more alkaline soils.  Plant tulips and daffodils at 5 bulbs per square foot, hyacinths and glacier lilies at 3 to 4 per square foot, and grape hyacinths at 8 to 10 per square foot.  After planting, backfill the soil but do not pack it down over the bulbs.  Water the bed well.  A winter mulch of evergreen branches will help protect your bulbs over winter.  Straw is not a good mulch for bulbous plants because as it rots down it attracts disease carrying organisms like botrytis and mold.

The general recommended planting depth for bulbs is three times the height of the bulb deep; pointed end up.  Tulips, hyacinths and daffodils should be planted about 6 to 8 inches deep, grape hyacinths and glacier lilies about 4 inches deep.

Leave foliage on your bulbs and let it die down naturally.  This feeds the bulbs and helps them to flower well next year.  Most bulbs, especially tulips, like dry soil conditions after foliage dies down.  In some climates, or if summer bedding is planned for that location, people dig and store their tulip bulbs and replant them in fall.  Here in Montana, you can leave the bulbs in the ground if you give no additional summer water.  Do not water them until October.  To give the roots a boost before winter, spread bone meal over your bulb beds before you water.  Glacier lilies and a few other bulbs like to grow in moist soil, but can tolerate dry soil conditions for a short period during late summer.

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SAVING SEEDS FROM YOUR GARDEN

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An excellent way to preserve a favorite vegetable variety is to harvest and save the seed from your own garden plants.  This can be done with all open-pollinated (non-hybrid) vegetables.  Hybrids are pollinated by humans for a specific resulting plant.  (Seeds saved from hybrids will not produce the same fruit or vegetable you grew.)  Many rare, open-pollinated heirloom vegetables and flowers have been saved and passed down for generations.  Some Native American kinds of squash, corn, beans and sunflowers have been passed down by various tribes for over a thousand years!  Several heirloom kinds of lettuce, peppers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes and other vegetables still exist from Colonial and Victorian times.

Locally adapted varieties will be the most successful and productive.  You will need to save about 100 to 150 seeds of each cultivar you want to save.  Some easy vegetables to begin with are tomatoes, beans, peas, and lettuce, which are all self-pollinating and easier to keep true to type; they can also be cross-pollinated.  Other vegetables need to be cross-pollinated to produce seed and will cross with other nearby plants of the same genus or species.  Each variety needs to be isolated so it will remain true to type.

Isolation may be accomplished by distance; staggering maturity dates; by caging, or bagging.  For most vegetables 200 feet of distance is enough to retain genetic purity, but some, such as corn, need a mile or more.  Staggering maturity might be accomplished by planting two strains of corn, one maturing at 65 days and another at 80-85 days.  Pollination of the early variety will be finished by the time the later one is ready to pollinate.  Cages can be built and covered with row cover fabric to isolate radishes, beets, turnips, carrots, parsnips and onions.  A bait of honey spread upon a plate will attract bees into an uncovered cage.  When about 15 bees are present, cover the cage for an hour or two; release the bees before sunset. There are three species of squashes and pumpkins commonly grown so you must research this if you want to keep your strain pure.  Corn, squash and pumpkins can be hand-pollinated if bagged.

In the garden, give plants grown for seed more space to accommodate tall seed stalks.  Select the most healthy, robust plants to save seed from.  The fruit should be riper than that used for eating.  Usually fruit will turn yellow, soften and sometimes even begin to rot before seeds are mature.  Pea seed turns green or yellow; beets, beans and watermelon seeds darken; peppers and squash seeds are usually white, and corn seed (especially sweet corn) will dent and shrivel.

To process seed for storage, remove pulp, juice or flesh and dry the seeds on a fine screen because seeds will stick to paper or cloth.  A float test will show viable seeds.  Those that float will not grow.  Dry the seeds to about 10% moisture before storing away in glass jars with metal lids.  Glass jars are the best way to keep out humidity, which might cause your seeds to sprout and die in storage.  A cool, dry place is best for storage, or you may place the jars in the refrigerator.  Label your seeds carefully to keep good records.