Tulips and Other Bulbs

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For Daffodils & Narcissi, Hyacinths, and Grape Hyacinths, just scroll down past the Tulips.


TULIPS are known as the easiest plant to grow in this class. That's basically true. Just dig a hole 4-6 inches deep, put in some fertilizer (yes this really can make a WORLD of difference!), plant the bulb, pointed side up, and fill in the hole. Then wait all winter (plant 'em in the fall) with wild anticipation, and receive your reward in the spring!!!

However, after years of experience and about 1,200 bulbs planted on my land, I must add some caveats! Tulips will only stay grand looking with no work for about 3 years.
After that, I must issue a
WORK ALERT!

WORK?!? WHERE??? You might be saying. Just plant some more when they decline, right?
That works, and you can do that with no more effort than it took to plant the first ones.

But when you figure there can be 4, 6, or EVEN TWELVE bulbs developed, where you had planted JUST ONE only three years ago, it might make more sense to DIVIDE the bulbs when they seem to be declining!

In a small planting, it's not really WORK, but my opinion in issuing the Work Alert is surely clouded by the fact that I'm looking at a HUGE JOB when I decide to divide my 1,200!

Dividing is done differently than the original planting. When dividing, you need to know where they are before you start digging! Therefore, it is done in the late spring, when the foliage turns yellow (and never before they're done blooming for the year--the energy will have gone to the stem and you'll be shocked to find NO BULB under there until the energy returns to its underground storage. JUMPING THE GUN WILL KILL THE PLANT!!! I cannot emphasize this enough!)
After the foliage turns yellow, take a large shovel and dig WAY down so you're sure to get under the bulb. Do not blame yourself if you miss on some of your first attempts at this and shovel through a bulb. We're all human! It's well worth it once you get it down.

Once you get under the bulb, carefully dig it up. Gently remove the dirt. If it won't come off, use a hose to wash it off. This can make quite a mud pie, so be sure to wear old clothes.
Then, MIRACLE! you will see at least 4 bulbs are there, each with its own stalk. Carefully (this may take some firmness) separate the bulbs.

THEN REPLANT THEM, THEN, in the spring! Since you will have just dug them up, they will still be in the current growth cycle. If you cannot plant them back the same day, it is safer to wait till fall to replant. But it is MUCH BETTER to do it all at once. You will know where the other bulbs are! It is very risky to dig in an established bed when you don't know where the others are. The next spring you may find your transplants are the only ones left unless you are SURE where the others are!

Planting them back is the same procedure as an original planting, only you will need to clean off the outer layer of yecch from the bulb. This is done by carefully rubbing it off. It will help keep the bulb healthy longer if you clean off the yecchy outer skin. Bulb mites like to hide in this outer skin which is usually in some state of decomposition. It's Gross! But once this is done, you will see a PRISTINE skin underneath! It usually looks better than the ones you buy in the store once cleaned. This is because YOURS ARE FRESH, and like fresh vegetables, there's nothing like 'em!

Before you put on your garden gloves, one more warning: The new skin will be soft when you clean them because it has not cured like the ones in the store. Curing dries the outer skin and toughens it. Therefore, you will need to use thin surgical-type gloves to clean them so you can feel how much pressure to use to rub off the yecch. You can cause SERIOUS DAMAGE to a bulb by wearing regular garden gloves because uncured bulbs bruise easily! I usually use my BARE HANDS to do this. It takes some stomach! But there really isn't anything that can hurt a human involved in this, and I haven't bruised a bulb in 10 years!

DAFFODILS AND NARCISSI are really the same kind of plant. Some people vary the use of names for different looking flowers, but that is the only difference.

Planting them is about the same as Tulips. They seem to be less tolerant of shade. They need to go about 8 inches down in this area according to most guides. Plant them on the shallow side if you intend to divide them later.

I'm not issuing a Work Alert on these because they rarely need dividing. They are tricky in that they look like they need dividing when they really don't. A mature daffodil will put out at least two flowers and two sets of stalks & leaves. Don't bother digging until you see at least three sets of leaves. It may or may not need dividing then.

A good way to tell is if the bulblets come apart fairly easily when you give them a pull after you've dug some up. If they don't--STOP PULLING!!! It's not ready! It can Kill the plant if you pull them apart too early. Only divide daffodils if they seem to be crowding each other out.

PROPAGANDA ALERT!!! There is a commonly spread lie (yes, LIE!) that daffodils will "naturalize" and spread on their own. HA, HA!!! So-called "naturalization" is REALLY when you plant them in an apparantly random pattern AS IF they grew naturally!!! In Holland, they MAY spread like wildfire naturally. This is not Holland! If you want a lot, PLANT A LOT! You'll be glad you did.

HYACINTHS are planted like Tulips. NO WORK here! They reproduce slowly. It takes many years before some will need division, which is more like Daffodils because they can get 2 stalks and not need it. If you are allergic to the bulbs, they can cause an awful itch when planting or dividing. Apparantly this is quite rare, but I am afflicted with this! Washing up immediately after planting takes care of it. If you share this curse, also make sure not to touch any part of your body with anything that has touched the bulbs. The leaves and flowers do not seem to cause this effect.

GRAPE HYACINTHS (MUSCARI) are not related to the other hyacinths at all. It is a mystery how they got their name. They grow about three inches tall, with a flowering spike of about 1 (one) inch of flowers held 3 inches above the ground. They're quite beautiful, and NO WORK, but REALLY tiny so you need to plant tons to have any kind of effect. I see these sold by 12's and that would be great for a DOLLHOUSE garden! But if you want a human size effect, plan on planting AT LEAST 50 of these little darlings.

The bulbs are about the size of a thimble and go 3 inches down with little fertilizer.
The most common ones are blue, but I prefer the white ones because they're relatively unusual. There are also unusual blue ones with differently shaped flowers, but I haven't tried those yet.

I haven't divided these yet, but this year is about the time. It's been about three years since I planted them and flowering is quite diminished.

Muscari do have a habit of coming out in Michigan's February Thaw, that period of about 2 weeks when it gets warm in the end of February when it's not really spring. Therefore, they lose the first inch or two of leaves when it snows on them! They do, however, seem to regenerate the leaves okay and keep living.

For quality flower bulbs and perennial plants at rock bottom prices, go to bloomingbulb.com

Home
Avoiding Gardening Work
The Preen Page
Marigolds
Marigolds, continued
Geraniums
Dusty Miller
Tulips
Compost and other Basics
The Obligatory Rose Page

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