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JOYFUL FALL BULBS

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.  ~Albert Camus

Sugar pumpkins in my flower boxes along with perennial ivies...

Happy Fall Daze, Everyone!

Autumn has officially arrived.  September is my favourite month:  clear, clean air and refreshing breezes, the way the clouds look skimming across the blue sky, biting into a crisp juice-filled apple, my friend Shirley’s tasty pumpkin cookies, drinking warm apple cider, and visiting the pumpkin patch to select sugar pumpkins…They make tasty pies and are just petite enough to fit snugly into my urns, planters, and flower boxes. I especially love shopping for fall bulbs…It’ll soon be tulip planting time, my friends!

DID YOU KNOW?! The tulip is a symbol of international friendship. Ottawa, our country’s capital city, has proudly celebrated its Canadian-Dutch bond for nearly seventy years, conveyed through tulips that bloom by the millions throughout our nation’s home each May during the world’s largest annual tulip festival!  In 1945, 100,000 tulip bulbs were gifted to Ottawa as a thank you for our military support in liberating the Netherlands during the Second World War. During the German occupation of that country, Princess Julianna (who would later become Queen) and her two daughters sought refuge in Ottawa.  During her stay, on January 19, 1943, the Princess gave birth to a third daughter (Princess Margriet) at the Ottawa Civic Hospital.  To ensure the royal baby’s Dutch citizenship, the hospital’s maternity ward was declared to be on Dutch soil, and the flag of the Netherlands was flown over the Peace Tower – the only time in Canadian history that a foreign flag was flown over the Parliament Buildings.  To this day, Holland continues to say thank you through the gift of its beautiful tulip bulbs to Ottawa.

Youth is like spring, an over praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes.  Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.  ~Samuel Butler

Halloween decorations add a little seasonal whimsy to planters...

I diligently planted well over 200 tulips along the path of a small garden at the side of our house one fall, along with additional bulbs in an array of pots and flowers boxes.  To my dismay, none of them came up the following spring. Nowhere could I find any sign of the bulbs that I had planted only months before. I later deduced that squirrels had eaten every last one – although I’d never seen squirrels in our neighbourhood until a few days after my discovery!  Apparently, squirrels (a.k.a rats with cute-as-pie faces and fluffy dusters attached to the end of their butts) especially looove tulip bulbs (daffodil bulbs, not so much).  I had unwittingly treated these attractive rodents to the very finest buffet feast!  They must have been out of their minds with ecstasy when they came to ‘our table’ that year!

Having learned an expensive lesson, and armed with 300+ tulips bulbs and a roll of chicken wire this past fall, I covered every last bulb with narrow strips of the mesh stuff before pushing the soil back over top of the bulbs. The labour to unroll the unruly wire and cut it into manageable narrow strips was well worth the extra (albeit frustrating) effort.  I was rewarded months later with a glorious riot of red, orange, yellow and pink tulip blooms!

Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.  ~Elizabeth Lawrence

Here is what I’ve learned through trial and error about planting tulips.  I’m happy to share it with you if you may be thinking of planting this year for the first time, or even adding tulips to other areas of your gardens:

TRIED-AND-TRUE TULIP TIPS

MAKE YOUR BED
  • Prepare the tulip bed by removing any debris atop the soil. Rake the soil to break it up and aerate it.

    Tiptoeing through the tulips along the walkway...

  • Amend the soil, if needed. Bulbs often house all the nutrients they need to grow in the first year. If the soil is clay-like, however, I like to use vermiculite or peat moss to give them a little boost.
  • Ideally, raise the soil to form a bed – if I had my time back, I would have done this for my tulips in the first year that I planted. Next month, however, I plan to reset the bulbs I planted last fall, mix them in with the some 500+ new bulbs that I recently purchased, and set them all together in a newly constructed raised bed for proper drainage and to, hopefully, encourage ultimate growing conditions.
 DESIGN & PLANTING
  • For interest, mix or match colours and varieties.
  • For impact, group like flowers in large numbers – the WOW! factor.
  • For what I like to call ‘the multiplier effect’, avoid planting your bulbs in a straight line – circular or triangular patterns enable every bulb to be seen…
 

Tulips are the cheery harbingers of spring. Looove this combination...

1) Plant bulbs in late fall before the ground freezes. Watch the weather forecast for frost warnings and plan ahead.
2) Tulips like full sun, so be sure your planting bed is situated in a good spot with plenty of light.
3) Ensure your tulip bed has plenty of drainage. Wet soil promotes fungus and disease which can rot bulbs.
4) Lay out the bulbs on the ground first where you’ll plant them to get an idea of how your design will look.
5) Place the bulbs in the soil with the tip facing upwards.  If you forget, though, don’t worry as they will eventually upright themselves – they just seem to ‘know’ 🙂
6) Plant tulip bulbs deep. Use a bulb planter for consistent depth and plant at the depth recommended on the package. Many recommend about eight inches deep, measuring from the base of the bulb.  Important Note: If you add mulch to the surface after planting, include its depth as a part of your overall planting depth. (For instance, 5 inches deep in soil plus 3 inches of mulch = 8 inches deep.)  If you don’t happen to plant your tulips deep enough, they might grow earlier in the season than if they were planted at the proper depth. 
7) Healthy Dutch bulbs generally have more than enough nourishment stored up to ensure a vigorous bloom the first season.   Important: If you want a repeat bloom for several seasons, it is recommended adding a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as well-rotted cow manure, or special bulb fertilizer at fall planting time and each fall thereafter.  Adding organic matter such as well-rotted cow manure, compost, or peat moss can also help facilitate drainage.  DID YOU KNOW?! If you did not happen to fertilize your bulbs in fall, as the shoots first appear in spring, adding a high nitrogen, fast-release fertilizer can help promote future performance.
8) HINT:  Carefully layering chicken wire, soil, and mulch over top of your tulip bulbs make it troublesome for mischievous critters to unearth your precious tulip bulbs.
9) Water thoroughly after planting to ensure that the plants develop a strong root system before going into winter dormancy. Wait for spring and observe them as they peep their heads up through the earth – it is a joy to watch!
 
 

Tulip and forsythia on the front door - a pretty combination on a spring wreath!

DID YOU KNOW? Tulips can be tricky to grow year after year even. They are considered to be perennial flowers  only in optimal growing conditions. Here’s what you can do to promote re-blooming for subsequent seasons: 
  • Choose tulips marked naturalizing/perennializing.
  • Fertilize a couple of times in fall and spring.
  • Clip off the flower heads soon after the petals fall. Allow the foliage to die back and let it remain after flowering for as long as possible.  Although it may look unsightly, the longer you leave it, the better. This technique allows the plant to put all its energy into building a strong bulb for next season.
 
 One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides.  ~W.E. Johns, The Passing Show


 
My beautiful niece Tammy who lives in Ottawa where the millions of tulips bloom each spring, emailed me with a tulip question not so long ago (one day I’m going to visit her and take in the Tulip Festival).  She and her husband, Craig, dug up their tulip bulbs last year (treating them as an annual as many gardeners do) and overwintered them in their garage with the hopes of replanting them in the fall.  The bulbs are now showing signs of mildew and mold, and she asked me if she should plant them. This was my answer to her:
 
 
 

Non-stop begonias are still blooming!

Hi, Tam!  
 
When it comes to tulips, m’dear, I’m just beginning to experiment, but here’s what I’ve learned…If the mold is bluish-green, it is probably penicillin and can badly damage your tulips and, therefore, you will have no blooms next spring. Although it may be painful (tulip bulbs don’t come cheap), I would discard them and opt to buy all new bulbs. But, first, before planting any new bulbs, be sure and check the soil where the tulips were originally planted for any signs that mold may exist in the soil from whence they came. It is more likely that the culprit comes from improper storage over the winter, but you want to be sure before investing more money in new bulbs and planting them where they may be fungus thriving already in your soil bed.  

If you happen to see visible signs of fungus in the soil, then it is likely that the spores could still be there and trouble any new bulbs. If this is the case, you might want to try a new location and experiment. 

Note to self: Grayish mold thrives in wet or damp soil, which I will have to be very careful of this year since we’ve had such a damp spring and summer. 

Make sure you clean up your tulip bed completely before putting in any new bulbs this fall…like any other plantings, the decayed plant material can harbour all kinds of diseases and fungus that can play havoc with your new tulip plants. The most important way to avoid damage is NOT to plant bulbs that already have mold on them.

One busy bee...

HEALTHY BULB TEST TIP:  If you’re in doubt, test your bulbs in water immediately before planting. Healthy tulip bulbs will sink. Decayed bulbs will float to the top.  AND REMEMBER:  Tulips love well-drained soil…:-)

Tulips can be tricky but  are the true harbingers of spring, and I think well worth the effort!   Hope this helps.  Hmmm…I may do a post re tulips soon!  Lol

Luvs and hugs,

Auntie Linda

P.S.  I am happy to report that my tulips thrived this year! The neighbours told us that people actually stopped or slowed to see them…Of the 300 bulbs that were planted last fall, over 270 showed their faces – I counted them! 

Thank you for stopping by all AND happy tulip planting!

 Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden.  ~Robert Brault, www.robertbrault.com
 
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Categories: JARDINS
  1. joan shirley
    2011/09/30 at 11:11 pm

    I sooooooo agree with you. Tulips are the happiest of flowers. Loved the photos. Planted a burning bush today…hope it survives through the winter. Any advice on that?

    • 2011/09/30 at 11:22 pm

      Only to plant in full sun to partial shade. And, despite the fact that they are sometimes called ‘dwarf’, they grow anywhere from 6′ to 8′ tall AND wide! I had to dig up a few plants this past summer because I underestimated their size and should have done my homework by simply reading the accompanying tag. Haha So nice to hear from you! Enjoy your weekend.

  2. 2011/10/01 at 8:36 am

    Hi Linda,
    Great advice on tulip planting and I love your description of a squirrel. Your spring garden will look amazing!
    Take care,
    Carolyn

  3. 2011/10/05 at 5:07 pm

    Beautiful post, Linda! Most of my tulips get eaten by the rodents here, too. The cats help so much, but they still get plenty of them. Now, I usually only put daffodils, but I love tulips and still sneak in a few.

  4. Maureen Duke Renouf
    2011/10/18 at 8:50 pm

    Such a fabulous Blog…the beautiful music, outstanding pictures and the Love that is built in every line…a true kindred spirit lays before me. I look forward in the evenings after a long day’s work, to pour myself up a nice Earl Grey and browse through the many stories and ideas. Thank you so very kindly.

    Maureen

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