Plant Bulbs Now For Spring Color

After a long winter, what is one of springs greatest joys?  The spring color of fall planted bulbs!  We go out searching every day for that first crocus or snowdrop, anxiously awaiting any sign that warmer weather is coming soon!  The key is to plant bulbs now for spring color!

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Bulbs are relatively easy to grow.  Give them the right location and soil conditions, and you can have many years of bulb flower power.  If you are just starting out in flower gardening, bulbs may be a fool-proof place to start.  With so much variety, colors and types, the options are endless!

Bright yellow tulips!
Bright yellow tulips!

Uses In The Landscape

There are so many ways that you can use spring bulbs in your home landscape.  A rock garden can be a fine home for a few early bulbs nestled into the crevices.  Small plantings of scilla, crocus or dwarf iris may do the trick.

Grape hyacinth.
Grape hyacinth.

Naturalizing spring bulbs is a fabulous way to have a show of color in drifts on your property.  Daffodil, scilla or grape hyacinth are a natural choices here.  As long as the bulbs are not crowded by invasive weeds, bulbs can be planted on the edge of the woods and across meadows.  Bulbs can be planted in an informal way, rows are not recommended.  Dig random holes with a spade and place 4-5 bulbs in each hole.  Each year they should multiply.  Dividing larger clumps every few years is also helpful with establishing the desired look.   Another advantage of planting a distance away is that when the foliage dies back it won’t be that visible.

Daffodils naturalized along a roadway.
Daffodils naturalized along a roadway.

If you want to see cheerful little flowers when you go outside, try planting some near your entry to your home.  This will really dress up you doorway and add that ‘curb appeal’!  Mix with pansies or violas for stunning color contrast.

Pink Impression tulips, mass planting at local business.
Pink Impression tulips, mass planting at local business.

Add bulbs like tulips and muscari to your existing perennial borders.  The beauty of this method is that when the foliage of the bulbs is dying back, the foliage of the perennials is starting to emerge, disguising the ugliness a bit.

Salmon Impression tulip.
Salmon Impression tulip.

Container growing is a way to grow spring bulbs without taking up garden space.  If you are an apartment dweller, planting a display of spring bulbs in an attractive pot or barrel to place by your front door could be a space-saving solution.

Bulbs ready for planting!
Bulbs ready for planting!

In times past, bulbs were often used in more formal, geometric gardens.  Picture ladies in Victorian times taking a turn around the garden, inspecting all of the exotic spring bulbs their gardeners had planted the autumn before.  If you have the space and ambition, this can make your spring garden a real showpiece!  There are so many showy tulips that would be great candidates for this type of garden.  A visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in April or May is unbelievable.  The colors and shapes are astounding!

Tulip bulb.
Tulip bulb.

What Do Bulbs Like?

Generally, most bulbs prefer well drained, sandy garden soil.  Soggy, wet soil is not recommended here.  Full sun is a good idea although partial shade is fine.  If you are doing a woodland planting, the soil may be compact and full of roots.  Dig a hole with a spade and remove all roots.  Add some compost or peat moss in with the bulbs.  Then apply some bulb food.  Bulb fertilizer is usually sold anywhere bulbs are sold.  I like to use Bulb Tone.

A flood of flower bulb catalogs!
A flood of flower bulb catalogs!

What To Buy?

It seems like when fall hits there is no shortage of spring bulb catalogs in the mailbox.  Every hardware store and garden center seems to have a bulb display.  There are many reputable companies out there to order from.  It is extremely easy to swooned by those glossy color photos of spring bulbs in bloom.    Fedco seeds offers a modest collection of bulbs.  There are many large companies such as John Scheepers, Van Engelen Inc. (a wholesaler) and k. van Bourgondien to name a few.  For something a bit more interesting, try floret.  Erin Benzakien, a cut flower grower, offers a wide range of gorgeous spring bulbs.  If you live where bulbs are available for purchase, choose plump, firm bulbs.  Make sure that you can see what you are buying.  Avoid moldy, bug-infested and shriveled bulbs.  They have endless bulk deals at the big box stores, just be sure you are buying healthy bulbs for the best results.

Tulip bulbs.
Tulip bulbs.

A List of Bulbs

There are so many bulbs to choose from.  This is just a quick list to get you started with bulbs.

Crocus are among the first to peek out of the ground in spring.  Coming in shades of purple, yellow, white and bi-colors, the possibilities are endless.  Perfect for existing gardens or naturalizing.  Spring blooming crocus work well in sun or part shade.  Plant 4″ deep and 4″ apart.  These should multiply quickly.  Great early bee food too!

Daffodils happily growing in a friends garden.
Daffodils happily growing in a friends garden.

Daffodils come in so many shapes and sizes.  All in the narcissus family, you can find large cupped, small cupped, multi-flowered, double, miniature and trumpet.  It’s a huge list.  You could be easily overwhelmed by a few pages of a bulb catalog.  Terrific for naturalizing , daffodils can find a place in any home garden!  Plant them 6″ deep.

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Tulips come in endless colors, shapes and varieties.  Parrot, double, mid-season, late-season, large, small…you get the picture.  Many tulips are great the first year then somewhat of a letdown in following years.  This is because often tulips are bred for looks not longevity.  Try to pick perennial types like Darwin tulips or species tulips.  Species tulips are very closely related to their wild ancestors.  Although they are shorter than the usual tulips, they put on quite a show in my garden!

Digging with a blob planting tool.
Digging with a bulb planting tool.
Placing the tulip bulb in the hole.
Placing the tulip bulb in the hole.

Squill or scilla come to us from Mediterranean regions.  With their shades of blue, purple and white, they can appear to look like a blue sea if planted at a distance.  Great for naturalizing, rock gardens or borders.  This early bulb likes to be planted 5″ deep and 4-6″ apart.

Muscari.
Muscari.

Grape hyacinth or muscari looks a lot like it’s name.  Little clusters of grapes!  Coming in purple, lavender, pink and white, there can be a place for muscari in every landscape.  Plant along with tulips and they will mark your tulip spots all season.  The foliage lasts all summer and is not unattractive.  Place muscari in the same holes as the tulips for a wonderful contrast at bloom time.

Snowdrops are the first to bloom out of the spring bulbs.  They thrive in sun or filtered shade.  Lovely in drifts throughout the landscape.  They like well drained, sandy soil.  They must be 4″ deep and 2-4″ apart.

These are just a few spring bulbs from a long list.  Just a few things to get you started or maybe a little nudge to get you to add to your existing plantings!

With a little bit of forethought and not too much work, you can make a bulb display that will definitely be something to look forward to.  This fall, I’ve added to my daffodil patch, replenished the tulips and added a few more crocus.  Nothing major but certainly something to think about through the winter!  We’ve had some cooler weather this week.  It even snowed yesterday!  I’ve got the hoop house ready and I now have a thermometer to keep track of high and low temps.  Thanks for checking out Everlongardener this week.  Don’t forget to check me out on Instagram and Facebook!  Maybe you will pick up a few spring flowering bulbs on your next shopping trip!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

 

 

Apple Picking Memories

It seems like no other season is met with such a sense of urgency as fall does.  Of course, we would like to bottle up spring and summer to keep forever in our pocket.  There’s just something about the warm days and cool nights, the crisp air and leaves, the flavors and the smells that fall brings!  This week we went apple picking.  A place where old and new memories meet.  Apple picking memories!

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“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” L.M. Montgomery.  Many of us know this Anne of Green Gables quote all too well.  These golden days of autumn bring such a sense of calm and nostalgia.  It seems like every day should be spent just taking it all in with one deep breath!

Burning bush and sugar maple.
Burning bush and sugar maple.

A glorious autumn day spent doing chores and dog walking, ended in a trip to our local orchard.  Our very own ‘Cortland’ tree supplied us with enough apples to make 5 pies, a crisp, applesauce and we ate a lot of them right off the tree.  Our dog even stole a few!  Now we are out of apples and needed more.

Golden leaves against the clear blue sky.
Golden leaves against the clear blue sky.
Falls bounty. Garlic, squash and honey.
Falls bounty. Garlic, squash and honey.

When we arrived, we were suddenly distracted by the cider display and apple sorting machine.  The shop sells pumpkins, winter squash, garlic, local honey, maple syrup, pears and crab apples.  Hot apple cider, fresh cider, apples, apple rings and apple crisp mix.  It was hard not to buy a little of everything!

A large pumpkin on display.
A large pumpkin on display.

We gathered our bags and made our way to the path.  Red and yellow delicious to the left.  Spartan, Northern Spy, Empire and Macoun to the right.  I was after Macoun and Northern Spy, so we went right.

Sunflower rows along the path.
Sunflower rows along the path.

The row of sunflowers on the side of field all had their heads drooping, no longer yellow or following the sun.  Raspberries, pears and high bush blueberries all had their place in the landscape.

Family time!
Family time!

Whenever we come to our local orchard, I get to hear stories about the old days when my husband had relatives that owned the property.  It’s the ‘back in my day’ kind of conversation. This was long before the new owners removed the old, massive apple trees that came with the farm.  Now the orchard is made up of rows of dwarf varieties.  He is still mourning the those trees!  These smaller trees can be trimmed from the ground.  Easier to pick and more conducive to a U-pick operation.  No more apple ladders and picking poles!

'Northern Spy'.
‘Northern Spy’.
Farm scenery!
Farm scenery!

Back in the day, the previous owners had the ability to store huge amounts of apples long term to sell at their apple stand all winter.  It took many seasonal employees to pick apples, collect drops, sort and grade the apples and make cider.  Many weekends were spent working with his parents at the orchard and the apple stand.  I know he looks back on this time with fondness.  He thinks about all of his family that were involved at the time.  Some still with us, some not.

The orchard as we see it today.
The orchard as we see it today.

I have to say though, that I’m glad that the orchard is still running today and that we can visit each fall to make new memories.  I’m also glad that the business is still thriving and that the old farmhouse and barn have been refurbished.  Then, with apples and pears in hand, we return home to turn these delicious fruits into pies, crisps and sauces.

Autumn leaves!
Autumn leaves!

As the afternoon sun burned through the leaves, we made our way home through the winding roads and color drenched mountains.  Even though we have been experiencing drought conditions, the leaves have been outstanding this year.  Red, gold, orange, brown and all shades in between.  The days are getting shorter.  Almost want to reach out and grasp that amber light!  If only we could put some of that warmth in a box to open later this coming winter!

Leaves on fire!
Leaves on fire!

If you like my Ramblings & Reflections, as I call them, you may enjoy Apple Trees In Bloom: A Window To The Past.  My friend over at Simply Focused Photography had an enchanting blog post last week.  If you love Maine,  autumn and mental clarity, I think that you will relate to it.

Low autumn sun filtering through the trees.
Low autumn sun filtering through the trees.

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Dapples light at days end.
Dapples light at days end.

We are getting ready for colder weather here.  Just seems like this glorious weather will go on and on!  Gardens need to be put to bed and things need to be put away.  Pretty soon we will be building cozy fires in the evening and thinking about the first snow.  For now though, I will revel in this season, possibly the best season of all!  I will file my apple picking memories away in my mind and pull them out from time to time when I need to feel warm!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Seed Saving Basics

Imagine for a moment that mid-winter you attempt to order your favorite seed varieties only to find them out of stock.  Or next spring, you stroll into your local garden center expecting to pick up your garden seeds and there is a limited supply of a poor selection of seed. One type of bean and only ‘Better Boy’ tomatoes!  By learning some seed saving basics and creating your own seed stash year after year you don’t need to worry about having enough garden seed!

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As far back as the beginning of human history, saving seeds has been necessary for survival.  The concept of seed companies may be a few hundred years old but that is merely a blink of an eye compared to the thousands of years that humans have been letting plant seeds reach their peak and keeping them for following years.  Seed saving is living history and can also be a lot of fun too!

Dry nasturtium seeds!
Dry nasturtium seeds!

There are so many compelling reasons to begin saving seeds from your garden.  Things such as flavor, disease resistance, genetic diversity and regional characteristics can all be factors.  It could even be food security or a turn away from industrial agriculture.  Some seeds are scarce or simply unavailable.  With some seed packets priced as much as $5 each, seed saving is a great way to save money on gardening.  Each spring, gardeners spend big bucks on fresh garden seeds.  Seed swapping with friends or seed clubs are excellent ways to obtain more varieties.  Finally, the satisfaction of having a seed collection of your own brings a feeling of self-sufficiency!

Drying some kale seeds.
Drying some kale seeds.

I called this post ‘Seed Saving Basics’ because I wanted to relay some basic guidelines to get people started with seed saving.  I always encourage everyone to start out with a few types and go from there.   Perhaps you could start with some bean seeds and then move on to peppers.  As a side note, seed saving is sometimes illegal.  Google it and you will find out why!

Nasturtium and Winter Marvel lettuce seeds.
Nasturtium and Winter Marvel lettuce seeds.

First of all, one thing to be clear about is that saving seed from hybrid plants is not a great idea.  To produce the desired traits for the intended plant, two different inbred plants are crossed.  The subsequent offspring can be far superior to the parents.  But, if you save seed from these guys, the produce from them can revert back to some fairly undesirable characteristics.  So, without getting too complicated, try for open-pollinated varieties.  This means that the seed will result in a plant that is reasonably the same as the parent.

Love the nasturtium seeds growing in the garden!
Love the nasturtium seeds growing in the garden!

Annuals

Among the easiest seeds to save are from annual plants.  These plants will develop mature seeds by the end of one season.  This will be a terrific place to start.  Some choices are lettuce, beans, peppers, peas, squash, tomatoes and radishes.  A few flowers include marigolds, nasturtiums and portulaca.  You can start letting some of these go to seed.  Tomato seed needs special care to preserve them.  Just keeping seed is not enough.  The references I’ve listed below will give you plenty of information.

Rudbeckia seed heads.
Rudbeckia seed heads.

Perennials

Most perennial plants are very straight-forward when it comes to seed saving.  In the edible department, you can choose rhubarb, chives or asparagus.  For flowers the list is huge!  Daisies, cone flowers, rudbeckia or poppies.  There are so many more!

Poppy seed heads!
Poppy seed heads!

Biennials

Many plants that you may want to experiment with are in a category called biennials.  This means that the veggie or herb plant will not produce seed until the following season.  Plants such as beets, carrots and turnips are in this group.  It may not be worth attempting if you have a small garden.  You as the gardener need to make sure the plant makes it protected through the winter so that those seeds form.  All seeds should be collected at their peek.  Fully formed but not over ripe and moldy.

Nasturtium seeds forming!
Nasturtium seeds forming!

For any of these seeds, try to pick colors that you want to retain and specimens that hold all of the qualities that you would like to carry over.  Even tag specific ones you would like to save for later.

Scarlet runner beans!
Scarlet runner beans!

Drying Seed

All seeds will need to dry before being stored.  One way to dry seed is to place them on newspaper in a warm, dry location.  Give seeds at least a week before storing.  You can even go by how they feel.  If the seeds are still soft, they probably need more time.  Pack them away when you feel they are sufficiently dry because they can reabsorb moisture from the air.

Asclepius seeds.
Asclepius seeds.

Seed Storage

Proper seed storage will ensure adequate germination next year. Seeds are best kept between 32-41 degrees Fahrenheit.  This may be totally unrealistic for a home gardener.  Pick the coolest, most moisture free place in your house.  Paper envelopes, glass jars or other closed container will do.  Stay away from plastic zipper bags as they can harbor moisture.  We have a wood stove in our basement so I keep the seeds as far away as possible!

Radish seeds.
Radish seeds.

The better the conditions you create for your saved seeds, the longer they will stay viable.  The better the seed, the more likely you will have great produce next year.

Beans in jars!
Beans in jars!

Of course, seed saving can be very technical.  Research individual varieties for the best results.  Once you learn about all of the techniques, you may truly appreciate what it takes for seed companies to get the seed to the customer.

For some in depth reading on seeds and seed saving, try The New Seed-Starters Handbook or Seed To seed: Seed Saving Techniques For The Vegetable Gardener.  Both are excellent guides to saving your own seeds.  Research online by going to seedsave.com or HowToSaveSeeds.com.  The Seed Savers Exchange blog is also worth reading.  Many seed companies offer open-pollinated stock.  A local group, the Medomak Valley High School Hierloom Seed Project, saves hundreds of types of rare seeds.  You can read all about their work in A Unique Seed Saving Project.

Romano, scarlet runner, provider and Indy gold bean seeds!
Romano, scarlet runner, provider and Indy gold bean seeds!

Now is the time to start collecting seeds for next year.  Try a few things, I think you will love seed saving!  I’m sending out a huge thank you to all of you that made last weeks article Grow Great Garlic In 4 Easy Steps my biggest post so far!  Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a comment.  I’d really like to hear what you think.  The leaves are coming down around us.  Time to get out and pick some apples, the weather has been outstanding!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Grow Great Garlic In 4 Easy Steps

Recently, while discussing growing garlic with a friend, I was asked why would someone bother growing garlic if you can just buy it at the store.  Oh, the reasons!  Flavor, variety, ease of growing, health benefits, an abundant harvest.  Let me count the reasons to grow garlic at home!

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The question still stands, why grow your own garlic?  I have to say that after the first year, I was hooked.  With a vast amount of diversity out there, a home gardener has the ability to grow many different types and flavors of garlic.  Whether you prefer mild flavors or something with a little kick, there is a kind to fit every palette.  Once you begin growing and keeping your own garlic, you can also start to be more self reliant.

Soft neck types are not usually suitable for Maine growing so I will focus on hard neck varieties.  Porcelain-type garlic typically has 4-6 cloves per bulb, excellent storage ability and the large cloves are easy to use in the kitchen.  Some varieties include ‘Music’ with it’s super large, luscious bulbs, ‘Romanian Red’ has great storage life and ‘Georgian Fire’ is a more pungent flavored variety for those heat lovers out there.

The Rocambole group features a shorter shelf life, looser skins and 6-12 big cloves per bulb.  ‘Russian Red’ was brought here by Russian immigrants in the early 1900’s.  ‘German Red’ with it’s rosy skin, is said by Fedco to be of medieval origins.  This is only scratching the surface of the garlic world.  Just a little list to whet your appetite!

Each separate clove can produce a whole new garlic bulb.  So, if you plant 50 cloves, you may end up with 50 large bulbs when you harvest.  Garlic  purchased at the supermarket may be from as far away as China.  If you grow your own, you know how it was grown.

Good seed garlic.
Good seed garlic.

There is a wealth of information out there on how to grow great garlic.  Books, magazine and online articles.  Growing Great Garlic, a book for those passionate about garlic growing is full of history and in-depth garlic info.  The Fedco bulb catalog comes with some invaluable information every year.  Also check out the link on their site, Blue-Ribbon Garlic Growing Tips.

Nice garlic for planting!
Nice garlic for planting!

For some comprehensive information for Maine growing, go to the University of Maine Extension article Growing Hardneck Garlic In Your Maine Garden.  If you live in another state, check with your local Extension office.  One thing is for sure, growing great garlic is not complicated!  I’m sure that if you want to get all scientific about it, you can.  But, today I will lay out 4 easy steps to get you growing some fabulous garlic!

1. Obtain Seed Garlic

Where does one get garlic to plant?  Please don’t look to your local grocery store.  These bulbs may look nice but they are likely not hardy for our area and may have been treated not to sprout.  I’ve actually planted some from a local farm and had excellent results.

Seed garlic.
Seed garlic.

Purchase seed garlic from a local garden center, a catalog or online company.  Just do a search for seed garlic and you will find plenty.  I also have a garlic guy.  What?  You don’t have a garlic guy?  A man that lives in the next town is a grower, planting out around 20,000 per year!  Wow, you should see his stash!

German hardy and Red Russian garlic.
German hardy and Red Russian garlic.

Once you grow your own garlic, it is easy to save some of the larger bulbs for next years planting.  Then you can be your own garlic guy!

2. Break Apart The Bulbs 

This is your for first real step in planting.  Break apart your bulbs as you would for cooking.  It’s as easy as that.  After you have done this to all of the bulbs, you are ready for planting.

Separate the cloves!
Separate the cloves!

3. Prepare The Soil

Growing great garlic does require a fertile garden bed rich with compost or manure.  I usually sprinkle the the site with some organic fertilizer.  The Fedco seed catalog says ‘more food and more space generally gives larger bulbs’.  The general principle of you get what you put into it applies here.

4. Planting

In mid to late October or even early November, plant each individual clove 5-6″ deep and 4-8″ apart.  In Maine, 4 weeks before the ground freezes is ideal.  Think about planting at the same time you would plant fall bulbs.  Not every fall is the same either.  Timing will be different for more southern New England.

Planting the garlic clove.
Planting the garlic clove.

At this point it is recommended to mulch the site with 4-6″ of hay. Some use straw which can mat considerably.  I’ve used leaves with great success.  We just place a piece of chicken wire over the garden to keep the leaves from blowing away.

That’s just about all there is to it.  Plain and simple.  With adequate moisture, by next August, you will see those garlic leaves turning yellow.  This is a sure sign that it’s time to get out that garden fork and see what treasure awaits below the surface of the ground!

Garlic scapes are an added bonus!
Garlic scapes are an added bonus!

Next summer at harvest time, we will discuss proper harvest and storage.  My article Garlic Scapes sings the praises of using garlic scapes in the kitchen.  For now, go find some seed garlic and get planting!  I think you will love the anticipation it brings!  Remember to follow me on Instagram for daily pictures.  I’m also on Facebook and Pinterest!  Thanks for your interest in garlic and the Everlongardener site.  I really appreciate you stopping by.

Hilary|Everlongardener