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Green Spaces: Think Spring!

by Vince Bushell

I know November is hardly spring. The cold north winds foretell the winter. But the ground usually does not freeze for quite some time, and if you have the will to dig the soil, you can bury a treasure of color and fragrance that will greet you with the return of the sun. I am talking about bulbs — Tulips, Daffodils, Hibiscus, Scilla, Crocus, Fritellaria, and a host of others can still be planted as long as you can work the soil. You may catch the benefit of buying bulbs on sale in November as well. The bulbs need to be chilled for weeks before they can spring to life again. Our winters are plenty long, and you can plant any time before hard winter freezes the soil. Think massed color when planting tulips and most other bulbs. Sometimes I just throw the bulbs on the ground from the bag and plant them where they land to get that naturalized look. Plant as many as you can afford to get a great display in spring. Plant over several years to increase your pleasure in your spring garden. Have a color and a time scheme in mind. Plant early varieties to get that jump on spring, or plant early, mid, and late season bulbs to get a continuous bloom into June. Plant some (Gallium) Snow Drops, to get that first little flower poking through the snow to let you know that spring is truly around the corner. Though not native to Wisconsin, many flowering bulbs are hardy here if planted correctly and can provide you and your family with an emotional lift in spring after a long hard Milwaukee winter. It is really quite easy. Check out your yard and look for places where bulbs could be planted. Some folks dig holes in their lawn and plant Daffodils or minor bulbs like Scilla to create a natural look to the spring lawn. Think sunny exposure in spring. This can be under that shade tree or near those shrubs. If you pick “early” varieties they will be up and finished blooming before the trees and shrubs get their leaves. The soil should have good drainage. If you have heavy clay you can incorporate peat moss, which can be bought in bales at the garden center. Peat helps loosen the soil, maintain even moisture levels and aid drainage. It also provides a bit of acidity, which is good since most of the soils in our area tend to be alkaline. A slope or raised bed helps in drainage. Planting close to that healthy shrub will also aid in keeping your bulbs out of waterlogged soil. After finding an area to plant, dig the soil to the specified depth, usually three times the size of the bulb. Blend in some peat at the bottom of the hole, and throwing in a little bone meal or phosphorus fertilizer at the bottom of the hole helps the bulb’s roots to grow in the spring. It is easier to dig the whole bed than to dig individual holes but both methods work. Just remember that improving the soil in the hole or bed improves the chances of success. Push the bulbs into the soil with the base down (pointy end up). The bulbs know which way is up, but you might as well make it easier for them by planting them the right way. After planting, press the soil down and water well. You may want to mulch the area, especially if you are planting late in the season and extreme cold weather is coming soon. The mulch delays the freezing of the soil and limits the depth of frost penetration. If your plantings become crowded you can dig up the bulbs and separate them and replant in the fall. Bulbs recharge themselves after they have bloomed. You can help this by allowing the leaves to die back naturally but cutting the flower stalk after it has finished flowering. Plant taller flowers among the bulbs for summer displays. So put on your jacket and get out there and plant some bulbs. You’ll be glad you did when the robins return next year. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 10 – November 2002
by Vince Bushell