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Bulbs are easy way to add beauty to garden

THE promise of spring lies deep in the planted soil of October in the form of the many luscious bulbs we plant each year.

THE promise of spring lies deep in the planted soil of October in the form of the many luscious bulbs we plant each year.

Bulb planting may seem confusing to some people, probably because there is so much information written about this autumnal ritual.

But bulb planting is one of the easiest things a gardener can do to add beauty to the garden.

Yes you have to wait for those

colourful blooms to appear in spring but with a little information and some enthusiasm everyone can enjoy the bulbs of spring in their garden or in pots on the balcony.

With so many fall bulbs to choose from it may seem a daunting task to choose the right colour, size and species of bulb to plant. I recommend that everyone try something new when planting fall bulbs, at least just one or two new species to broaden your bulb horizon. Most people are familiar with tulips, daffodils and crocus but there really is so much more to try. I suggest asking someone knowledgeable at your favorite garden centre to help you choose something new to broaden your bulb growing repertoire.

I highly recommend species tulips for planting in sunny areas at the front of the bed as naturalized plantings that last for years. Species tulips grow around 20 to 25 centimetres tall and come in many solid colours and bicolours. Tulipa kaufmanniana is red and yellow. T. saxatilis has lilac flowers. T. tarda is white with a yellow centre looking like a fried egg.

For something non-traditional and challenging, try the Dog's Tooth violet (Erythronium revolutum), a Pacific Northwest native bulb that grows in our forests. A little hard to grow for the novice but the mottled leaves and nodding yellow, white or pink flowers (depending on variety) are absolutely charming and the foliage lasts into summer.

According to Botanus.com in Langley, Narcissus Madison "will remind you of delicious creamsicles" with its orange and white coloured flowers borne atop 35 cm tall stems and these daffodils naturalize so you can enjoy them for years. Also available from Botanus is Tommy's White Cupped Daffodil which is fragrant, growing 40 cm tall and coloured white with a ruffled yellow centre edged in orange/red.

In my opinion it's best to buy fall bulbs from local garden centres or specialty bulb growers like Botanus to get the best selection, value and growing advice. Not that there is anything wrong with bulbs from big box stores but big box stores are not bulb specialists, they sell bulk product and they cannot offer a wide selection or savvy bulb growing information. When buying bulbs look for bulbs that are firm and uniformly coloured, with few blemishes. Not all bulbs are big, so big is not all that matters when it comes to buying bulbs. Some bulbs like erythronium, scilla, trillium, muscari and species tulips are normally small-sized bulbs, so adjust your perception according to what species you are buying. Plant your bulbs as soon as possible after purchase to avoid degradation.

In the fall I am always asked about planting instructions for bulbs, so here they are for everyone. All bulbs require drainage, full sun, but they will tolerate light shade and good soil to grow in. I believe that if you have reasonably good soil existing in your garden, don't bother adding bone meal, fertilizer or anything else to the planting hole, with the exception of some compost perhaps. Do not add sand to the planting hole; it will only plug up the pore space (breathing holes in the soil) and cause your bulb to rot. If you have an existing drainage problem then fix the drainage problem first or plant your bulbs elsewhere, but a little sand does nothing for the health or drainage of your bulbs. Always dig a little deeper than the required planting depth to loosen the soil under the bulb so it can grow roots easily. Do not compress the soil too hard when backfilling, compressed soil cannot breath or drain so spare the soil your foot's full weight.

When it comes to keeping squirrels away from your bulbs, I prefer a shotgun, but since that's illegal within the city limits, try using chicken wire on top of the planting hole covered with mulch to hide it. A good coarse mulch of fresh wood chips, sawdust or some nice slivery bark mulch helps to hide the smell of the bulb and squirrels don't like the slivers in their feet or snout. And lastly, always water in your newly planted bulbs, regardless of rain.

Fall bulb planting is a ritual for many gardeners as we toil and dig our way into the soil to plant our hope for spring's bounty, so dig deep and plant many. stmajor@shaw.ca.

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