Cheyenne Garden Gossip

Gardening on the high plains of southeastern Wyoming


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Fall-planted bulbs start spring early

2018-09 Crocus-Barb Gorges

Crocuses are some of the earliest spring bloomers. Leaves make good mulch for bulbs if they don’t don’t get packed down too much by snow. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Sept. 9, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle . Also published Sept. 10, 2018, at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/fall-planted-bulbs-start-spring-early.

Fall-planted bulbs start spring early

By Barb Gorges

I made a list of spring bulbs to plant this fall at the Habitat Hero demonstration garden at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

And then I looked at how the perennials we planted at the end of July were doing. The 450 black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) and 450 other assorted prairie-type plants got hit with hail. Most are fine, except the Rudbeckia, reduced to tough sticks with hail scars, though a few still had blooms on top, but either no leaves or new leaves nibbled back.

Rabbits?! My Rudbeckia at home survived hail and they have plenty of leaves despite cottontails napping nearby.

Gardening somewhere besides home is like trying to give another parent child-rearing advice: what you know may not work for someone else or somewhere else.

I’m wondering if it will be a waste to plant anything besides daffodils which are known to be somewhat deer and rabbit resistant. Or maybe plant alfalfa as a cover crop so the rabbits have something better to eat. At least we will have plenty of bare places to plant bulbs this fall.

Below are my picks for a Habitat Hero spring-blooming bulb garden, designed to provide flowers early for bees, and to be self-propagating from year to year, or “naturalizing” or “perennializing” as they say in catalogs.

In each category I picked the cheapest bulbs which, as Laramie County Master Gardener Michelle Bohanan agrees, is a good indication of how hardy and easy they are to grow.

Some bulbs have a reputation for being deer, rabbit and rodent resistant. All are rated for wintering one or two horticultural zones colder than Cheyenne’s zone 5.

Bloom times are relative depending on spring weather. Microclimates, either hotter (next to a south-facing wall) or colder (north-facing), can make a difference, also. And I looked at color, trying to predict what bulbs might bloom at the same time.

Most spring bulbs are native to the Mediterranean or parts of central Asia with cold and dry climates like Wyoming’s, so it’s easy to be successful with bulbs. I have most of these in my own garden, though not the exact varieties.

  1. Species tulip, Tulipa turkestanica, blooms March/April, 8 inches tall, ivory petals with orangish bases, naturalizes.
  2. Species or snow crocus mix, March/April, 4 inches, white, blue, yellow, violet, deer resistant, naturalizes.
  3. Iris reticulata mix, early April, 4 to 6 inches, blue, purple, yellow, naturalizes.

    2018-09 Iris reticulata-Barb Gorges

    Iris reticulata can bloom earlier than crocus if it is planted close to heat-absorbing concrete or brick. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  4. Siberian squill, Scilla siberica, April, 5 inches, blue, naturalizes, deer and rodent resistant.

    2018-09 Squill-Barb Gorges

    Bees love Siberian squill and through pollination, squill produces lots of seed that increases the patch of blue from year to year. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  5. Glory of the Snow, Chionodoxa, April, 5-6 inches, blues, naturalizing, deer and rodent-resistant, multiple flowers per bulb.

    2018-09 Glory of the Snow-Barb Gorges

    Glory of the Snow, at only 5-6 inches tall, survives our spring snowstorms quite well. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  6. Large cupped daffodils, April, 18-20 inches, yellow, naturalizes, deer, rodent and rabbit resistant. These varieties are the most popular of the 13 divisions of daffodils and are available all over town.

    2018-09 Daffodil-Barb Gorges

    There are a multitude of kinds of daffodils to choose from. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  7. Grape hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum, April/May, 6 inches, blue, naturalizes, deer resistant. Other Muscari species are white and even pale pink.

    2018-09 Grape Hyacinth-Barb Gorges

    Grape hyacinth come in many shades of blue, and even pale pink. In this garden they bloom about the same time as the phlox groundcover. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  8. Species tulip, Tulipa linifolia, May, 6 inches, red, naturalizes.
  9. Single late (Darwin) tulip, May, 22-30 inches, all kinds of plain and blended colors available. These are the most popular tulips and most available in local stores.

    2018-09 tulips-Barb Gorges

    This patch of tulips lasted a couple weeks when temperatures stayed cool, no snow fell and the wind wasn’t too strong. These are past their prime but still make a bright spot visible from the street and our windows. Photo by Barb Gorges.

  10. Allium oreophilum (flowering onion), May/June, 6-8 inches, deep rose. All the alliums, including the giant purple globes I’ve had rebloom for several years, are rabbit, rodent and deer resistant, and popular with bees. But not all allium varieties return reliably.

    2018-09 large Allium - Barb Gorges

    Several years ago I planted five bulbs of a variety of giant Allium. This spring I counted 15 blooms, meaning the bulbs have self-propagated and I could dig them up and transplant some to another flower bed. Photo by Barb Gorges.

I’m skipping a multitude of tulip types. Some, like fosteriana, kaufmanniana and gregii are good naturalizers and survive our spring snowstorms. Others are advertised as good cutting flowers to be pulled and then replaced by summer annuals: parrot, double early, viridiflora, triumph.

If not available locally, the varieties I’ve mentioned might be available from catalogs like www.johnscheepers.com. Directions with each order or package will tell you how deep and how far apart to plant each kind of bulb.

Let’s hope the bunnies at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens give the bulbs a break.

Laramie County Master Gardener Fall Bulb Sale deadline Sept. 21, 2018

This year Kathy Shreve put together three bulb collections for the Laramie County Master Gardener bulb sale. All the bulb varieties are available individually as well. One collection, the “Pollinator Buffet,” looks good for Habitat Hero gardens.

You can find the order form and photos of the selections at http://www.lcmg.org/event/2018-bulb-sale/.

Orders, with payment, must be mailed or turned in by 5 p.m., Sept. 21, to the Extension office at Laramie County Community College.

Bulbs will be available for pickup Oct. 20 at the Laramie County Library, 2200 Pioneer Ave.

Contact Kathy at keshreve@yahoo.com if you have questions.

2018-09 pink tulips-Barb Gorges

A little bit of wire fence protects the tulips by slowing down small dogs and rabbits. Photo by Barb Gorges.

 

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Bulb forcing brings spring indoors mid-winter

2017-10 Bulb forcing 1

This classic bulb-forcing vase holds a hyacinth bulb. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Oct. 15, 2017, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “An indoor spring…during the winter.”

By Barb Gorges

It’s the season for buying spring-blooming bulbs. But not all of them need to go in the garden—at least not right away. Some of them can be kept back for forcing.

Bulb forcing allows you to enjoy crocus, the small iris, hyacinth, daffodils and even tulips indoors earlier than they bloom outside. Think of them as a deep winter gift to yourself, or for someone else.

Cheyenne Botanic Gardens director Shane Smith recently gave me background on the practice and a few tips.

The science and history

Smith said the trick is to use bulbs from temperate climates that need winter—such as the bulbs we plant in our gardens for spring bloom. They can get by with a shorter winter, or artificial cooling period, to bloom. Bulb growers in Europe started taking advantage of this about 300 years ago, as relayed by Patricia Coccoris of Holland in her book, “The Curious History of the Bulb Vase.”

The timing

Buy spring-blooming bulbs now. Bulbs ordered from catalogs begin shipping here around the beginning of October because bulbs normally need to be planted outdoors when the soil cools, but before it freezes in December.

For bulb forcing, figure 12 weeks minimum of “cool treatment,” however tulips need 13 weeks or more. Once the minimum is met, you can stagger when you start warming up the bulbs. You can aim for specific bloom times during our cabin fever months, January through March, or maybe even later into spring when we get those depressingly late, tulip-breaking snow storms.

The best bulbs

Smith said he used to tell people to buy the premium-sized bulbs for forcing, but now he thinks he gets more bloom for his buck with the smaller grades of bulbs. Premium hyacinth bulbs go for more than a dollar apiece in the John Scheepers catalog, but you might find smaller bargain bulbs and have more, if only medium-sized blooms, for the same amount.

Smith said some varieties of bulbs are easier to force and bulb catalogs often will mention which ones. Varieties seem to go in and out of vogue so don’t be surprised if Smith’s are hard to find.

Hyacinth is the classic forcing bulb, growing 10-12 inches tall. Each stalk is covered in tiny florets. Smith looks for Pink Pearl, Queen of the Pinks, White Pearl, L’Innocence (white), Blue Jacket, Delft Blue and Blue Giant.

2017-10 Bulb forcing 2

Crocus-sized bulb-forcing vases are harder to find. Photo by Barb Gorges.

All varieties of crocus force well. Smith’s favorite varieties are Remembrance (purple), Blue Ribbon, Giant Yellow and Jeanne d’Arc (white). Only 4-5 inches tall, they are usually planted as a mass.

Iris reticulata, though related to the summer-blooming bearded iris, grows only 4-6 inches high. Recommended for rock gardens, mine bloomed outside at the end of last February, but it would be nice not to have to brave winter winds to enjoy it. Smith said all the varieties force well. Scheepers lists eight ranging in color from white to blue to deep purple, all marked with a bit of yellow.

Almost any daffodil (narcissus) will work well for forcing, said Smith. The popular Paperwhite narcissus, however, is a tropical bulb, so it doesn’t need cooling.

Tulips, said Smith, are the hardest to force. They need the longest cooling time, minimum 13 weeks. They also may get floppy and need staking. Look for the earliest varieties, those that would otherwise bloom outdoors here (winter-hardiness zone 5) in April.

There are a variety of other, more difficult spring-blooming bulbs to experiment with: snowdrops, grape hyacinth (muscari) and squill (scilla).

Bulb-forcing vases

Bulb-forcing vases are not easy to find this fall. Your best bet is Amazon or eBay. These vases, usually glass, are pinched near the top, providing a cup for the bulb to sit suspended so that only its base touches the water. You watch as the roots grow to fill the rest of the vase and the flower stem sprouts. For this forcing method, you can cool just the bulbs in your refrigerator for the recommended time. Be sure hyacinth bulbs don’t touch produce.

If you are lucky enough to find a bulb forcing vase, remember to change the water regularly.

2017-10 Bulb forcing 4

These hyacinth bulbs have been potted up and will be set in a 2-foot deep trench in the vegetable garden and mulched with straw or pine needles for their 12-week “cool treatment.”  Small bulbs, like crocus, need a half inch of soil covering them. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Potted bulbs

Smith pots his bulbs. Without a cellar between 35 and 45 degrees, he instead buries the pots in a 2-foot-deep trench in his vegetable garden. He then backfills the trench with straw or pine needles. The mulch allows moisture to percolate down, whether the bulbs are watered by hand or by snow, and allows in air.

Pots can be plastic or clay. However, if you have a fancy one, you may want to use it as a cache pot in which you insert the utilitarian pot that was buried.

Put only one type of bulb in a pot because different types sprout at different rates.

The depth of the pot should allow 2 inches or more of potting soil under the bulb with the bulb tip just a little below the rim of the pot.

Smith said regular packaged potting soil will do. Potting soil can be very dry, so mix it with water in an old dishpan or bucket before spooning it into the pot as the layer that will be under the bulbs. Then set the bulbs on top, right side up. The root end can have bits of root left and the shoot end is usually pointier.

You can pack the bulbs in, nearly shoulder to shoulder, leaving just a little space between them. Then fill in with more potting soil. Smith said the top third of the bulb can be left exposed, but crocus and iris bulbs need to be covered a half inch deep.

Label the pot so you remember what’s in it—especially if you do more than one kind. Mark where you bury the pot. And mark your calendar for when to bring the pot in.

Chill out

While the potted bulbs are chilling in the dark, make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. You may need to lift the mulch and water once a month if it’s a dry winter.

Coming in from the cold

When you bring a pot in, Smith recommends putting it in a dim room at 60 degrees or cooler until the shoots are a few inches tall. Then move it to a bright window and 65 degrees. “Buried to blooming” may take two weeks. Turn pots every day to keep plants growing straight.

Flowers can last a week or two. Once in bloom, you can prolong it by setting the pot farther from the window and keeping the room’s temperature at 65 degrees.

Afterward

The advantage to planting forced bulbs in potting soil is that you can give them a second life. Cut back the spent flowers and keep watering until the leaves turn yellow. Plant the bulbs out in the garden when the soil thaws, where they might bloom again in two years.

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Update March 1, 2018:

The bulbs for the vases were left in the refrigerator for a couple of months to cool and taken out in early January.

Also in early January I brought in the pot of hyacinth and the pot of crocus that were buried in the vegetable garden and covered with a foot of leaf mulch.

The bulbs in vases didn’t do well. They couldn’t seem to grow enough roots. That hyacinth stalk of flowers was about 15 percent the size of the ones in the pot.

I felt sorry for the crocus bulbs in the tiny vases and soon planted them in dirt where they were much happier. That proves you could cool your bulbs in the fridge and then plant them in soil, without wintering them in the garden. But the pot of crocus that did spend two months buried did very well. Interestingly, the yellow crocus bloomed before any of the shades of purple.

I would force bulbs again. If I plant the hyacinth bulbs individually, they would be easier to share with friends, or I could stagger the dates I bring them indoors, prolonging the season of sweet-smelling flowers.

2017-10 bulb forcing 5

Iris reticulata bulbs were forced to bloom indoors one spring, then replanted outside in the garden in early summer where they bloomed the next spring. Photo by Barb Gorges.