Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bulbs Rule!

So the first thing all us bulb maniacs are going to have to do this year is find a source for real quinine water. It’s what tonic water used to be, but is much harder to find nowadays. The reason we need it is that we’ve just got a tip from a friend back from England who tell us that if you soak your crocus bulbs in quinine before planting, the squirrels will totally ignore them. Brilliant!

Tip number two, applies to planting anemone blanda. Forget about trying to dig among the tree roots, just soak the bulbs in water for 24 hours and then scatter among the roots where you want them to go and cover with an inch of compost. If you have a terrible squirrel problem, this might not be the right technique for you, but I’m going to try it. I figure the bulbs are so affordable that it’s worth experimenting, because there’s nothing like a swath of anemones to make spring perfect.

Another tip for peeps with squirrels is to push the bulbs under or next to existing perennials, as squirrels also check out fresh planting beds, and to spray the area with a pepper and egg repellent. You can also do the thing where you make a kind of pita pocket sandwich of small gage chicken wire for the bulbs and bury them in that to defeat the squirrels, but remember that the gage has to be small enough for the squirrels not to get at the bulbs, but big enough for the plant to push through, which means different size holes for different size bulbs.

Okay, I guess I should back up and fess up to being a bulb junkie, but there’s really nothing better then the bang for the buck you get with bulbs. And bulbs, starting with fall blooming crocus and extending all the way through oriental lilies, are an easy peasy way to extend palette of your garden without a significant expenditure. Consider the lily. It costs at least $20 to buy one pre-grown pot of three bulbs, get the bulbs straight you can get a whole sea of lilies, and they’re a lot easier to plant.

When this frigging heat wave ends, it’ll be prime bulb planting time, and there are a few rules you should know about bulbs.

One – plant all bulbs at least three times as deep as the bulb is wide. Two – it’s good to put the pointy end up, but you don’t have to, they will orient themselves. Three – always add bulb food or fertilizer to the hole when you plant. And when any old bulbs come up, fertilize them as well. And finally, four – you must let the foliage stay in place until it yellows and withers away. This is the most important rule, as a failing to do so means the bulbs can’t rebuild their nutrient supplies and they’ll start to fail.

Five – if you want to naturalize them in the grass you need to know that you’re not going to be able to mow that grass and it’s going to get to be at least knee high and not lawn like. My mowing guys laugh about at my lawn when they start mowing around my bulbs and say it looks like it’s got hair plugs that have gone crazy. Daffodil foliage can last up to 12 weeks so you do the math and if you can’t handle an untidy lawn, keep your bulbs in a bed.

Six – sunlight. Most bulbs need as much of it as they can get, excepting the woodland ones like English bluebells and Wood hyacinths, so try and plant them accordingly.  And remember that even though most bulbs bloom before the trees leaf out, they will need sun on their leaves to come back strong next year, so please don’t put Daffodils deep under Norway maples and then be surprised when they don’t thrive.

Seven – you need to wait until the soil temperature is between 40-60 degrees, so it’s looking like it’s going to be mid October before anything gets planted, but you run out and stock up now, because other bulb maniacs are already out there shopping. Marders got in this amazing new white parrot tulip that sold out the same week. They also have only a few bags of the white Allium Mt. Everest left, so skedaddle over there quick, quick, quick.

I’m braving tulips in a deer safe area so I’m in bulb friggin’ heaven, choosing deep blues and hot reds, which I’m sneaking into the house in waves, hoping my husband doesn’t notice, but (rule number eight) if you do have deer don’t do Tulips. It’s close to impossible to spray/protect them from the marauders, but not to fret, there’s more for you then just Daffodils. You get to try the world of alliums and what’s known in the trade as the minor bulbs. Camassia, Scilla, Leucojum, Puschkinia, Colchicum, Chionodoxa, the names sound overwhelming, but these bulbs are easy, hardy, deer resistant, affordable and beautiful. Now who doesn’t love those words when speaking about gardens?

Paige Patterson couldn’t resist 3 Japanese forest grasses on sale and is sure she can find a spot for them somewhere.

Friday, September 2, 2011

After The Fall

I was going to write about the way the light captures the fall colors and how, finally, trees and shrubs are on sale in all the nurseries and about the amazing deals to be found out there if you know how to look, but Irene interfered with my plans. Instead I get to talk about the clean up that happens after nature has a big party.

In many ways we were hugely lucky out here. Most of the rain missed us, so the number of trees that would have just slipped out of the ground and laid flat on the ground are significantly less. Now I’m without power and they say I’ll be that way until at least Friday, but none of the tools I would need are electric, instead I’m going to be getting a nice workout if my leg wasn’t in a cast. So I’m going to have help, and they’re going to get the good workout and I’m going to point.
First thing straight off the bat — be careful! Do not try and tackle any limbs or deal with any tree damage that is anywhere near power lines. Secondly, if you are using a chain saw, make sure you are not working alone. Now I am an animated talker and flail my hands around when speaking, or so I’m told. I made the mistake of engaging my husband in a long discussion while holding a running chainsaw. He says it’s a terrible thing to see — another human being waving a chainsaw and gesturing with it with no apparent self-awareness and has since suggested strongly that I never pick one up again. I can’t say he’s wrong, so if like me, you are an emotive speaker, I would let the more reserved person run the machine with the whirring, possibly flesh eating teeth. You, like I would if I wasn’t injured, could then be the “dragger away of the nicely sawn off limb.” But again, be careful.

You are also going to have to make some hard decisions. If you are taking off so much of the tree that it is no longer going to look balanced, it’s actually best to remove the whole thing, otherwise you are just creating more problems.

Try and make clean cuts angled so that when it rains, water doesn’t collect on the cut; and don’t cut flush against the trunk of the tree, but try and cut so that you leave a little bit of branch. Do not cover the cut with anything, as you want it to heal naturally. Don’t worry about it being perfect right now; we’re doing triage not plastic surgery at this point.

And the best thing to do would be to chip up the wood and add it to your piles of grass clippings that need carbon to become better compost, or to just get it into piles and let it start to break down on it’s own.

Most importantly, if like me, you have a number of prone trees you must try and immediately get them stood back up and cabled. And you should know that there’s a good chance the tree is not going to survive. If the roots have been exposed to air, the chance of the tree making it is not good. My trees are leaning very badly, all victims of root rot I believe thanks to my overwatering habits, but the remaining roots are still below the soil. Some of the roots have most likely snapped so the tree has lost a significant part of its support system and its digestive system. You are going to have to really cross your fingers and pray. You should use at least three cables in a Y formation and make sure the actual wires are not wrapping around the tree but are encased in a protective sleeve. Bolting into the tree is okay, if done by a professional, but I’ll be hoisting mine up on my own since they’re not that large (okay, okay, I’m going to ask the guys that help me with the lawn if they have time, but I’m not holding my breath.)

Now don’t get carried away and start pruning just because you have a pruning saw in your hand, it’s still a little too early for that. Go pull all the debris out of your shrubs instead and if you’re still feeling all ambitious you can go play around in the vegetable garden and seed fall lettuce!
Plus there’s the mess that was the perennial beds. Get out all the branches and debris and then do judicious cutting back. Prop up the dahlias, but everything that has an actual bend in it (if it’s floppy in your hands) gets cut right beneath the bend. Deadhead like your life depends on it as there’s still time for lots of plants to keep pushing flowers. Any casualties and empty holes can be replaced by some of those amazing fall perennials I talked about last month.
Besides, don’t the nurseries all have sales going on now?

Paige Patterson is truly impressed by the death of the street tree in front of her house. Snapped cleanly off right at the base.