Originally written for
Kitsap Week 2015
It’s garlic planting time — daffodils too!
Autumn signals the fall — the fall of leaves, the fall of plants and the fall of this tired gardener onto the couch for a long winter nap.
I can hear you say, yes!
Not so fast, it’s not time to relax, it’s time to plan for next year. Yep — it’s spring bulb-planting time. Grab those bags of tulips, crocus and narcissus, sharpen your shovels and trowels and let’s dig in.
Don’t forget the garlic and shallots. In the maritime Northwest, we need to plant our garlic in the fall; so grab those bags of pungent bulbs, too. My mouth is salivating when I think about next year’s harvest and the savory dishes they will go into. Add some elephant garlic into the mix, too. You can plant the milder garlic for the table or as an ornamental. If you don’t want to harvest for the table, let the elephant garlic flower, and enjoy the ornamental globe clusters of lavender flowers in late spring.
You can dry the flowers by cutting them right after they lose their hats (the sheath that surrounds the flower bulb). Hang the individual stems upside down in a dark place. Don’t make the same mistake I did, hanging the globes in the back of a coat closet to dry. I forgot about them, and when I opened the door after a few weeks ... let’s just say the smell was robust. The aroma was pungent enough to drive any lurking vampire out of the closet. Once the flowers dried, the pungent odor went away.
Garlic is in the onion family, along with many showy ornamental allium bulbs. Commonly called ornamental onions, we plant now for their flowers that appear sometime in late May to early June of next year. Globes of purple, violet, lavender or pink stand high on long stalks, which look picture-perfect, nestled in with lower shrubs, or grasses and sedges.
The favorite bulbs for spring are tulips and daffodils. They add a lot of flower power at a time where most of the garden is still coming out of their winter slumber. Centuries of breeding tulip varieties bring an outstanding range of colors to choose from, along with an array of bloom time spanning late winter to late spring. You just need to plan where and when you want the color to go off in your garden!
Daffodils have also been bred to the point where you could grow 10 new varieties every year and may never be able to grow them all. Flowers blossom as regal singles, blousy doubles, yellow sepals, white ones too, orange, red or pink cups — small ones, tall ones; well, you get the picture.
What a statement they make in your garden when planted in large groups instead of lined up like soldiers along a walkway. Clump your bulbs in groups of 20 to 25 for maximum impact. Nestle these clumps in next to other plants or large rocks or stumps. Repeat the clumps or plant a drift of color, just keep them together.
With my shovel, I dig holes wide enough for the clump and deep enough for the recommended bulb depth. Since I plant clusters of 25 to 100 bulbs at a time, I don’t like using bulb planters as it takes a lot longer to dig individual holes for each bulb.
A shovel makes short work of digging the hole, throwing in some bone meal, and plopping in all the bulbs at once. After spacing them right side up and close together, yet never in contact with each other, backfill the hole, and water. Top it off with compost or dry mulch, such as a fine bark. In spring when the plants are above ground, the mulch keeps the rain from splashing up mud onto the plants, while suppressing the winter weeds. Mulch provides many other benefits too.
Potting up bulbs in containers for staging later is another way to use them. Stuff the bulbs in to fill the pot horizontally with any of the bulbs you choose. Next year, when they begin to flower, stage them on your porch.
Nothing chases winter away faster than going out on a sunny deck, on a warm spring day. And next to you is a large pot overflowing with fragrant daffodils, or festive tulips at their peak in your favorite color.
Crocus vernus (left) Narcissus 'Merlin' (right)
Tulipa 'West Point' (left) Tulipa 'Ballard Dream' (right)
Narcissus 'Jack Snipe'
Tulipa 'China Pink'(left) Lilium auratum (right)