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Friday, June 19, 2015

Storing bulbs for next season

If you happen to come across spring bulbs as you dig in your garden this summer, don't discard them in defeat. Instead, selectively set aside those in good shape to plant in the fall.

Tulips and daffodils are among my favorite flowers and I love them in profusion. Yet I don't worship the ground they bloom on; once they're done, I need the space for something else. In some areas of my yard I've mixed early bulbs with perennials that emerge later in the season. I also plant annuals after bulb flowers die back. In these cases I just leave the bulbs in the ground all year.

But face it, landscapes change so much in the season that it's hard to remember exactly where a bulb may lie. My shovel inevitably finds a few!

Here's the most important tip of bulb storage: Only save healthy, whole ones. See my picture? Split happens. Don't save such a bulb. You know how you can save a whole onion for weeks and weeks, but once you slice it it spoils quickly? It's the same idea with bulbs. Cut surfaces invite mold and rot.

If your dug-up bulb has foliage, keep it on until it fades from green to brown. (Confession time: while I know that bulbs derive nourishment for next year's bloom from this year's leaves, I'm not positive if they get the exact same benefit once removed from the ground. It's easier, though, to detach the bulb for storage once you let the foliage die out. No matter what, they can bloom again, I promise.) Besides, if you accidentally dug them up what do you have to lose?

Remove excess mud or dirt from roots, then spread bulbs out to dry (they will have some moisture from being in the ground). A nursery flat is ideal for this. Let any foliage go brown. You can ignore them for a while, then eventually pack the bulbs in a paper sack, separating out any that are blemished. I haven't been too fussy about where I store them -- basement, shed -- it hasn't seemed to matter much. Probably more important (at least for me) is making myself a note on the calendar where I put them!

You may wonder, what do bulbs have to do with running a backyard farm? I have had great success for several years with bulbs as place-keepers in my vegetable garden boxes. When I pull out tomatoes at the end of fall I plant the garden box with bulbs. They brighten my days when they bloom in the spring, and also take the space away from opportunistic weeds. Once the flowers fade I pull each stem and bulb from the ground; when the ground is just right I don't have to use tools for this, just my hands. The tenancy and removal of tulips seems to aerate the soil, too.  In a matter of weeks my box goes from this:

to this:

I'll revisit this topic in the fall with other tips for planting bulbs. Oh, better put it on the calendar!


David said...

Jennifer, I have a tendency to wait way too long to rejuvenate my bulb beds. I have a couple the need to be totally rejuvenated badly but it just never seems to get to the top of the todo list. I've never tried to store bulbs but always plant fresh from the nursery or big box store. I have pretty good luck with just off the shelf Walmart bulbs.

It's really good to see you blogging more often again. Have a great bulb storing day.


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