I did it again. Last spring, in a fit of gardening fervor brought on by the first flowers of the season, I put in an order for more spring bulbs, to be delivered in the fall. With my yard full of crocuses, glory of the snow, and miniature irises—and not much else—it was easy to see where those new bulbs should be planted.
Now it’s October, and I just received delivery. Yes, my box of bulbs arrived just ahead of our first snowstorm of the season. Now I have to plant them. Today.
One drawback of living at 7,100 feet is that spring drags its feet. I see the blue sky outside and assume warm sunshine to go with it. Yet, I step one foot out the door and my teeth start to chatter—as much because of the icy winds as the frigid temperatures. We may have two or more months of snow yet to endure, but I’m ready for spring. There’s only one solution.
I can’t afford a plane ticket to Cancún, or even a road trip to San Diego, but I can drive to a (relatively) lower elevation. While the eastern states’ climate zones are determined by latitude, ours are determined by altitude. It’s amazing how much impact a couple thousand feet can have on the arrival of spring. Continue reading “Ups and Downs”
The weather has been too nice. One might even think that Spring has come to stay. Usually, this time of year is marked by freezing cold and wet snowstorms. I’m sure the snow will return, but the past week or so has been so gorgeous, it would be easy to be deceived.
While I was thrilled to find some crocuses and a pair of early daffodils in our yard, they weren’t enough for this green-starved soul. Denver is almost 2,000 feet lower than my home in Colorado Springs—surely there would be flowers galore at the botanic gardens. With a storm in the forecast, I didn’t want to delay. I headed north.
It’s easy to be taken in by the catalog photos. Acres of daffodils, blooming cheerily in the sunshine. Vibrant crocuses popping up through the melting snow. Tulips—so many kinds, so many colors! Surely, if I would just order these bulbs, my spring garden will look just like the pictures.
Your knees were creaking and your back was aching, but your bulbs were now nestled in their holes, safely underground, waiting for spring. All winter, with its bare branches and mono-colored landscape, you dreamed of sunshiny daffodils, pastel hyacinths, an entire palette of tulips. Then, finally, the weather warmed and the first green leaves appeared. With mounting anticipation, you checked the daily progress of those early flowering bulbs. And then—finally!—the buds appeared, the flowers opened… and flopped over.
Imagine that it’s wintertime. Anything verdant and green has long turned to brown. Limbs lie leafless. A few berries may yet hang on the shrubs. We’re already eager for spring, but the growing season is still months away. Wouldn’t this be the perfect time to enjoy bright red tulips, or the sweet aroma of blooming narcissus? If you want to enjoy these and other mid-winter flowers, now is the time to start forcing bulbs.
Pretty much any spring bulb can be forced. All we have to do is fool them into thinking that spring has arrived—in the middle of January. To do that, we have to plan ahead—up to 15 weeks ahead.
The first crocus of spring. Sunny yellow daffodils naturalized under trees. Beds full of crimson tulips—it all starts now.
After gardening all summer, it’s hard to add yet another chore to the pile of things to do this month, but planting bulbs should be near the top of the list. Getting them in early not only affords you the best selection at the garden center, but gives roots time to grow in still-warm soil, preventing frost heave and providing the best start to next spring’s bloom.
Pick a location that gets plenty of sunlight, particularly if you intend for your bulbs to come back year after year. Most bulb species bloom well the first year, but here in Colorado they tend to diminish with each successive growing season. Especially in the case of tulips, assume that you will need to replace them annually for the best display. Even other species will need ideal growing conditions if they are to increase in size and number.
You may overlook the display at first, hidden among the photos of bright red tulips and sunny daffodils. Bulb planting season is here, and garden centers have towers of cardboard boxes labeled with spring blooms, somewhat incongruous at this time of year. Go ahead and pick out those hyacinths and crocuses, but don’t forget the garlic!
Sure, you can buy garlic at the market, but it’s one of those crops that is much better when home-grown. In this case, it’s not so much the just-harvested freshness as it is the variety. Most grocery stores do not sell the Good Stuff.
We had several inches of snow last night. The fields are white. The driveway is white. In fact, pretty much the only color outside is… white. At least right now the sky is blue.
Now tell me—why do we plant early bulbs with flowers that are white? If snowdrops came in scarlet and crimson, I’d be first in line to buy some. At least crocuses come in yellow and lavender.
My favorite early bloomers are Tête-à-Tête daffodils. Their intense golden yellow color is just what I need after a winter of muted pastels and dead brown. They shrug off each Spring storm, emerging from the melting snow with all their bright cheer unscathed.
I’m sure white flowers have their place. There’s nothing like an all-white flower garden seen by summer moonlight. I like white daisies and white baby’s breath. But at this time of year, when everything in me yearns for color, growing white flowers makes no sense at all!
In my previous posting, I described a number of so-called “minor bulbs” that can have a major impact in the late winter garden. This time, I’ll focus on how to grow them.
You have to plan ahead to enjoy these little beauties. They all need to be planted in the fall, early enough so that they put out some root growth before the ground freezes. Most aren’t easy to find at local stores, and must be ordered from a catalog or online. I prefer to make my decisions on next year’s order while this year’s plants are in bloom.
Unlike the giant hybrids, these bulbs should increase year after year. Since they will be left undisturbed during that time, preparing the soil before planting is especially critical.