The Bulb Garden

They’re in all the shops, being blogged about on all the gardening blogs and gardeners are boasting about how many they have.  Bulbs.  The promise of spring blossoms – or in some cases late winter blooms – is hard for us to resist.  When the nearby adult education center put on a bulb workshop for free, I decided that it was time to start the bulb garden.

I pictured clumps of tulips and daffodils and I’d planned to plant out bulbs that I’d been given in pots and that I’d saved to replant outside.  Some of these would produce lilies.  Add to that the Irises that badly needed dividing. They were beautiful last year – how much better will they be this coming summer with all the extra TLC they are getting.

After a quick trip to the garden center, (actually – there’s no such thing as a ‘quick’ trip to a garden center) three dozen tulip bulbs and another five dozen daffodil bulbs later, I reckoned I’d have a great bulb population for my patch.

Hmmm – my patch. Taking advantage of a spare pair of green thumbs- my Mum is visiting from Ireland – I decided  to remove an area of the red lava stone that covers a lot of our property and work the soil beneath it.

But first I wanted to hear what the workshop advised.   It was given by a master gardener and I learned three very important things.  The first dismayed me.

1) Tulips don’t grow well in California!

They need six to eight weeks in a cold place and should be treated like annuals here.  And I had three dozen of them.  It is recommended that they are kept in the fridge for six weeks.  During that time no other fruits such as apples should be stored in the fridge as they give off gases that kill the growing bud.  Even a warm up of half an hour will undo all your good work, so no taking them out of the fridge to make room for Thanksgiving!

When the time comes I’ll post about how I plant them up.  I’ll be using containers. So no tulips in the bulb garden, sadly.

2) Plant your bulbs three times deeper than the height of your bulb.  That is – if your bulb is an inch long you need to dig three inches down to bury it.

3) If an Iris rhizome has five or more leaves on it, it will blossom next season.

When replanting Irises it is best to think of a clock face about twelve inches in diameter.  Place around the clock at 12, 3, 6 and 9.  Orientate the leaves to the center and the rhizome outwards.  This part continues to grow under the soil.

Removing the red lava stones was a chore.  In places, there was black plastic beneath it, before we could even get to any soil.  In other places, the soil was churned up with the stones, so it wasn’t a simple matter of just shoveling off the stones as we were losing half our growing medium.  Mum came up with the idea of sieving the stones with a riddle that we fashioned out of garden center ‘flats’ and bird netting.

A slow process but effective for the most part.  Here you can see the border between the lava stones on the left and the prepared bed to the right.  Inside the stone circle you can see my Gogi berry bush.  It’s dormant – not dead – honestly!

Interestingly, the Irises had been growing in the stones and not in the soil below.  In some cases they had black plastic beneath them. 

We amended the soil with steer manure.  It cost $1.20 a bag.  We also added some old soil from pots that I had sitting about.  The soil was spent but we just needed to add bulk to the plot.  As it was, we were hard pushed to dig the bulbs in as deep as they should be.  Fingers crossed on that one.

To get a natural look with our daffodils we just scattered them randomly on the soil and planted them where they fell.  We clumped the lilies but are not sure if they even grow.  Come springtime I’m hoping for some nice surprises in this patch.  To deter the squirrels and other critters from digging up our bulbs, I sprinkled cayenne pepper over the plot, along with Sluggo of course.  I think I need to buy shares in the Sluggo company!

Finally two more points on planting bulbs. 

Plant them in clumps , not straight lines.  And the pointy end goes up!

Byddi Lee

6 replies to The Bulb Garden

  1. Informative post! I never would have thought growing tulips would be a challenge in California. I see now the point of refrigerating them. In fact, if one can't get out to plant due to bad weather, it is recommended to refrigerate too. Good advice about fruit and bulbs. We plant our bulbs twice the depth and it works well in our cold climate (zone 3). I look forward to seeing your flower beds in the spring! (Which, by the way, starts when for you?)

  2. What great tips! I planted some bulbs earlier this month and I just ordered some more because they were on sale. Now I have to find more room to plant bulbs.

  3. Hi Shirley – to me spring is in January here. In fact as soon as it starts to rain in the fall the California natives spring to life so you could say we have two springs!

    Meemsnyc – you'll always find room for bulbs…and they are great in pots too – just make sure they are tall pots and terracotta ones are best.

  4. I like the light bulb demonstration.
    I hope your bulbs grow well for you.

  5. The light bulb demonstration was a 'bright' idea! Great post, I'm envious becuase I never seem to get flower bulbs into the garden. Looking forward to seeing them grow.

  6. LOL, I love the last pic! I'm looking forward to seeing your bulb garden light up in spring! We abandoned the notion of growing tulips here because deer think they're caviar! Gophers love them too. They seem to do alright in pots or half barrels though. I once planted 100 irises that a friend gave me when she divided hers, but something devoured the lot, so I haven't tried Irises again. Thankfully, despite the critter challenges, daffodils do fabulously well here, and I expect yours will do great. They're deer proof, and gopher proof, and you can't ask for more than that!

Comments are closed.