In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
November, 2000
Regional Report

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It's time to plant wildflowers too, such as our classic California poppy.

Bulb Planting Time!

While most of the country has put its gardens to bed, early November in California means planting, pruning, and getting beds ready for spring. One of my favorite fall gardening chores is buying and planting spring- flowering bulbs. With a little forethought, bulbs planted now can bring years of pleasure. The keys are variety selection and site preparation.

Perfect Bulbs for Our Climate

Bulbs are the perfect answer to a dry summer climate like California's. They soak up winter rains in the cool season, producing abundant foliage, which sets the stage for spring bloom. When rains stop and the weather turns dry in summer, the bulbs are already finished for the year and are awaiting the next wet season to begin their growth cycle again. As a matter of fact, it's best not to water while the foliage is dying back - you take the chance of rotting the bulbs as they rest in the soil.

Hardy Bulbs

Crocus, daffodils, freesia, grape hyacinth, Leucojum, and Watsonia are hardy spring- flowering bulbs that can be left in the ground from year to year in the arid western climate with little or no additional care. If possible, plant these hardy bulbs in an area that won't receive any irrigation water during the dry summer months. If you don't want to look at the foliage as it dries in the late spring, overplant the bulb beds with tall annual plants that don't require much water such as cosmos or giant marigolds. The annuals will hide the faded foliage of the bulbs while putting on a show of their own.

Bulb Buying Tips

When selecting bulbs at the nursery, look for large, heavy bulbs. There should be no signs of rot or fungus and the papery coverings should be in place. Bulbs are graded by size. The larger the bulb size, the larger the flower. The largest daffodils and narcissus are graded DN#1 down to DN#3.

However, the largest flowers aren't always the most desirable. Sometimes you may want a bulb with a smaller flower such as the beautiful 'February Gold' or 'Minnow' daffodils to grace a smaller planting bed. Select a site in full sun or under a deciduous tree. When the tree loses its leaves in the winter, sun will fall on the planting bed.

Soil Preparation

After you select your bulbs, soil preparation is the next important step. Although bulbs will grow in clay or sandy soil, they will thrive and flower best in soil that is loose in texture and rich in organic matter. As always, you can't go wrong by adding organic compost to your existing garden beds.

Fertilizer Choices

There is no need to add supplemental fertilizer if the soil is in good shape. First-year bulbs have all the energy they need to flower the next spring. However, for established plantings, add an annual fertilizer treatment of organic products such as bone meal, blood meal, or cottonseed meal.

Time Your Planting

Planting should be done after the soil has cooled for the year. If you plant too early in the season, or if the soil is warm to the touch, the bulbs will begin to grow immediately. Early growth causes weak stems, low- growing flowers, and foliage and flowers that will be unable to withstand the worst winter weather. If you wait to plant until after the soil has cooled, roots will grow first, strongly anchoring the bulbs in the soil so that they are able to take up nutrients and support healthy foliage and flowers.

The Toss Method

Toss the bulbs out across the prepared planting bed and plant them where they land. Bulbs look best when planted in groups, so plan to put several of the same variety in the same location. When planting bulbs, it's most important to place the pointed end up. Stab down deep into the soil with a trowel, pull the soil back, then push the bulb into the hole, making sure the hole depth is twice the height of the bulb. Press the bulb firmly into the planting hole, then pat the soil back in place to cover the bulb. Water immediately after planting and weekly until winter rains begin in earnest.

Deterring Gophers

If gophers are a problem in your area, place a handful of crushed granite in the planting hole before adding the bulb. The roots will push easily through the granite, but the gophers will get a mouthful of rock if they try to eat the resting bulbs.

After the bulbs have finished blooming in spring, carefully remove spent flowers with clippers or scissors. This will cause the bulb to put most of its energy into the foliage instead of forming a seed. The nutrients held in the foliage are what strengthen the bulb for next year's crop of flowers. Keep the foliage watered until it begins to turn yellow. At that point, withhold water altogether until the foliage is completely dry.


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