In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
October, 2004
Regional Report

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Dutch iris intermingles with lavender blossoms.

Plant Bulbs

As temperatures finally cool this month, there are so many gardening opportunities I hardly know where to point my trowel first. How about a hole for a vine to cover a wall? Fill a container with herbs? Maybe sow some Asian greens? Plant bulbs? Yup, bulbs show up first on the list today.

Solarizing the Bulb Bed
Master Gardener interns (a.k.a. "The Bulbies") have been helping me with the Bulb Demonstration Garden at Maricopa County Cooperative Extension. In the midst of summer heat, they good-naturedly lifted the existing bulbs so that we could spread plastic and solarize the soil to kill a few jillion weed seeds.

This project seems to have had the desired effect, as the weed scourge is held at bay. (I'm leery of putting that statement down in black and white as it might encourage tenacious weeds to germinate when I turn my back, just to spite me.) Only a bit of spurge popped up where the edges of plastic were held down with rocks. A few marigolds sprouted in the same place, so there's a tough flower recommendation for you!

The Bulbies have been replanting such bulbs as lycoris (spider lily), zephyranthes (rain lily), chasmanthe, Dutch iris, freesia and watsonia. We've also ordered some new bulbs, including a few that I've never tried in the low desert, such as snowdrops. Other unusual bulb choices that do well here include tritonia, babiana, sparaxis and ixia.

Planting Tips
Plant bulbs in soil that has been improved with plenty of compost or other organic matter. Bulbs need excellent drainage, so loosen soil to a depth of at least 12 to 18 inches. Sprinkle a teaspoon of bone meal for phosphorus and blood meal for nitrogen in the bottom of each planting hole. Phosphorus encourages blooming; nitrogen is for healthy green foliage. Or use a fertilizer formulated for bulbs and flowering plants according to package instructions. Bulb packages will tell you how deep to plant, but if you're sharing with gardening friends, a general guideline is 2 to 2-1/2 times the bulb diameter.

I'm so inspired that I think I'll go buy some more bulbs!


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