In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
March, 2007
Regional Report

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This precocious summer lily couldn't wait for summer!

First Sign of Spring

I'm generally a very patient person, but sometimes waiting for spring is just more than I can handle. I know it's just around the corner, so I tour the garden on a daily basis, hoping to find a single swollen bud or newly emerging crocus -- some sign that the garden is springing back to life. Imagine my surprise to round a corner and find a 'Stargazer' lily in full bloom in the middle of February! Life is good!

Lilies are summer bloomers so this one is quite an exception to the rule. I remember that it was a gift, probably potted and grown in a greenhouse prior to being given to me, and I suppose I stuck it in the ground with hopes of nurturing it back to health. Our winter wasn't mild but the site was well protected, and the lily seems to have retained her slightly-out-of-sync internal clock. She may revert to a more normal bloom time as she matures, but in the meantime I'm loving her display!

Traditional Spring Bloomers
In my garden, the usual sequence of spring bloom begins with grape hyacinth and crocus, then narcissus and tulips. As they come into bloom, I apply a top-dressing of 5-10-5 fertilizer to give the bulbs a boost. A high-phosphorus, low-nitrogen fertilizer helps them develop a strong bulb. As the flowers fade, I cut the flowering stem down to the base of the foliage, but allow the foliage to yellow and die down on its own. The leaves are necessary to rejuvenate the bulbs for next year's flower show.

Dig Bulbs
Once the leaves have completely yellowed, the bulbs are ready to dig up. I use a garden fork, sinking it into the soil well outside the clump and gently rocking it back and forth to unearth the bulbs. Take care in digging so you don't bruise the bulbs or accidentally impale them with the garden fork.

Clean and Inspect
After digging, wash the dirt away from the bulbs with a hose. Freeing them this way allows you to easily break apart the bulbs in the clump without too much damage to the roots. Examine the bulbs carefully and discard any that feel soft or have any symptoms of disease. If any are badly damaged, discard them, too.

Dry and Store
Once the bulbs are clean and dry, put each variety or cultivar into its own mesh bag. I save the bags that onions, oranges and potatoes come in, and use them for this purpose. Write the name of the variety on a plastic tag and tie it to the mesh bag.

Keep the bulbs in a cool, dry place until replanting time (autumn in our gardening region). If you must, you can replant the bulbs in their new spot immediately, but I find that a period of rest is beneficial to the bulbs. I replant mine in October after preparing the soil by spreading a 3-inch layer of compost over the top of the bed and digging it in to a depth of about 12 inches.

Divide and Conquer
I tend to encourage the narcissus bulbs in my yard to naturalize rather than digging and storing every year. But after 4 or 5 years they become overcrowded. I know it's time to divide when blooms are less than spectacular or I find more foliage than flowers in the bed. I wait until early fall and renovate the planting, carefully removing all the bulbs, working some compost into the bed and then replanting, spacing the bulbs about 4 inches apart. Then I sit back and enjoy, knowing they'll perform well for another 4 or 5 years.


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