Time remains to plant bulbs, gardener says



November 23, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Now is the latest one should plant bulbs for winter, said Tracy Keagle, a master gardener.
Keagle, who ran a yard care business in Iola from 1985 to 2000, became familiar with common mistakes people made preparing their gardens for winter, she said.
Common bulb mistakes, she said, included planting bulbs too shallow and tying back their foliage once they are past bloom.
Bulbs should always be planted at a depth that is 21⁄2 times the width of the bulb. “If a bulb is 1 inch across, plant it 21⁄2 inches deep,” she said. Tulip bulbs, which are usually wider, are typically planted at about 6 inches deep.
Yet this late in the season, she said, it’s OK to plant 1 inch closer to the surface than one normally would.
Plant bulbs in clumps, Keagle advised.
“You can mix them up. Plant tulip bulbs at 6 inches deep, then cover them with an inch of soil and plant smaller bulbs on top of that.”
Such groupings look more natural, she said. Keagle suggested preparing a hole “about the size of a dinner plate” in the flower bed for such groupings.
Bulbs planted together will all come up at the same time, she said, with similar bloom times.
After they are done blooming, Keagle said, do not tie back or cut down foliage. “You want the air to circualte around them” and foliage to remain until it yellows and dies back on its own to ensure the bulbs store enough energy to rebloom the following year.
Instead of single rows of bulbs, Keagle suggested planting bulbs amidst beds of later-blooming perennials to obscure foliage during late spring.
But, she noted, “Always snap the old head — the flower, stem and all — when the flower starts to fade.” This, too, she said, will push energy from the leaves back into the bulb for the coming year.
Bulbs can be planted as long as the ground can be worked and has not frozen, Keagle said.
Those planted later may bloom later the first year, “but they’ll catch up” and bloom on a normal schedule in subsequent years, provided foliage is allowed to grow so the bulb can store energy, she said.
KEAGLE BECAME involved in landscaping by happenstance, she said.
“When I was in my 20s, a neighbor of mine, an older gentleman, was telling me about a book he was reading about leading a successful life.”
When she asked him what money-making schemes the book espoused, he told her “It’s not about money. A successful life is one in which you are happy.”
A friend told Keagle if that’s the case, she should find a job planting flowers.
The chance came.
On one of her regular walks, Keagle said she saw an elderly woman with an unkempt yard — one that had obviously been cared for in the past. The woman said the lawn care man she hired had never shown up, and her health prevented her doing the job herself. Keagle volunteered, spending the day mowing, trimming and putting things in order.
When she went to leave, the woman paid her.
A business was born.
“At one time, I probably had 70 lawns to mow,” Keagel said. “I never used a riding mower.”
And, she said, “I’ve probably planted 10,000 bulbs in my life.”
The work kept Keagle fit and trim as well as busy, but a fall from a roof five years ago curtailed her ability to do yard work.
“I’m not supposed to lift anything over two pounds,” she said.
Still, she readily shares her knowledge.
Another trick to perfect bulbs, Keagle said, is to feed them — not at planting, as many suspect, but when they first blooom.
Keagle suggests using “Miracle Grow or other common liquid fertilizer.”
And, she said, “don’t use bone meal — it will attract animals” that will dig up the bulbs. “Do add phospohorous,” she said.
Phosphorous is essential for blooming.
Ozmacoat or another slow-release granular fertilizer can also be put on bulbs once they begin to bloom, Keagle said. “That’s not going to activate until it gets warmer,” but it will help feed the leaves to ensure future blooming.
Additional tips shared by Keagle include preparing yards for upcoming freezing temperatures.
“There’s really not much to do,” she said. “Don’t cut grass before winter. And I wouldn’t clean any leaves off, but I’d mow them up and scatter them on the garden and lawn. A couple good mowings will chop them up and they act as a natural mulch.”
In addition, she said, “leave crepe myrtle and mum tops on the plants to self mulch.”
Other lawn tips Keagle shared were letting grass get taller than most people allow. This protects it from sunburn and lets it green up easier, she noted.
Mainly, she said, pay attention to soil.
“If you fix that soil the way soil is supposed to be” — full of organic matter and not compacted — “you really don’t have to do a lot to it.”

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