Lots of questions coming in this month from people planning their gardens-flower questions in particular are what came in. Although there isn't too much we in Fairfield county can do right now in our gardens, we can be plotting out what containers we can place out come spring. With a tiny amount of planning, you can be one of the first in your neighborhood to display early spring color.
There are 2 types of flowers: annuals and perennials. Annuals are planted every year typically in the spring or early summer and will only last for the season meaning you will not get more than one season from the flower. Perennials are planted one time and come up year after year. They often get big enough that they can be split and although they come back every year they may get large enough to require splitting or the plants will choke each other and die.
Potted bulbs versus forced bulbs:
People often associate forced bulbs with amaryllis bulbs or paper whites bulbs which can be found on many store shelves ready to gift during the holiday season. Forcing a bulb is taking the bulbs and placing it close enough to the surface that the bulbs are tricked into believing that it is time to bloom hence the name forced bulbs. Typically forced bulbs are surrounded by rocks, moss or decorative material rather than dirt since deep roots are not required. A potted bulb is a bulb that has been planted at the proper depth in soil and will only bloom once the soil and air conditions reach the correct proportions.
How deep should I plant the bulbs?
As a rule of thumb bulbs should be planted 2 to 3 times the bulb's height. A crocus for example would be planted 3 inches beneath the soil.
How far apart do I need to space the bulbs?
Each package of bulbs will come with it's own directions based on the type of bulbs. The best visual impact is achieved by planting no fewer than 5 bulbs of one type together. The most efficient way to do this is to dig holes wide enough to plant the grouping at one time.
What side is up on a bulb?
Think of a bulb as a pyramid, and plant with the widest section down.
What type of potting soil should I buy?
Regardless of type, potting soil should contain compost, make sure that is on the list of ingredients. When it comes to compost, the description should read along the lines of aged forest products. Remember, compost can mean yard waste or sewage and that is not the compost that you desire for your bulbs. Compost is a key ingredient because it acts as a Ph buffer and reduces the need to fertilize. The four types of potting soil are all purpose, premium, professional and plant specific. If you like to tinker and desire to add plant food for your plants, rather than buying plant specific potting soil (ie for cactus or African violets), then all purpose is the way to go. Planting a variety of species and looking for the best chance of growth? If the answer is yes than premium mixes are the way to go, they typically help with water drainage and aeration and contain the proper compost levels. Professional potting soil is typically the highest quality available in your area and come from local family owned garden shops where the potting soil has been mixed locally with the proper composts added.
Can I reuse potting soil?
The answer is both yes and no. To begin, only use the amount of potting soil that is required for the plants, not the pot. A pot that is 2 feet tall and 18 inches in circumference rarely is ever needs to be completely filled with potting soil, especially for bulbs. Consider inverting a smaller pot, filling space with closed bottles or other materials to take up space. Questions to consider: Did you buy the correct type of potting soil the first time? If you picked premium or professional you are more likely to be able to reuse it. Are you using it for the right type of plants? Using Potting Mix for African violets even if it is new is not the right pick for tulip bulbs for example. Are you willing to dump out the old potting soil and give it a little TLC? If you picked the right soil the first time, if you are not planting something with specific potting soil requirements, and if you can invest a small amount of TLC time, then yes, reuse your potting soil. I like to place a large tarp down, dump all my container soil out, sort threw and discard the stems, roots and debris and if I don't need to increase the volume (meaning that I physically need more soil) then I add a few handfuls of compost or spray it with compost tea.
What am I doing in my personal containers right now? What tricks do I use?
I have my bulbs purchased and stored in the darkest, driest part of my basement, containers cleaned and will use February to stalk mother nature for the one perfect day where the temperature get high enough that I can dump and reuse my Spring/Summer 2012 potting soil. If opportunity doesn't knock by mid-February, I'll do this task in the garage and clean it up with the blower later. Are you wondering why I didn't do this in the fall like all the typical gardening books say? Truth be told fall is one of the busiest times of my life personally and professionally and I simply don't get to it, it has never one time stopped me from having beautiful container pots doing them in mid-winter as opposed to fall! I use 18 inch pots with 15 inch pots inverted inside to use less soil-economically and environmentally friendly. What a great way to re-purpose a pot that doesn't fit your decor, is chipped or is too small in scale for your space? I have re-purposed window screens from broken screens and yard sales that I have cut to fit the top of my pots to prevent little critters from wanting my bulbs once I move the pots to the garage or outdoors. A trick of the trade is that maximum impact is achieved by picking one color or hue. Red is the color I picked as they stand out best for my color house. In the 18 inch pots I will plants 18 to 25 bulbs depending on size, place the screen on top, give them one light watering then store them until April when I move them to my garage still protected until daytime temperatures hit 50 degrees consistently and night time frosts are long gone. As bulbs emerge I snip holes and keep the screens in place.
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Stacy Skoldberg is managing partner of GreenSprays, an organic lawn care and tree company. She can be followed on Twitter @greenspraysllc, Facebook: GreenSprays or reached at 203-916-3666,firstname.lastname@example.org.
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