Archive for October, 2011

October 28, 2011

Selecting and Planting Bulbs

Fall is flying by, but if you’re thinking it’s too late to plant, it’s not!  As long as the ground isn’t frozen you can keep planting.  In fact, fall is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs.

There are a few ways to plant them: individually, clumps, mass plantings or naturalizing.

Clumps of Tulips

Clumps of Tulips & Daffodils (shown with Phlox)

But, before we go there, let’s talk about bulbs.  First, I’m going to use “bulb” in loose terms.  There are actually 4 different types of bulbs (tubers, corms, true bulbs and rhizomes).  I won’t go into too much detail here, but they each have different growth habits and needs, which is why you might notice that not all bulbs behave the same way.  Some get better over time, some decline.  It’s in their nature.

There are many different sizes and varieties of bulbs.  When shopping for bulbs, you want to make sure you buy the biggest, healthy bulbs.  First, make sure the bulb is fresh.  Much like a good onion or head of garlic, you want the bulb to look fresh, be firm to the touch and the bulb’s natural paper (tunic/tunicate) should still be on the bulb and be tight.  Also check basal plate (the flat spot at the bottom), it should be firm, not soft.  If the bulb looks dry, has mold, has bruises, insect damage or the paper is gone, don’t buy it!  It won’t produce a good bloom in the spring.

Once you’ve selected your bulbs, be it tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, crocus, squill or scilla (the list goes on).  Take them home and decide where you’re going to plant them (if you didn’t have a location in mind already).  Most bulbs are sun-loving, but don’t let that scare you or limit where you plant them.  Keep in mind, bulbs bloom before most trees and shrubs have leafed out, so you can plant bulbs in an area that is typically a shade garden (assuming they are deciduous trees and shrubs and not evergreens).

Once you have selected a site, decide on a planting style.  Many of us grew up seeing individual rows of tulips planted across the front of a house.  While pretty, I find bulbs to be far more stunning and make much more of an impact when planted in clumps, waves moving in and out of other plants or in mass.  In general, bulbs are relatively inexpensive so it doesn’t cost a ton of money to make a big statement in the spring.

Mass Planting of Tulips

Mass Planting of Tulips

Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Are you kidding me? I’m not going to plant a lot, they are such a pain to plant!”  That used to be the case when all the only option was a garden trowel, but now there are tons of bulb planting tools available to make the job easier: bulb planters, bulb trowels, bulb (hand) augers, bulb augers for drills, pick axes, you name it.  However, unless you have really hard soil, want to plant each bulb individually for old times sake or want to have them spaced a specific distance away from each other for a mass planting, I think it’s easier to just grab a shovel and dig a hole (or a trench as the case may be).

If you’re not sure how deep to dig the hole, the rule of them is to plant bulbs 2 – 3 times deeper than their width, for example if you’re planting a bulb that is 2 inches across, you would dig a hole 6 inches deep and wide enough to fit the number of bulbs you want to plant plus room between each one so they don’t touch each other.  Plan on an odd number of bulbs in each hole because odd numbers are most appealing to the eye.  And as far as quantity goes, I would recommend 9 – 11 bulbs to achieve the most full, natural looking clump for large bulbs (tulips and daffodils) and more for smaller bulbs/corms.

If you’re thinking about naturalizing bulbs, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Some are definitely better than others for naturalizing because they will naturally multiply over time (daffodils, crocus, grape hyacinth, narcissus, squill, lily of the valley).  Some of bulbs come to the surface and will need to be replanted every few years (grape hyacinth for example) because they continually “use up” the original bulb/corm and grow baby bulbs/cormals above the original bulb and then some bulbs will sink – yes, sink… their roots, called contractile roots, naturally pull them deeper and deeper into the soil each year (as with crocus).  Others (most tulips) are sterile, in other words they won’t reproduce and will need to be replanted each year, therefore not making good naturalizing bulbs.  The exception would be “species tulips”, which are typically smaller.

Mass Planting of Tulips II

Mass Planting of Tulips - MN Landscape Arboretum

Back to planting… Once the hole is dug, mix a little bone meal (to feed the bulbs) into the soil in the base of the hole, then place the bulbs in the hole.  When placing the bulbs there is typically a flat or flat-ish side (called the basal plate) this is the end that you will find dried roots.  The other end (top) is typically pointed.  Place the bulb pointed side up and make sure there is soil between the bulbs so the bulbs are not touching or they will rot.  Once placed, cover with soil and water well.

If you like to mix bulbs, for example daffodils and tulips in the same hole, not a problem.  “But wait!” you say, “My tulip bulbs are bigger than my daffodil bulbs.  How deep do I dig my hole?”  Here’s the trick.  Did the hole deep enough for your tulips, plant your tulips as explained above, then put a shallow layer of soil in to the hole (an inch or so) again, so the bulbs don’t touch, then plant your daffodil bulbs.  “But what if I plant one right on top of the other without knowing it?” Not to worry, plants are pretty smart.  They’ll work their way around the upper bulbs and make their way to the surface just fine.

Squirrel problems? I’ve heard a lot of people complain about squirrels “un-doing” all their hard work.  Nothing is more frustrating than throwing soil on your last hole, dusting the dirt off of yourself, only to look over and see the squirrels have already relocated your bulbs!  There are a couple of tricks when it comes to squirrels.  Typically squirrels are not a fan of daffodils because daffodils are in the onion family… so…. if you plant daffodils above your tulips there is far less chance of them digging them up.  Another method of protection is to add a piece of chicken wire above the bulbs between layers of soil to prevent them from digging.  Again, the plants will find their way through and the squirrels will most likely be frustrated and move on.

So there you have it… bulbs 101.  I expect to see pictures in the spring! 🙂


October 24, 2011

Fall Clean-up

Fall clean-up.  We all hear the phrase, but what exactly does it mean?

Fall clean-up means removing any dead, diseased or dying material from your gardens at the end of the growing season.

Where to start?  Wherever you’d like.  I typically start at one end of my yard and work my way around, armed with gloves, pruners, clippers, loppers, a large garbage can and bags.

What am I looking for?  To start off with, anything that’s “done”.

Annuals are pretty obvious.  You can take one look at them and say “yep, they’re done”.   Annuals are typically just as dramatic when they’re done as when they’re at their peak.  In other words – pretty darned ugly.  Yank ’em.

Perennials on the other hand, aren’t quite so cut and dried (so to speak).  Obviously if you have ornamental grasses, Asters, etc. that are at peak right now, don’t touch them!  As for perennials that have already passed their peak, start looking for diseased material.  If the plants are “done” and have a disease such as powdery mildew (the white frosty looking film) on their leaves or stems, cut them “way back” (typically to 3-4 inches high) then DISPOSE of the diseased material.  And by dispose, I mean DO NOT put this stuff in your compost bin/pile!  If you leave it and let the leaves eventually fall to the ground powdery mildew spores will get into the soil and increase your chances of having problems again next year. The same applies to compost.  You don’t want those spores in your compost!  Instead, put the diseased material in a tightly sealed garbage bag and toss it in the garbage or burn the plant material in a fire pit (assuming no burning restrictions in your area).

So what if you have perennials that are “done” but still look healthy?  In this case the decision is yours.  Since three-quarters of our year is winter (okay, slight exaggeration..) I like to leave as much as possible for winter interest and food for the birds.  Good examples of this are Black Eyed Susan, Cone Flower, Bee Balm and definitely Ornamental Grasses!  The more texture you can leave in your garden to look out onto during those blustery winter months the better.

What if its none of the above?  Not peaking, not dead, not diseased, but just “done”?  Then what?  In this case cut it back. If it’s not going to add anything to your winter landscape then it’s only going to become more to clean up in the spring.

On to the veggie garden.

When it comes to diseased plants the same rule applies in the veggie garden as it does in the flower garden.  Diseased plants = trash or burn.

Warm season crops (tomatoes, peppers, etc.) have done about all they are going to do. I know, it’s sad, but it’s time for them to go.  Pull them and toss them.

Cool season crops on the other hand might still be doing well.  If you have cool season crops that are still producing, by all means, leave them!

One good example of this is Brussel Sprouts.  Brussel sprouts like the cool weather and actually taste better when they’ve been nipped by frost 6-8 times.  They can even withstand mild winter temps, even if buried in snow!  The bonus?  Instead of tasting bitter like they often can, the frost/cold draws the sugars out and they will be super tasty!  How can you tell if they have been nipped by frost and are “ready to eat”?  The outer edges of the leaves will have a purple tinge to them.

Pull any other crops that are not perennials (asparagus, strawberries, etc.) and not producing and clean up all leaf litter to minimize future disease.

That’s about it.  Once it’s clean, your garden is going to look a little bare, at least until the snow flies!


October 22, 2011

Acknowledging the inevitable

Today it finally hit me. It’s over. Summer is over. Fall is here and winter is on its heals.

You’d think I would have figured this out when the colors peaked a few weeks ago, but it was 85 degrees then.  It made it easy to deny the change in seasons.  Honestly, that whole thing, as much as I loved the continued warmth, kind of freaked me out.  It was creepy for a couple of reasons.  Partly because warm winds, shorts and fall color do not go hand-in-hand in Minnesota.  The other reason is that although Doctors couldn’t figure out what exactly I had when I was sick.  The first thing that came to mind when they would ask me when it all started was a memory of a warm windy day back in August of 2009 when I had a reunion with a bunch of my college girl friends and their families.  The same winds blew through then and I remember being chilled.  Granted I didn’t realize I was running a fever until weeks after that, but that windy day in August was what stood out in my mind.  So the warm, windy days a few weeks ago made me incredibly uncomfortable to say the least.  Much as I love a beautiful breeze, I’ve come to really dislike wind. If people could put up hackles, mine were definitely up.  When out in the wind I even envisioned putting up my arms in a defensive position to try to fend off catching something again.

Anyway, as I took one of the dogs for a walk early this morning, I stepped out the door to my favorite weather and my favorite season.  The frost on the leaves, flowers and grasses was stunning as it sparkled in the early morning sunlight. The air was so crisp and so refreshing.  Although the color is past peak a few trees are still hanging onto their leaves and I completely understand why, they’re just too beautiful to let go of.

While I took every ounce of it in as much as I could I still had mixed emotions.  The growing season is over.  Oh, there are still a few raspberries clinging to their canes, shrub roses continuing to bloom and ornamental grasses dancing in the breeze like ladies in ball gowns.

But as a gardener, its with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to another season that flew by way too fast.

So while I love fall and look forward to more crisp morning walks, you won’t catch me rolling out the red carpet for winter.  In fact, you just may see my hackles standing up again. (Hey, I said I was finally acknowledging the inevitable – NOT welcoming the inevitable!)


October 13, 2011

You’ve got an hour

When I originally started Walnuts and Pears the focus was going to be somewhat broad as far as the subject matter, but the common thread is that all things tie back into living today not just for ourselves, but for future generations, living mindfully .

During the spring and summer much of my focus has been on gardening and caring for our injured dog because that’s what was right in front of me. Reflecting back, it’s kind of funny how things work out.  Shortly before Darby got hurt, my full-time job changed to a part-time job.  My original plan was to use the 2nd half of the day to blog (daily) and combine my landscape, garden and marketing background into something new.  While I have picked-up a handful of design jobs, its honestly been tough.  Things haven’t been exactly going according to that plan and frankly, I’ve been struggling.

Recently someone reminded me that life is what happens when you’re busy planning.  The funny part about that is that I’m really not that great of a planner.  I’m more of a big picture kind of person.  I like to keep things loose so I can do something fun, take a class, or follow a whim.  What that also means though, is that when I do actually plan something, I get kind of H-E-double hockey sticks bent on sticking to that plan.  So the fact that things aren’t following my plan has been frustrating to say the least.

Instead of simply flipping a switch at the end of my 1st job and switching over to the 2nd as originally intended, I now switch into “Dog Mom” mode.  Caring for Darby has been much like caring for an infant.  She’s getting stronger every day, but she’s still dependent on us to walk.  And walk she does.  She gets 3 short walks a day as well as stretches and exercises 2 times a day.  Jake is still a puppy in a full size body, so he has a lot of energy that needs to be released each day through play and walks.  Since the two of them still need to be separated, all of this happens independently.  By the time this is done I usually have about half an hour to get anything else done that I have in my “plan”.

Yesterday, on my walk with Jake, it dawned on me (sometimes I need a 2×4 to hit me over the head to make this happen), but I realized, this is the plan.  It might not be my plan, but it is what I’m supposed to be doing.  Caring for the dogs has actually done a lot for me.  Having been sick for a couple of years, my body got weak.  Supporting Darby and staying active with Jake has strengthened me both physically and spiritually.  While I’m being leaned on, I need to lean on someone else for strength to get me through it all.

So while things aren’t going according to my plan, I wouldn’t change a thing.  I’m trying my best to help Darby recover as fully as possible, watching the baby steps of success everyday while at the same time trying to make sure Jake gets what he needs as well. In the interim, I’m trying to stick to my commitment to myself to blog and do landscaping and other creative “stuff”.   Right now I don’t have the time to do it all, so I’m learning to allow myself to simply do what I can and ask for help when I need it.  (The asking for help thing doesn’t come easy for me. Call it pride, stubbornness, heritage or upbringing it is one of my “quirks”.)

So today, I had an hour before the kiddo gets home.  My choice was this… post for 1/2 and take Jake for a walk for the other 1/2.  That’s my plan… and with 29 minutes left, I’m kind of sticking to it.

This…..  is where I’m headed.

A walk in the park