Posts tagged ‘bulbs’

February 15, 2012

Play with Your Food! (Windowsill Gardens)

I know, I know, most of us have memories of our mothers telling us to stop playing with our food.  Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s time to throw that out the window, or actually, stop just short of out the window at the windowsill.

Although we have a serious shortage in the snow department this year, the temperatures, although tropical for a Minnesota winter, are hardly “growing season” temps.  That, however, should not stop you from growing plants, herbs and veggies!  No, I’m not crazy.  Okay, well, maybe a little, but that’s beside the point.   Anyway,  during the winter months when I can’t be outside in the garden I tend to focus on what I can grow inside.  Typically my kitchen windowsill is loaded with any glass, bottle or jar I can get my hands on, and inside them I’m growing whatever strikes my fancy.

Windowsill Garden 1

Windowsill Garden 1

Windowsill Garden 2

Windowsill Garden 2

In addition to the Garlic Experiment, my current windowsill experiments include: green onions/scallions, basil, a Christmas cactus, spearmint, leeks, a maple tree, aloe vera and an avocado pit.  I also have herbs growing in the bathroom, but since that’s technically not on the windowsill, I’ll save that for later.

Pinterest Inspiration

Pinterest Inspiration

Let’s start with the green onions or scallions, whatever you’d like to call them.  A couple of weeks ago I was perusing Pinterest and ran across an image of scallions growing in a glass of water.  Ha!  Why didn’t I think of that? I thought.  I need to try this!  It makes perfect sense that it would work… onions are a bulb and you can force/grow most flowering bulbs in water, so why not onions?!?  So I set out to do it.  That night I just happened to need green onions in a recipe I was making for dinner… 🙂

feb 5

The beginning of the Green Onion Experiment

As I was prepping the onions, instead of discarding the ends, I set them aside to prepare for the Green Onion Experiment.  After finishing my dinner prep, I grabbed a glass and set my onions in the bottom.   Ha, I make it sound so easy.  Actually I fought with the little buggers quite a bit to get them to stand upright.  They already have little roots attached when you buy the onions in the store and since they aren’t all the same length it made them a little tippy (next time I’ll trim the trouble makers).  Anyway, once upright, I added a tiny bit of water, just enough to cover the roots, but not so much as to cover the onion itself or I would end up with a glass of foul-smelling rotting plant material, which is not my goal.

I was a little concerned that this experiment might not work so well because after I started this experiment I checked into the source of the Pinterest photo.  Turns out, they only used the greens for their cooking and had the entire base of the onion left over so they had really fast results.  Since I cook with nearly everything but the roots it made me a little nervous, because I really didn’t have a lot of plant material to work with, but I trusted in my plant biology knowledge, sent good sprouting vibes to the little guys and set them on my kitchen windowsill.  I should mention that my windowsill experiments only receive part-sun exposure because it’s an East facing window, but it’s where I do a lot of my propagating because I can watch it every day.  They tend to do fine, at least until they get a little larger and need more light in which case I’ll either transfer them to a window with better exposure (South or West facing) or under plant lights.

Day 4 - Shoots forming & root growth

Day 5

Amazingly, it didn’t take too long for the roots to start growing and shoots to form.  By the first day, I could see little green specs on the top of one onion.  And by Day 2, 3 and 4 it became more and more visible (but not so much with the camera.) By Day 5, however, shoots can be seen on more than one onion.

Day 10 - Growth on all onions

Day 10 - Top View

And now, about 10 days out, it looks like the experiment is a success.  In a few weeks we’ll have a nice crop of green onions.  As a side note, I change the water every couple of days to everything fresh.

I’ll continue to post on the Green Onion Experiment as it progresses.  In the mean time, stay tuned for leeks, basil, avocado, Christmas cactus, Maple tree, aloe vera and spearmint and… whatever else might strike my fancy along the way!

Now, go play with your food, would you?!


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 4, 2011

What now? Water ’til winter!

As the temperatures drop and the gardening season fades….. wait, WHAT?!?!?

Remind me, what is the date?  What season is this?  It’s October… in Minnesota…  and it was 80 degrees yesterday, its supposed to be 85 degrees today, 80 degrees tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and the day after that.  It’s pretty odd to have gorgeous fall color and 80 degree temps in Minnesota right now, but I’ll tell ya what, I’ll take it!

Honestly, when the cool weather hit a couple of weeks ago I was totally ready for fall.  I absolutely love fall, but I also know what follows it, so if Mother Nature offers a few extra days of summer you won’t hear me complaining!  I’ll be honest though, it’s kind of confusing.  Ummm… what now? Should I be planting or doing fall clean-up?  The answer would be BOTH!

Now is an ideal time to plant spring blooming bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, scilla, crocus…. you get the picture.  It’s also the perfect time to plant garlic!

Okay, so what if you’re really not into either of those and nice weather or not, you’re done gardening for the season?  Then what?  It’s really easy to call it quits this time of the year.  A lot of people are just worn out and their gardens are “done”.  As much as it is tempting to let things go, it’s incredibly important to continue watering trees, shrubs and perennials to help them prepare for winter.

Remember the Water, water, water! post back in June?  Well, here we are again!

Trees, shrubs and perennials are the backbone of our yards.  They provide structure, shade, protection from winter winds and “winter interest” and yet they also tend to blend into the background and get forgotten.  I, for one, am guilty of taking them for granted and almost forget that they need attention, especially in the fall.

The past few weeks have been really dry and dry plants get stressed.  Stressed plants have less of a chance of surviving the winter and a better chance of experiencing winter die-back.  Water gives them strength, helps them better survive frost and winter temps.

So how late in the season should you water?  Water until the ground is frozen (typically some time in November).

Seriously.  Water until you can’t water any more, then put away the hoses and shut off the faucets.  You’re plants will thank you.