Margaret Lauterbach: Tips and tricks for planting bulbs

November 13, 2013 

Need some good bulbs to plant this winter? Try daffodils.

STATESMAN FILE

Bulb planting time is upon us, but don't forget to plant them all. Many of us buy bulbs and put them away for later planting, then forget them until spring. Planted then, they won't bloom for a year.

Daffodils are good to plant, even in yards browsed by deer, for they'll leave those alone. Rodents will also leave those toxic bulbs alone.

Scott Kunst, owner of Old House Gardens bulb and plant vendor (and repeat visitor to our area since his sister lives here) recently reported one of his customers had found a fast way to plant daffodils that was so successful she continues to do it. Previous owners of her home had left old baskets in the garage, and she had extra daffodil bulbs. She put a few inches of soil in a basket, added daffodil bulbs, and topped them with enough soil to come up to their tips. She watered them in, and put them in the unheated garage for the cold weeks of winter.

Southerners refrigerate those bulbs that require chilling, but we can let nature do that. Kunst's customer brought the basket to her door stoop when winter moderated, the bulbs producing blossoms and foliage, adding spring charm to her front door area.

Inexpensive baskets that you could use for planters may be found at thrift stores. Some baskets will be sufficiently sturdy for re-use, but discard those that fall apart. Then plant the "basket bulbs" in the ground.

Tulip bulbs might also be planted in baskets or pots. If you plant them in pots, plant with the flat side of the bulb facing the rim of the pot.

USING WATER TANKS AS PLANT CONTAINERS

A recent insert in Sunset magazine shows a great idea: galvanized livestock water tanks used as plant containers. They'd need drainage holes drilled in the bottom, but there's enough surface area in the tanks for diverse crops and sufficient depth for good root development.

Gardeners in parts of the country that have acidic soil shouldn't use galvanized containers, but we don't have that problem. Alkaline soil won't deteriorate galvanized surfaces.

Such containers could be used for nursing home patients in wheelchairs or in locations where soil is unsuitable for growing vegetables such as on concrete or pavement, or even where caliche or lava tubes are close to the surface. There's an area of Ada county, near Amity and Maple Grove, where lava tubes lie just a few inches below soil's surface. Also in the southwestern part of the county, caliche is near the surface, and in some areas even atop the surface of the soil.

WATCH FOR MICE AND VOLES

If you gardened in straw bales last summer, and those bales are near your house, you may have a pending invasion of mice. Straw bales give them a safe, warm home to raise litters, then the young leave for other warm areas such as inside your home.

Watch for vole runs. If you haven't seen them before, they look like an odd streak in your lawn about 2 inches wide, where voles have pounded a path from one garden bed to another, usually. Some of the longer grass blades may lop over the run, creating a tunnel for part of it.

Voles, also called Oregon meadow mice, burrow underground as well as run along the surface of soil. Voles are larger and slower than mice, but smaller than rats. They also have short tails; rats have long tails.

Voles establish home burrows where they rear their young. Since I've had no vole damage since adopting my Cairn terrier from the Humane Society, he apparently has wiped out home burrows in four areas of my yard. The holes he dug are large and about a foot deep, but he hasn't damaged any plants, amazingly.

If you see mounds of earth pushed onto the surface, that's not done by voles, but by gophers. They require different trapping techniques and larger traps than wood-based mousetraps used for voles.

BLOSSOMS IN AUTUMN

Shorter daylight hours have sparked blossoms on some of my primroses and even a couple of forsythia branches.

Margaret Lauterbach: melauter@earthlink.net or write to Gardening, The Idaho Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707

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