Saturday, November 1, 2014

Time to Plant Bulbs -- Get Out the Pickaxe!

Frost-tinged Echinacea 'Merlot'

We had our first frost this week which reminded me it was time to finish planting bulbs, a task fraught with obstacles on the plot of land I garden in the Pocono Mountains. I started off quite excited and with a well thought-out plan. I ordered my bulbs from White Flower Farms, a family-owned mail-order nursery located in northwestern Connecticut. The bulbs arrived in beautiful condition; very healthy. I received one hundred of their 'Weatherproof Daffodil Mixture,' fifty mixed crocuses, a dozen Allium 'Globemaster,' and a dozen each of three varieties of tulips in their World Series: 'World Peace,' 'World's Fire,' and 'World's Favorite.' I adore those names. I never planted tulips before because of the deer in our area, but I love them and thought I would give them a try and use a 'smelly' spray to help them survive.

The end of the Marigolds.

I decided to plant the tulips in the triangular bed at the entrance to our property, en masse to create a drift. At this spot I have self-seeded cleome surrounded by butterfly magnets: phlox, milkweed, liatris, and purple cone flower. I pulled out the spent cleome from the middle of the bed and began to dig. Here was my first problem. I needed to plant the top of the tulip bulbs 6 - 8 inches deep and 5 - 6 inches apart.  I wanted to dig out the area, place the bulbs in the bottom, then cover them with soil. Sounds simple enough, and so much easier than planting the bulbs individually, wouldn't you agree? I dug down 4 or 5 inches and hit rock. Welcome to the Poconos, Pamela! Fortunately for me I have a trusty helper. I called H.H. who took over the spade. He quickly realized there was no way to get any deeper without a pickaxe.

H.H. removed the rocks with a pickaxe.

These are the rocks that came out of that small hole.

Eventually, I was able to place the bulbs in the prepared bed.

At this point I made a huge mistake. I should have covered the bulbs with chicken wire or a similar barrier. I didn't. I covered the bulbs with the soil I had removed, sprinkled organic bone meal over the top, and watered the bulbs in. Finally, I added a layer of wood bark mulch. I felt quite pleased with myself with a job well done! Or so I thought.

Bee balm Monarda seeds for the birds.

I planted the crocus bulbs around the edge of the tulip bed.

Sedum 'Autum Joy' looking pretty with a coat of frost.

The next day, I went out with my camera to record the first frost. I made a shocking discovery. There were holes all over my tulip bed.

The holes were very obvious in the frosted mulch.

I dug down into one of the holes and of course I couldn't find a bulb. The bulbs are now in the winter storage place of a squirrel, or chipmunk, or other rodent. I don't think they removed any of the crocus bulbs, but maybe they did. H.H. was very comforting, as always, even though he did most of the grunt work. He said he was sure the animal didn't remove all the bulbs and we would see some tulips come spring. Bless him! I filled in the holes and decided to plant allium on top of the remaining(?) tulips. Alliums are in the onion family and disliked by animals. The alliums I planted there were some I saved from the previous year (I didn't plant them when I became ill) so I'm not sure they will flower, but at least they may act as a deterrent.

Always learning!

Spirea Japonica

I didn't have so much trouble with the daffodil planting job. I want to see a profusion of spring daffs. on either side of the short path leading to our front door. My mother-in-law planted some there many years ago and we remember them fondly, but somehow a landscaper removed them. When I took over the landscaping, I planned on replacing the daffodils, but never got around to it until now. Again H.H. helped me dig the beds. They didn't have to be so deep and there were no rocks, just roots from an ancient maple tree that we removed several years ago. I used the same method as with the tulips.

I didn't need to add a wire mesh because the poisonous daffodils bulbs are usually ignored by squirrels. When they were covered with soil, fertilized, and watered I felt some satisfaction. I haven't mulched these beds yet. When the ground is frozen I will covered them with evergreen branches to stop the thawing and freezing process.

I'm anticipating a beautiful show of daffodils in the spring.

It's too wet to plant bulbs today, and I still have the alliums to do. I'm going to place them in existing beds around clumps of phlox and daylilies which should hide their ugly foliage during summer.

Agastache 'Blue Fortune' -- more seeds for the birds.
The catalpa trees are beginning to shed their leaves.

Have you planted bulbs this year? Mine were a lot of work, but I believe they will pay me back in the spring. At least the daffodils will.

Pamela x

There's still some color in the top field.

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  1. Oh no, all that work for the benefit of the local squirrels. I'm sure HH is right and some bulbs will remain, we'll see come spring. I've planted some tulips, narcissus and crocus in containers. I usually buy new each year for the tubs and then plant them out in the garden once they've flowered and they bloom there in following years.

  2. Funny title, Pam, but so true. I just got bulbs delivered on Friday and tomorrow I will be aching from planting them. I dread each time I order, but come spring, rejoice in their beauty.

  3. Hi Pam,

    Good luck with your bulbs, and let's hope the Tulip fairy plants more too :)

    I haven't planted any here this year, although I did buy a lot of bulbs. I'd intended to have moved by now, but life happens and I've been dragging my feet getting the house on the market, so it'll have to wait until next year now as the market has already begun to slow as people turn their attention towards Christmas.

    No frosts here yet, although I believe the temperature is set to drop and we might get some next week. I hope not, as it is a little early yet for frosts; but not unheard of.

  4. Oh, those pesky squirrels worked fast, didn't they? I plant my tulips in the vegetable garden, behind the fence where they are protected from the deer and woodchucks. Knock on wood, the squirrels haven't figured out that they could easily scale the fence and get in there, or maybe the frequent presence of our cats in that area keeps them away? They run rampant in our upper lawn, near the woods, but rarely come down near the house. Once in a while I see one on the front porch in the winter, scavenging bird seed.

    I've planted about 300 assorted bulbs so far, and I still have 50 daffodils to plant along the back edge of my lawn, and am not looking forward to digging the trenches for them. I tried to entice our mutual friend Frank (sort of like suburbia) to come do it in exchange for leaves, but he didn't bite! : ) At least we are expecting a few warmer days this week.

    I have a similar frosted marigold picture on my blog this weekend! Maybe I'll brave the wind today and go pull the annuals out.

    1. I'm going to wait for those few warmer days, Kimberley, to finish planting and tidying. The wind is too cold for me today.

    2. Wise woman. I ventured out for a little look-around, and then retreated back to the house!

  5. my travelling bulbs are in pots, and the new lady is going to move the mass of yellow Chasmanthe which are in the wrong place for their plans. I'm promised bluebells in the new garden ... we'll see if I can find them.

    1. When I planted my English bluebells I covered them with mesh -- wish I'd done that to the tulips. I wonder what sort of bluebells you get in South Africa?

    2. I suspect the Spanish rather than the English ... but when I see any flowers ... I can find out.

      Can you help please? When it says - 'destroy all infected leaves' - HOW do you destroy? It's just one spotty leaf that a penfriend has sent my sister, but it looks so diseased we want to be sure to DESTROY it!

    3. We burn infected leaves and plants, Diana.

    4. thanks, I've passed that advice on to my sister. I was offline, first night in our new home. Back to packing the rest ...

  6. I'm dreading the rest of my bulb planting now that I've seen the proper way to do it. Mine get much less attention and as a result the display is much more on the miss side of hit or miss! But then I get lucky now and then and I'm happy :)
    I bet there were far fewer poached tulips than you might think. I bet most if not all are still in there, the pesky squirrels just can't resist freshly turned earth.
    I just picked up a bag of tulips this weekend and now I'm considering ordering more when they go on clearance after Thanksgiving. I make this mistake nearly every fall, and based on today's frigid wind I should know better.
    I really hope you can keep the deer off your tulips. Right now you're set for an awesome display!

  7. "Always learning." The universal mantra of gardeners everywhere!

  8. That's an impressive pile of rocks. I find that squirrels will disturb any newly planted bulb bed (I plant mine the same way you do if the bulbs are large) because they think you are another squirrel hiding nuts. I guess they only remove the bulbs they eat though, like tulips. I have heard really good things about Bobbex as a deer spray. Tulips are top of their list so I always spray the emerging shoots, then the leaves, then the buds, and then the flowers. I love Globemaster. I just cut off the old leaves when they look ratty, although hiding them is less work.

  9. What a shame about your tulips especially after removing all those rocks! You seem to have done everything right to my mind to deter the little beggars. I do compact the soil with my foot to make the digging harder work for squirrels, but that is the only thing I can think I might have done differently. What rascals! At least the daffodils and alliums are bound to be nice next spring.

  10. We need a pickaxe here too, so I've given up on planting anything but the minor bulbs that only go down a few inches. I've got daffodils wildly scattered about, and that's all she wrote!

  11. That was quite some clearance job for bulb planting Pam. I planted Spring bulbs a few weeks ago, we didnt have any trouble with Squirrels in Aberdeen, however the bulbs which I planted in tubs here have been well and truly raided.. I must remember the chicken wire next year, hope you still get a decent show in the Spring.

  12. No bulbs really but I salvaged about 10 tulips from an old bed and planted them in a container I buried and protected. Not sure they will grow at all. No time for any other bulbs and I want to wait. I cannot believe those darn critters took your tulips. But squirrels cannot resist red tulip bulbs.

    The daffs will look stunning along the walk.

  13. Hi Pamela, I am so sorry about your tulip bulbs. I am amazed at all the rocks that were in that area! I planted some 'Globemaster' as well as 'Christophii' alliums this fall. Looking forward to spring! :)

  14. My heart sank when I saw the pictures of the pilfered bulbs! Oh, no. I would feel the same way. And I have about two dozen bulbs of my own to plant yet, too, but it's snowing right now. Sounds like it's not going to get any better, so I'd better get out there and plant before I need a pickax to get through the frost. I hope you have an abundance of blooms next spring.

  15. Oh, no! All that work, too! Bulb planting is hard work. In North Carolina, the clay was tough (I often used a pickaxe there), and now I have rocks. I've planted most of my bulbs, only a few more crocus to go! After I plant them, I usually spray them with a smelly deterrent or cover them with some leaves. Those evil, wily squirrels see newly turned dirt and know where to dig!