Pamper your bulbs, start gardening season out right

Posted March 23, 2012, at 11:37 a.m.

Bulbs, carefully buried in the fall, are just about ready to sprout (if they haven’t already) and transform barren beds into a display of spring color. While flower bulbs are relatively easy to work with, a few small measures might improve the vibrancy and life span of tulips, irises, daylilies, peonies and other bulbous flowers, according to bulb specialist Kip Penney of Maine-based Fedco Seeds.

• Do not remove mulch too early. By keeping the soil from thawing, mulch prevents heaving and false starts in early warming spells. Mulch slightly delays flowering, which usually makes flowerbeds more uniform and longer lasting. Remove the mulch when bulbs begin to peek through.

• After removing the mulch, dress the bed in compost.

• Pinch blossoms as they fade to discourage seed production and force the plant’s energy back into the bulb (if you want the bulb to continue producing flowers the next year).

• After the flowers die, do not cut the plant’s foliage. As long as it remains green, it’s producing food for future blooms.

• Side dress with fertilizer or compost in the late summer or fall.

• After planting bulbs in the fall (according to the depth and spacing specified for that plant), cover flower beds with mulch, which insulates the bulb. If you don’t add a mulch layer, alternating sunny days and freezing nights can damage growth tips.

• To deter foraging animals, try surrounding bulbs with chicken wire, sharp gravel or small rocks. You can also disrupt squirrels’ ability to smell out the bulbs by dusting the area with black pepper and ground cloves in the spring and fall. If you still have a problem, try planting narcissus, allium, fritallaria or ipheion, which animals usually don’t bother.

Fedco Bulbs is a division of Fedco Seeds Inc., a Maine-based consumer-worker cooperative. This year’s public Fedco Tree sale is set for May 4-5 at the new Fedco Trees warehouse at 213 Hinckley Road in Clinton. The pre-order customer sale is April 27-28.

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