Thursday, September 4, 2008

BULBOMANIA by Carol King

Well, dear gardener, a couple of weeks ago I ordered 400 bulbs due to arrive in early October for planting. “Are you crazy? “ You might ask, and the answer might be “Yes”. I was crazy at the time, driven there by the heat during the dog days of August. You know how it is, it’s too hot to go outside so you lie under the fan and look at the dozens of bulb catalogs that begin to arrive in July. The pictures and the colors are so beautiful. And you begin to day dream winter and then spring arriving and first thing you know, you’ve ordered 400 bulbs (406 to be exact).

I chose mid to late blooming tulips hoping to fool the spring snows. My plan is to dig up several beds that I planted three years ago and replace them. They didn’t look great this year and I have learned that tulips are not necessarily perennials. They don’t come back well the second year. I have known this about tulips but assumed it was operator error. The other thing that has happened to me is that the tulips all become red and yellow after several years when they do return. Part of being hybrids I suppose. I have decided to treat them as annuals and replant each year. We’ll see how long that lasts. Planting several hundred bulbs each fall maybe doesn’t have such a great appeal. The 200 tulips are a variety of collections chosen solely on color and name: “The Rainbow Coalition” red, purple, and orange; “The Tang Dynasty” orange, white and yellow. There are a few varieties, which I didn’t choose, that are better suited for returning for several years: Darwin Hybrids, Fosterianas and many of the wild or species tulips can return. All of them need to be replaced periodically however. (Don’t tell me about your twelve year old tulip bed, please).

If you are wondering why the tulips don’t come back here’s a few reasons:
Blossoms. The longer a tulip blooms the more energy the bulb loses. But why plant them if you don’t want blossoms?
Weather. Long, cool springs allow tulip leaves to stay around and store more energy in the bulb. We can have a heat wave in May and June causing the leaves to die back too quickly.
Moisture. Tulips like to go through a dry dormancy period and we typically have to water our beds and grass and trees and shrubs so they often rot from too much moisture.

Now daffodils are supposed to be the most persistent perennial bulb ever. But I only got one year of daffodil blooms from 50 I planted when I moved into this house. The best my research has come up with is that they had a condition called “bud blast” which can be caused by too much moisture in the fall, too little moisture in the summer, late season freezes, or temperatures that warm up too much and/or too suddenly in the spring ... you know, our typical Colorado weather. I much prefer this analysis: a superstition in Maine states that you will cause a daffodil to not bloom if you point at it with an index finger. I am sure that I may have even shaken my finger at them when they didn’t bloom!
The 100 daffodils that I ordered include at least 20 different varieties and are promised to cover the full spectrum of bloom time. I, for my part, promise not to chastise them nor point at them.

One hundred purple and yellow crocuses complete the bulb package. I’m going to stick them everywhere!