This week of Thanksgiving always hits me kind of hard. I love the holiday itself and especially getting together with friends and family to break bread and enjoy each other’s company. Truly a magical and reflective day.
But it also is a little bittersweet for me as it heralds the end of the gardening season. Some years I am ready for the season to wind down and get some respite from garden duties. I still have my indoor plants (orchids, succulents and even a spider plant) and they keep me as busy as I need to be in the winter rains.
This year, I admit to not being ready quite yet to leave the garden. We had such a nice summer…not too windy, and warm and sunny. And even the heavy rains earlier this month were a welcome change. My fuchsia are still blooming and feed the Anna’s hummingbirds that stay all year. I even had a few annuals blooming at Election Day. Roses as well. Now the leaves are all off the trees, days are shortening, and the sun is low in the sky, giving little warmth this time of year.
But wait! There are still lots of things to be thankful for!
A couple of months ago I ordered some spring bulbs from Breck’s. It is a company I used to use when I lived in the east, but just hadn’t given them much thought since then. I got my order in late October and safely planted the bulbs in the ground before the rains came. And, while I am thankful for that, I was also thankful for the small booklet that came with the bulbs on how to plant in the fall. It had the info I needed to get my bulbs in the ground, but it is a generalized book and as I leafed through, I found a wealth of information about so many other spring bulbs beside daffodils and tulips.
One of the first things I need to stress is the need for pre-cooling before you plant many spring bulbs. We just don’t get the extended cold temperatures here on the coast to put the bulbs into a true cold state. So before you plant them, place them in an open bag in the bottom of the fridge for about 6 to 8 weeks before planting in the ground. A warning, though! Keep fresh fruit away from the bulbs as the fruit may give off ethylene gas that will damage the bulbs. (I didn’t have to do this for the plants I ordered as they could go directly into the ground upon arrival.)
Another point to remember is the depth to which the bulbs should be planted. As a rule, the larger the plant and bulb – lilies, allium – the deeper they should go. Smaller bulbs like snowdrops or crocus are planted in a shallower bed. You can plant the bulbs in two ways: individually, or (if you have a lot to plant) you can dig an entire bed at one time and plant them in mass. It is often more visually effective if you have lots of tulips or daffodils in the bed. Dig the beds to the required depth, place the bulbs pointed end up and a few inches apart, and fill in gently around them with soil, tamping the soil down with your fingers. All you need then is to give the bed a little initial watering and let Nature take over the watering for the winter.
Generally, spring bulbs – especially most Dutch-grown ones – will do best with a lot of moisture but in well-drained soil. You can accomplish this with compost added before planting. The worst thing would be to plant bulbs in an area where they are left in standing water. This only guarantees rotting. Compost helps sandy soil as much as clay soil.
In the spring, when stems and foliage begin to emerge, feed them with a general fertilizer. The booklet says to keep watering the plants when the rains are less than 1” per week, but we usually don’t have to worry about that. After the flowers bloom and fade, you can cut off the flowers and stems but leave the foliage as it helps store nutrients for the next bloom period.
So, besides a lovely late fall day now and then and family and friends to enjoy a turkey dinner with, if we look a little deeper we can find all sorts of things to be thankful for this year. As Paul Thereoux said, “…the gardener is generous, optimistic…taking pleasure in the planting but also making something beautiful for others.” What better way to do that than spring bulbs?