It’s that time of year again when we all head out to buy annuals for our containers. And the flowers always start out looking gorgeous. But, in no time the blooms fade and the stems turn long and leggy. As a garden designer, I find this is one of the most frequent questions I am asked: How do I keep my potted plants in shape all summer? Continue reading →
Let’s face it. It’s hard not to stress when your daffodils start popping up mid-winter. As weather becomes more unpredictable, early growth is becoming more and more common in spring bulbs. Not to worry, though. Your plants have seen it all before. And they’re built to handle a few temperature swings.
THE UNDERGROUND WORLD OF BULBS
To understand why spring bulbs can survive a little premature growth, it helps to take a peek underground.
Botanically speaking, a bulb is a modified stem that houses a miniature plant. In addition to roots, it contains food storage tissue, leaves, stems and a flowering shoot. As soon as you plant it in the fall, a spring bulb starts growing.
The action begins in the basal stem. During the winter months, roots emerge from the bottom of the bulb to penetrate the surrounding soil. As they grow, they absorb water and other nutrients, which they store in the fleshy leaves of the bulb called scales.
In some flower species like alliums, a thin papery covering called the tunic protects the bulb’s scales from damage and drying out.
Papery thin tunic keeps bulbs from drying out
In addition to food storage, the scales also protect the flowering shoot. This vital part of the bulb contains all of the above-ground parts of the plant, including leaves and flowers. During the winter months, the shoot slowly grows upwards within the bulb. Eventually it develops into a stem.
Depending on the species, a bulb is pre-programmed to emerge at a set time in the spring. The leaves are first to break through the soil. Once they surface, they immediately begin converting sunlight into energy. Approximately one month later, the flowering shoot becomes visible.
At this stage in the process, the key thing to remember is this: Leaf development occurs independently of flower development.
The leaves might jump the gun, but the flowering shoot needs an extended period of time (between 5 and 7 weeks) before it will begin sending its stem up towards the surface. Before that happens, the bulb has most likely weathered the warm spell and resumed dormancy.
STRATEGIES FOR PROTECTING EARLY GROWTH
If you see foliage poking up out of the ground too early, don’t worry. A cold snap may cause the leaves to yellow and die back, but the bulb will wait things out and send up new growth once temperatures warm up again.
There are a few strategies, however, that you can implement now to slow things down while adding an extra layer of protection to the flowering shoot.
1. COVER YOUR PLANT
Covering the soil around your spring bulbs will provide insulation against frigid temperatures and drying winter winds. Try mulch, straw, bark chips, leaves or pine needles.
Or, if the plant is budding too early, try draping a cloth over it (securing it above the plant with stakes.) Remove the drape during the day so the foliage can absorb sunlight to warm back up.
2. WATER DURING DRY SPELLS
If there’s been a dry period for a long period of time, a little extra water during the day helps bulbs grow. However, make sure your soil has good drainage. They may rot if they receive too much water.
3. IF FLOWERS START TO APPEAR
If the weather continues to stay unseasonably warm, your spring bulbs may start to produce flowers. Don’t worry. Even if frost kills off some of the initial buds, it usually won’t affect flowering in the coming months.
4. PLANT BULBS LATE IN THE FALL
The later in the fall you plant, the longer the bulb will take to sprout come spring. Wait until the temperature is cold enough (40°F or below at night) to plant your spring bulbs. This will ensure they are fully dormant. Here in Maryland, I plant my many different daffodil varieties as late as mid December.
Finally, make sure to plant your bulbs at three times their height in depth with the base down and the bud up. Planting bulbs too shallow can lead to premature growth.
For a list of ten popular spring bulbs and when and how to plant them, click here.
‘Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.’ – Alfred Austin
My first adventure with gardening of sorts involved a decrepit white begonia in a cast iron pot belonging to my mother. Frail and anemic and sporting only one bloom, it languished, (but never died!) in its water logged container. I decided to give it a haircut to see what would happen.
I was very young and my first trim was severe. My mom and I waited anxiously for the plant to recover. But over time it did, and as I began experimenting more and more with the forlorn little specimen, I eventually discovered that by careful pruning I could coax the plant into acquiring a more uniform shape.
I also found that by playing with the plant’s watering schedule, the begonia gradually lost its yellow-green color and developed deep green healthy stems. Finally one day, I was rewarded with a few tentative white blooms.
Gardening has taught me a lot over the years. I’ve learned to anticipate the needs of my plants and to sense when they’re thirsty or feeling poorly. I don’t love weeding, but I know that it is an essential chore to help my plants thrive. I’ve become sensitive to the slightest shift in the sound of the wind rustling through leaves, the particular calls of my neighborhood birds and the stillness that envelops the garden with the approach of a storm.
These things and more, await even the most amateur of gardeners (and we are all gardeners.)
So as a new year begins, I ’d like to share a few things I’ve learned from a life taking care of plants in the garden. These are not resolutions so much as ways of looking at things. (You don’t need to be a gardener to ‘get’ them.) Here goes:
No matter how long the winter, spring always arrives.
Following the particularly rocky year we’ve all experienced in America and abroad, this comes as a reminder that things never stay the same and that life can spring forth from even the darkest of times.
Perennials may look like they’ve died, but they’re only resting beneath the surface.
And not only are they resting, they are gathering strength for the coming spring.
A little TLC can make almost anything look good.
This goes beyond a good haircut. All living things respond well to a little personal attention. And practicing tender love and care benefits the giver, too.
It’s important to periodically clear the weeds.
When weeds become invasive they can have a devastating effect on life’s quality. Taking the time to remove them benefits everyone.
Nursing a sick plant back to health produces a really good feeling.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of bringing a sick plant back to health and being rewarded with new foliage and blooms.
Life springs eternal
Ok, so maybe this sounds a little corny, but all gardeners know that new life is always waiting just below the surface. May 2017 be the year that we all strive to tend our own gardens by pulling the weeds, extending a hand to those who need it and appreciating those cycles of life that are so essential to our well being. Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.
You could say that evergreens are the stars of cold weather, instantly infusing drab winter landscapes with color and texture. When well sited, watered and fed, most can stand up to the harshest of conditions. Still, some evergreens are less equipped than others to battle icy winds and harsh winter sun. These are the plants that can benefit from a little extra TLC to prepare them for colder temperatures. Continue reading →
Franklin Robotics ‘Tertill’ promises to weed your garden for you
Last year was a particularly big one for weeds, with many of us struggling in vain to control them in our gardens. But thankfully, just in time for next summer, there’s an invention that just might alleviate this tiresome chore. It’s called Tertill and it proposes to do the weeding for you. Continue reading →
A garden staple for centuries, boxwood instantly infuses a landscape with structure and elegance. Its dense, evergreen foliage can be sheared into almost any shape imaginable. For those of us on the East Coast, the fact that deer avoid it only enhances its appeal. There’s just one problem: it’s plagued by a slew of pests and diseases. Continue reading →
We all know that indoor plants need water to survive, but do we really know how much or how little? It’s not easy to keep container plants looking their best, even with regular watering schedules. You can change all that, though, by changing how you water. These simple techniques will restore your houseplants to their former greenhouse glory while ensuring they not only survive, but also thrive well into the future. Continue reading →
When it comes to gardening, good tools are essential, especially when it involves repetitive tasks like pruning. The right pruners increase productivity, decrease wear and tear on the body and produce superior results. These days there are hundreds of options available. No matter what you choose, though, make sure these six are part of your home arsenal. Continue reading →
The word biopesticide can provoke strong reactions these days, immediately conjuring up images of people spraying toxic chemicals that are hazardous to human health. Complicating matters is the fact that just because a pesticide says it’s organic doesn’t mean it isn’t toxic. Still, sometimes a gardener has no choice but to reach for a biopesticide or other, more conventional product, to save plants from immediate destruction. That’s why the best approach is always to understand your pesticide before you spray. Continue reading →
Everyone loves the taste of herbs harvested fresh from the garden. And winter doesn’t have to spell the end of that enjoyment. Just a handful of pots indoors can supply bundles of savory herbs throughout all the seasons. All you need are some culinary herbs, a sunny window and a little TLC in the form of good soil, judicious watering and a regular supply of food. Continue reading →