Tend to your tulips now to ensure a colorful spring garden

“The first week of October is a good time to invest in a beautiful spring.”

The first week of October is a good time to invest in a beautiful spring. Planting bulbs in the fall is showing Mother Nature you have confidence in her return to better behavior after an unruly winter and that spring will be blooming in the future.

If you have given up on spring blooming bulbs in the past due to disappointing returns on your energy investment here are some tips that will have you tiptoeing around the tulips and dancing through your daffodils in just five more months.

Plant the right bulbs for our area.

Spring blooming daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, muscari, wind flower and a bouquet of other bloomers love our cold winters and mild spring weather. It is not our climate that should be blamed for bulbs that fail to flower but rather the size of the bulb or the drainage of the soil. Moles, voles and mice can also share in the blame for bulbs that fail to bloom. The shorter the tulip, the more likely it will return.

“Loyal Little Dwarfs” is how I remember what types of tulips do best. The shorter growing species tulips, Kaufmanniana hybrid tulips and Fosteriana tulips are among the earliest tulips to bloom and will naturalize or spread in larger clumps if planted in a “good” spot.

So what is a good spot for tulips?

In our climate they need perfect drainage and a sunny site. A rock garden, raised bed or a spot with sandy soil will give the best results for many happy returns if you take the time to plant the bulbs at least 8 inches deep and 6 inches apart.

Don’t water your tulip growing beds in the summer.

Tulips, daffodils and most other spring flowering bulbs need to lie dry and dormant in the summer months. Trying to grow them in a bed of thirsty annuals or near a lawn that is watered once a week is inviting rot to their roots. Plant your bulbs with other drought resistant plants such as sedums and succulents and they won’t have a drinking problem.

The most practical solutions for terrific tulips.

Everybody loves tulips including deer, voles, mice and mold. The easy answer is to foiling these pests is to fill large plastic nursery pots with at least six inches of potting soil, add a layer of tulip bulbs, then add more potting soil so the potted bulb are buried beneath at least 8 inches of soil.

Now leave the potted bulbs outdoors all winter so they can chill out. When you see signs of green sprouts in the spring, move the plastic pots onto the porch or patio to better protect from deer and slugs. Planting in pots protects them from submarine warfare (voles) as well. Your next step is to look around for creative solutions to hiding those plastic pots. I slip plastic pots of bubs into old baskets, metal washtubs, arrange them in an old wheelbarrow and even put empty foot lockers and suitcases to work displaying my potted bulbs. You can line your display containers with plastic and add a layer of drainage material or raise the pots up on plastic bottle caps to they don’t’ sit in drainage water.

Next hide the rims of the plastic pots with sheets of moss you pull from trees, or use recycled wine corks, bark chips or more soil. I have also recycled Easter grass like you would find in Easter baskets to hide the plastic pots that are sitting inside old baskets. The goal this fall is to plan now for a celebration of spring. Tall, dramatic tulips are the divas of the spring performance and by growing them in pots or accepting that the huge parrot tulips, Darwin tulips, peony tulips and fancy fringed tulips are one season wonders you not only won’t be disappointed when they don’t return but you’ll also be able to cut the ugly, fading tulip foliage right to the ground or uproot the bulbs once the flowers fade — and you won’t feel a bit guilty.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

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