Editor’s Note:This week’s version of Garden Plot was originally posted in November 2011. For personal reasons, Mike McGrath is not able to write a new post but assures us that this archived post is perfect for this time of year and will be helpful for gardeners.
Now if you jumped the gun and put your spring bulbs in the ground already, I strongly advise you to cover their planting areas with two inches of well-shredded leaves to keep the ground from warming up too much on “Indian Summer” days. If you don’t, your premature plantings (which already got quite a chill) could sprout this fall, which would mean no flowers come spring. This peril is especially likely if you really jumped the gun and planted before the beginning of October.
Not whole leaves, they must be shredded. And don’t use wood mulch if the planting area is within 30-feet of a home or car. At least a home or car that you don’t want to be covered with those tar-like artillery fungus spores.
Know your enemy: Bushy tail, beady eyes, tulip breath
The biggest natural enemy of spring bulb plantings is evil squirrels. I’m sorry, that was redundant. There are two reasons squirrels attack bulb beds.
One is to devour the tasty and edible kinds of bulbs (specifically tulips and crocus), which the ravenous rodents just can’t resist.
Another is to dig the bulbs up so that the treacherous tree rats can replace them with black walnuts, acorns and other nuts, which are dropping in abundance in many areas of the region this season.
And the final reason is that squirrels are evil and exist only to annoy gardeners and other decent people. Sorry, that was three reasons.
Don’t invite evil squirrels to trash your tulips
Sally Ferguson of the Netherland Flower Bulb Information Center reminds us that the No. 1 way to deter evil squirrels, voracious voles and dastardly deer from dining on your spring bulbs is to plant bulbs they won’t eat.
Tulips and crocus are delicious and nutritious, so everything eats them. But almost all of the other spring bulbs: daffodils, alliums, fritillaria and many others, are either toxic or just taste awful. Yes, squirrels will sometimes dig up daffodil bulbs and replace them with black walnuts, because squirrels are evil, but they won’t actually eat the bulbs.
Wait a minute — like that’s better for you?
Anyway, this problem is always worst for homeowners who feed squirrels either directly or via spilled bird seed (which also attracts mice, rats and plant-eating voles). So don’t put out those corncobs of treachery. And switch to feeding the birds suet over the winter instead.
Because only you can prevent squirrels.
Disguise the scent of your spring bulb beds
Evil squirrels love to dig up our spring bulb beds. To prevent this, Sally Ferguson urges you to clean up your bulb trash completely after you’re done planting, because “leaving brown scraps and bulb wrappers on the surface of the soil is like putting up a sign that says, ‘Tulips planted here. Come eat!'”
And if you want some added insurance, I’ve always advised spraying deer repellent on the surface of the soil to disguise the smell of the tasty treats below. But Sally tells me that she actually prefers to brush her dogs over-top of newly planted tulip beds and scatter more dog hair on top after every brushing. All of the pests that attack bulbs fear dogs, and there’s probably nothing more repellent than mulching your bulb beds with dog hair. And it’s a lot cheaper than buying deer repellent.
A spring bulb planting tip that helps the flowers return
Many people make their should-be-perennial spring bulbs one time wonders by chopping their greenery down to the ground in spring as soon as the flowers start fading. But the plants need those green leaves to collect the solar energy that fuels the growth of the following year’s flower.
So here’s a little trick that will hide those leaves for you.
Plant your bulbs in a big circle. In the center, plant Glory of the Snow, snowdrops and other super-early bloomers. Surround those with crocus, daffodils and other “normal-early-blooming,” as opposed to super-early bulbs.
Then surround that circle with a ring of early flowering tulips, surrounded by a ring of later blooming tulip varieties. Then finally, ring the outside with ornamental alliums, the tallest and latest blooming of the spring bulbs.
The newly emerging plants will continually hide the leaves of the early bloomers.
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