It's that time of year when the spring bulbs have stopped flowering, and our annuals are coming to life. This week full of rain has gone a long way towards helping our gardens to grow! Mickey Rathbun of the Daily Hampshire Gazette weighs in again, in the following article, about how to care for your spring bulbs to ensure that they continue to bloom. She offers advice about prettying up garden beds where deflowered bulbs are still hanging out, and lets us know about some upcoming gardening and nature events in the Northampton area! The moral of the story is, don't cut those bulb flowers back just yet!
Taking Care of Spring Bulbs
by Mickey Rathbun, Daily Hampshire Gazette
Most spring bulbs have flowered by now and are looking a bit forlorn, surrounded by burgeoning spring perennials that are growing almost visibly by the day. The green stalks and leaves of tulips, narcissus and other bulbs may look idle, but they are working hard to store up energy to produce next spring’s crop of blooms.
To ensure abundant flower production next year, resist the urge to cut back the foliage, even though it’s unsightly. The remaining leaves serve a vital function to the plant by restoring energy to the bulb by producing carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Without this, the bulb will not have the necessary nourishment to produce flowers the following year.
Leave the foliage until it turns yellow and dies back, a process that can take six weeks or longer. If the dying foliage is making an eyesore in a visible part of the garden, you can hide it by strategic planting perennials. I finally figured out that if I plant spring bulbs near the back of the border, they are naturally camouflaged by early blooming perennials such as bleeding hearts and euphorbia. This year, a bumper crop of forget-me-nots came up among my bleeding hearts, creating a lake of pale blue. While not tall enough to mask the scraggly bulb foliage, they distract the eye.
Annuals are another solution. Larkspur and Bells of Ireland have good height to block out the dying foliage. Delphinium (some treat it as an annual; at best, it’s a short-lived perennial) and foxglove (a biennial) can also provide a screen. Bulbs of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are deep enough below the surface that you can put in annuals without disturbing them
To maximize the bulbs’ ability to send out next year’s blooms, it’s a good idea to snip flowers as soon as they have wilted. This prevents the bulbs from wasting energy on producing seed. Leave as much stalk as possible to promote photosynthesis.
When the foliage is finally caput, cut them close to the ground. Don’t pull them out or you will risk damaging the bulb. After all you’ve done to nurture the bulb, you don’t want that to happen!
Bulbs will multiply underground on their own. After a few years, if you notice they are producing fewer flowers, it’s likely because they’ve become overcrowded. If this happens, you can dig them up and separate them.
The best time to do this is after the foliage has died but before you have removed it. At this point, the bulbs are fully nourished. Dig them up carefully, separate the bulblets and replant them. The largest ones will mature the fastest. If the main bulb is still firm and in good condition, you can replant it. If it’s shriveled or damaged, discard it.
You might want to wait to replant them in the fall. If you go this route, clean off the excess dirt and let the bulbs dry out for a few days. Toss any that are soft or damaged. Store in a cool, dry place packed loosely in dry peat moss.
You may need to wait a year or two for the bulbs to produce flowers. If you don’t want to wait, you can plant the bulblets in a holding area until they are big enough to bloom. This requires twice as much digging and lifting as immediate replanting. Let your back (and knees) be your guide.
Just think of the delight spring bulbs bring us after a long New England winter. Take good care of yours now and you will be richly rewarded.
Paradise City Arts Festival THIS COMING WEEKEND!
Although this wonderful annual festival offers much more than garden adornments, it’s a great place to find that special object that can transform your garden into something unique and personal.
Unusual birdbaths, planters, outdoor sculpture, furniture and more. The festival takes place at the Three-County Fairgrounds in Northampton, Memorial Day weekend, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and open until 4 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, $8 for students, 12 and under free.
For nature lovers and hikers wanting to learn more about forest ecology, the Hitchcock Center is hosting an exploration with plant ecologist Glenn Motzkin of a rich, mesic forest — one where the soils are not highly acid, are rich in certain minerals, and where the soil is moist but not wet. The site will have good variety of trees, wildflowers and ferns.
Motzkin will help bring the ecology of this habitat alive for participants and will share recent understandings about the importance of these habitats. The walk will take place June 3, 9 a.m. until noon, at a meeting location to be provided upon registration. Be prepared for insects and perhaps ticks! Cost is $20 for members; $30 for non-members. For more information and to register, go to hitchcockcenter.org.
Come spend a few hours enjoying the six special gardens featured this year in and around Northampton on the 24th Northampton Garden Tour June 10 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine.
The self-guided tour raises funds for the Friends of Forbes Library, Inc. to help finance needed programs and materials for the library. It also aims to inspire and educate garden-lovers with visits to a variety of appealing landscape styles and collections of plantings.
This year’s six gardens are located along a scenic 15-mile route, making gardens accessible by car and offering a pleasant bicycle ride with varied terrain.
Driving directions are included with the tickets. At each garden, there are descriptions of the plantings and volunteer garden guides on hand to answer questions.
Tour tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennial Farm, Cooper’s Corner, Hadley Garden Center, North Country Landscapes and Garden Center, and State Street Fruit Store. On the day of the tour, tickets are $20 and available only at the library.
There also will be a raffle. of gift baskets on view at Forbes Library through June 8.
For more details visit www.forbeslibrary.org or call Lyn Heady, 584-7041.
Mickey Rathbun can be reached at email@example.com.