Bulbs

Marking bulb plantings

Autumn sends northern gardeners’ thoughts to spring when bulbs cheerily bloom and chase away a gardener’s winter doldrums. But when planting groups of spring-blooming bulbs, how do you mark their location?

When I first began planting bulbs, I had smaller gardens with fewer plantings making it easy to recall where I dug in each grouping. Through years of adding bulb plantings to my expanding gardens, it became harder to keep track of the exact location of each bulb group. Many springs I surprised myself by forgetting about the location of a previous autumn’s bulb planting. This is not a bad thing, but it’s not exactly good gardening practice. Then, after accidentally digging into a group of bulbs during one of my many perennial bed rearranging spurts, I began marking each bulb planting in some way.

The obvious labeling option is to stick a plant tag into the ground towards the rear of each grouping. I suppose this works for botanical gardens and/or really, really organized gardeners using special metal plant markers, but such markers become quite an investment. Less expensive wooden or plastic plant tags either decay or break and I’m just not a fan of the sight of plant tags sticking out of perennial beds during snow-less winter months. Besides, I’m not that organized!

This led to a different obvious marking method … rocks. In New England we ‘grow’ as many rocks as anything, so encircling each planting with rocks became my go-to method. Flat rocks nicely mark bulb plantings when bulb foliage is no longer visible. Rocks blend into summer-blooming plantings. Rocks are free and abundant. Plus it’s easy to expand a rock circle outward as bulb groupings expand in size.

Spring bulb planting marked by a circle of flat rocks.

Spring bulb planting marked by a circle of flat rocks.

My absolute favorite method, though, uses re-purposed metal bands from no longer usable barrels … yep, those half-barrels sold as planters. The circular bands that once held wooden barrel slats in shape are perfect bulb-planting markers in my gardens.

Spring bulb planting marked with a re-purposed metal barrel band.

Spring bulb planting marked with a re-purposed metal barrel band.

The bands clearly mark bulb plantings, stay in place and don’t break or decay. The bands virtually disappear from view as neighboring perennials grow and, since I like to use old garden tools as garden ornaments, the rusty, old barrel bands fit right into my garden design style.

And while on the subject of planting bulbs … for the most look-at-me impact, plant bulbs in groupings of 5 to 10 bulbs per planting hole. Please avoid planting a row of one bulb in one hole. They’ll end up looking like a bunch of schoolchildren lined up to head to the lunch room.

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Don’t combine daffodils with other cut flowers

Enjoy vases of daffodils (aka narcissus) while they’re in bloom, but don’t combine daffodils with other cut flowers … the calcium oxalate crystals in daffodil sap will clog the stems of other blooming vase-mates, causing them to wilt.

Daffodills With Pussy Willows W5 Save For Web 576x1024

A cheery spring combination – a vase of daffodils next to a vase of pussy willows

I try to share this warning annually during daffodil season in Connecticut. In my south-central zone 6 gardens, daffodils are in bloom now, at about the same time they bloomed in 2013 but a month later than they graced my gardens in 2012.

When picking daffodils it’s best to try to keep their sap off your bare skin. The same crystals that wilt their vase-mates can also irritate human skin leading to a contact dermatitis known as ‘daffodil itch ‘  that is common among people who pick or work with the cheery spring bloomers.

My picking method involves slicing or snapping daffodil stems near their base, and holding the flower stems blossom-down to keep the sap in the hollow stems. When picking just a handful, I carry them into the house this way and quickly immerse the stems in cool water.

Cut Flower Supplies ThumbWhen gathering a larger bunch of daffodil blossoms, take a small clean bucket or other non-breakable water-holding container to the garden. After cutting, quickly place each stem  into the water-filled bucket. Using this method, the flowers can rest in the water until I have time to arrange them in a vase.

Daffodils are lovely solo in a vase, but adding a few woody branches makes for a more interesting mix. The branches add structure and height, and don’t seem bothered by the daffodil sap.

Don’t fret about the vase or the arrangement. Daffodils deserve a natural look – all mixed together in a haphazard way.

But do take time to freshen their water daily. All flower arrangements last longer when provided with daily fresh water. Also, keep the arrangement out of direct sunlight and away from any heat source. Follow these steps and your daffodil arrangements will cheer you up for days and days.

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