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The Secret Life of Bulbs


The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming!

I knew that would get your attention. It would be a lot harder to get gardeners to respond to a cry of “The bulbs are drawing nigh! The bulbs are drawing nigh!” How about “The rhizomes are riding!” or “The tubers are turning!“ or “The corms are, uh, corming!” Okay, now it’s getting a little out of control.

My point is that we are under attack by these “stealth” plants. Some folks think I’m paranoid but those people are the ones who are out to get me. I say look around! What do you see? Tiny shoots poking up through the leaves and fast food wrappers in your neighborhood. Do you know what that says to me? Reconnaissance, people! Uh-huh. Little periscopes checking out the situation. “Is it safe?” “Is the snow gone yet?” “Any dogs around?” “Ooh, look, a caterpillar!”

And everything is controlled from below the ground. Are you listening to me? If bulbs are so wonderful, why are they hiding? What is it they don’t want us to see? CENTCOM? Are they smoking cigarettes? Or is it that they haven’t put on their makeup yet?

Let’s face it; bulbs and their allies are crafty. Heck, they don’t even look like plants. They look like onions and shallots. What’s that you say? Onions and shallots are bulbs? It only proves my point. And don’t get me sidetracked!

Some corms resemble prunes that got left in the trunk of your car for a couple of decades. How do I know? Been there, done that. And yet…and yet…as nasty and wrinkly as they can be, there they are, ready to grow and turn into your worst nightmare — a pink and white Anemone blanda, for example — with just a little bit of soil, some moisture and the right signal from Mother Nature. Yup, she’s in on this little conspiracy, too.

Did you know that a corm is really a modified stem covered with a fibrous tunic? What’s that all about? Unless you’re having a toga party, which is pretty retro itself. Who wears a tunic anymore? Each year a new corm grows on top of the old one, much like “a stack of donuts,” according to one source. See? More camouflage. Just try having a corm with a cup of coffee. You’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life. Sorry. Just watched “Casablanca” last week. Let’s push on.

Ah, yes, bulbs. Even the name is slightly sinister. Often, it’s the first word out of a baby’s mouth. It’s a fact, if I do say so myself. Do you know that there’s a teeny, tiny plant inside of every bulb? All I want to know is how did it get there? Huh? And if the plant is already there, then it pretty much means that they don’t need human beings at all! Not only do I find that insulting, it’s fairly depressing.

Another reason to be distrustful of bulbs is that true bulbs (right–as if anything that nefarious could be called “true”) are made of scales. Hey, I’ve seen enough science fiction to know that you never, ever trust anything with scales. (Personally, I’m thinking of The Lizard from Spiderman, but if you want to count the Cardassians from Star Trek or Snake Men from Masters of the Universe, knock yourself out.)

Bulbs like daffodils have substantial tunics, but on tulip bulbs the tunic is papery and thin, and on some bulbs, there is no tunic at all. That is shameful and indecent. No wonder horticulture is going to heck in a handbag. That and plastic flower bed edging, but I’ll deal with that another day.

For now, I’m here to sound the warning. Look around you. You’re surrounded by bulbs and you probably won’t notice…until it’s too late. It turns 80 degrees in April, your tulip blooms for one day and then you’re stuck with that nasty foliage for two months. Or you wrap rubber bands around daffodil leaves in a futile attempt to keep them neat. Eww. If that isn’t a plot for world domination, I don’t know what is. Or you bring hyacinths or paperwhites into the house, only to be asphyxiated in your sleep as a result of sensory overload.

They are taking over our world, my friends. Now I must go. My amaryllis plant needs the computer to log onto her Facebook page.

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questions

I have some peonies that I want to transplant but cannot plant them in their permanent place until next spring when our new house will be built. Can I dig them now and transplant them again next spring?

What does it take to make a climbing hydrangea flower? Ours was planted 3 years ago and is growing energetically. It’s in a protected nook near the patio and gets very little direct sunlight, but doesn’t act sun starved. We gave it a shot of slow release fertilizer on planting, and once since. Somewhat inadvertently it gets plenty of water, since the hose spigot is nearby and leaks, but drainage does not seem to be the problem. It now fully occupies an 8-foot trellis but shows no interest in flowering. Is it youth, lack of sun, too much or too little fertilizer, bugs, lack of pruning or what? When do these plants bloom and what conditions do they like?

I have two 20-year-old pine trees whose needles are turning brown on the west side of the plants. On the east side I have a compost pile.

I live in the St. Charles region and my soil is mostly clay. What is causing the browning? Should I get rid of the compost? How do I correct the damage?

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