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Time to Plant Those Bulbs


There’s a nip in the air — I wouldn’t yet call it a chill — that prompted me to rummage through the box on the back porch yesterday and bring out the bags of bulbs I will be planting. Some of them maybe even today.

Since I never know how many of my tulips will return, I always make a point of planting some more each fall. This happens to be real work since it has me crawling around roses and hydrangeas, getting scratched and poked in the process. If I only had a brand new patch of ground to plant, life would be easy. Brent Heath, co-owner of Brent and Becky’ Bulbs, a mail order company in Gloucester, Virginia, once gave a talk at the Chicago Botanic Garden where he astounded us all with the statement that he could plant … did he say 500? ... bulbs in an hour. Whatever it was, it was a staggering number. He also showed us how he digs with the trowel held “backward” and digs toward himself instead of away. It goes faster that way, he insisted.

Photos: Ron Capek

I always add some crocuses each year since, like diamonds, you can never have too many, and what else can carpet the ground as early as the end of March? There’s the charming yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), but it’s a fickle little bulb that will reward you if it likes your soil. Plant some, to be sure, but don’t expect them to be as reliable as crocuses. Grape hyacinths (Muscari), windflower (Anemone blanda), Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) and glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa) don’t pop up quite as early as crocus and aconite, but they are all reliable performers that will cheer your spirits no end. Learn more about minor bulbs here.

To learn more about bulbs, check out the Fall Bulb Primer, written for our September/October issue by Liz Holmberg, co-owner of Lizzie’s Garden in Naperville. And to read about some more unusual bulbs, read Beth Botts’ story in our March/April issue, Weird and Wonderful Bulbs There’s a photo of the fabulous yellow crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis) on the cover.

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questions

I have a nicely sheltered, rounded 7-foot tall Japanese red maple on the southeast corner of my backyard. Half of the tree has lost its leaves, the formerly red bark is turning gray, and a good-sized square of bark has been stripped off on the side that faces the yard. I sprayed the exposed bark with black pruning spray to close any entry for insects. I have not cut off any of the branches.

Does the winter have any effect on the tree? Should I look for some insect infestation? What should I do now?

Late last year most of the leaves on my year-old seven-son tree (Heptacodium) turned brown, starting at the tips. It had some new growth on the tips and buds. I used a tree ring soaker hose every two weeks.

What are your three favorite “all-but-forgotten” perennials that every garden should include? Why do you like them?

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