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"Now is the Time to Plant Bulbs," by the Whistling Gardener

Last spring when my bulb buyer was sitting down with our bulb vendor working on our fall order of tulips, daffodils, and all the other wonderful bulbs that garden centers offer this time of year, I decided it would be fun to add a few varieties for my own garden. By the time my wife and I narrowed down our choices, we had ordered no less than 2500 bulbs.
Tulips and Daffodils. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Last spring when my bulb buyer was sitting down with our bulb vendor working on our fall order of tulips, daffodils, and all the other wonderful bulbs that garden centers offer this time of year, I decided it would be fun to add a few varieties for my own garden.

But instead of the packaged varieties that sit on our retail shelves, I elected to look at the “landscape” list which consists of varieties sold in units of 100’s and even a few of 250 each. 

By the time my wife and I narrowed down our choices, we had ordered no less than 2500 bulbs.

While I have to confess that I was excited at the time, now that they have arrived, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. That is a lot of bloody holes to dig, to say the least. If I actually manage to get them all planted before the end of the year, it should be spectacular come spring. Stay tuned!

Since our garden is still in its early stages and there is lots of bare ground, I wanted to make a big splash of color so I focused on the traditional tulips and daffodils, about a dozen varieties of each.

Tulips are good bloomers for usually only a couple of seasons before they divide themselves into three smaller bulbs and then you have to wait for a couple of years before you get a good production of flowers again.

By that time, the other shrubbery will have grown in and the tulips will have served their purpose as fillers and I will relocate whatever is left to the compost heap. Easy come, easy go I suppose, but not worth getting attached to.

Daffodils are a little more resilient than tulips, so I plan on locating them in areas where they will have room to multiply and bloom for several years, hopefully.

But even daffodils have their life span in gardens, where constant summer water and fertilizer can cause them to rot or be infected with narcissus maggots, so I don’t expect to see voluptuous displays for more than four to five years.

Perhaps at this point it is prudent to interject that I consider my garden a playground where I get to trial new plants and change themes from one year to the next and never allow myself to feel like I can’t move a plant here or there in search of the perfect combination of color, texture, or symmetry. 

We all know perfectly well that a garden is never finished, but rather a kinetic composition that changes with the seasons and as plants die or grow too aggressively, they need to be edited.

You too should never feel like you can’t toss out a plant that just isn’t working for you. If you can’t find a new home for it, then stick it in a pot and put it on the curb with a free sign and I guarantee it will disappear in no time at all.

Getting back to bulbs, the last thing I want to do is leave you with the feeling that they are a bad investment - they really are quite stunning and a welcome sight come springtime. 

The flashy varieties just need to be thought of as more temporal, where if you want staying power, then consider the smaller species tulips, cyclamineus daffodils and the myriad of other minor bulbs like snow drops, winter aconites, scilla, puschkinia, and chionodoxa - all of which, while seemingly insignificant as individuals, make a fabulous display when viewed in clumps. 

You can purchase all of these bulbs at your favorite garden center as we speak. Another 30 days and they will be gone until next year. Stay safe and keep on gardening!

Sunnyside’s next free online classes will be "Happy Houseplants" on Saturday, November 6, 2021, at 10:00 am; and "Winter Pruning For Happy Trees" on Sunday, November 7th, at 11:00 am. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at sunnysidenursery@msn.com.

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