Press-Republican

November 19, 2012

Last call for bulbs

AMY IVY, Cornell Cooperative Extension
Press-Republican

---- — This is your last call to buy and plant spring bulbs as well as to pull up and store summer bulbs. 

The relatively mild fall weather we’ve had has extended the planting season for spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and crocus, and most are on sale right now. I usually think of October as the month to plant spring bulbs, but as long as the ground hasn’t frozen, you can still get away with planting them into November. The idea is to give the bulbs a chance to produce some roots but no shoots before winter arrives so they’ll be better able to take off next spring when the milder weather returns.

Forcing spring bulbs to flower during winter can be a lot of fun; it’s such a treat to see some vivid color indoors during the depths of winter. Since bulbs are on sale now, you can take a few chances to see what method will work best for you.

To force spring bulbs, plant several close together in wide, shallow pots using the same good-quality mix you use for houseplants and containers. The trickiest part is finding a place where they can rest at about 40 degrees for several weeks. An attached garage can sometimes work well. The larger bulbs — daffodils and tulips — need 10 to 12 weeks of chilling while the the smaller bulbs — crocus, grape hyacinth and scilla — need just six to eight weeks.

Paperwhites, those ultra-fragrant white daffodils, and amaryllis do not need any cold treatment at all. With these, you just pot them up and water them. The regular Amaryllis can sometimes be too large for a small space, and the tall flower stalks often get top-heavy and topple over. I prefer the dwarf, compact varieties of amaryllis. Each blossom is smaller, but you get more of them and the plant is more in proportion, to my eye anyway.

If you grew any of the tender summer bulbs — dahlia, canna lily, gladioulus or acidanthera — you should have dug them up and brought them indoors by now. All of these can be easily stored in a cool location for the winter. It is important to keep them above freezing; basements usually work pretty well. They are prone to rotting in a plastic bag or bin so store any of these in a paper bag or mesh onion bag. If your basement is like mine and sees the occasional mouse, you might want to hang these bags from an overhead beam to make them a little harder to reach.

Take one last look around your back porch, utility room, work bench, wherever last summer’s seed packets accumulate, and gather up any leftovers you want to save for next year. I find they keep best if I put the packets into a glass quart canning jar, tighten the lid, and then store the jar at the back of my refrigerator for the summer. This is a good way to store any seeds you saved from your garden. The refrigerator keeps them at an even temperature, and the closed jar maintains an even humidity level. Seeds are alive, so if you want them to sprout well next year, it helps to give them a little TLC over the winter.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your feast will feature some locally grown or produced products.

Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Clinton County. Office phone numbers: Clinton County, 561-7450; Essex County, 962-4810; Franklin County, 483-7403. Website: www.cce.cornell.edu/ecgardening. Email questions to askMG@cornell.edu.