It’s garlic planting time — daffodils too!
Autumn signals the fall — the fall of leaves, the fall of plants and the fall of this tired gardener onto the couch for a long winter nap.
I can hear you say yes!
Not so fast; it’s not time to relax. It’s time to plan for next year. Yep — it’s spring bulb-planting time. Grab those bags of tulips, crocus and narcissus, sharpen your shovels and trowels and let’s dig in.
Don’t forget the garlic and shallots. In the maritime Northwest, we need to plant our garlic in the fall, so grab those bags of pungent bulbs, too. My mouth is salivating when I think about next year’s harvest and the savory dishes they will go into. Add some elephant garlic into the mix, too. You can plant the milder garlic for the table or as an ornamental. If you don’t want to harvest for the table, let the elephant garlic flower and enjoy the decorative globe clusters of lavender flowers in late spring.
You can dry the flowers by cutting them right after they lose their hats (the sheath that surrounds the flower bulb). Hang the individual stems upside down in a dark place. Please don’t make the same mistake I did, hanging the globes in the back of a coat closet to dry. I forgot about them, and when I opened the door after a few weeks … let’s just say the smell was robust. The aroma was intense enough to drive any lurking vampire out of the closet. Once the flowers dried, the pungent odor went away.
Garlic and many showy ornamental allium bulbs are in the onion family. Commonly called ornamental onions, we plant now for their flowers that appear sometime in late May to early June of next year. Globes of purple, violet, lavender or pink stand high on long stalks that look picture-perfect, nestled in lower shrubs or grasses and sedges.
The favorite bulbs for spring are tulips and daffodils. They add a lot of flower power when most of the garden is still coming out of its winter slumber. Centuries of breeding tulip varieties bring an outstanding range of colors and an array of bloom times spanning late winter to late spring. You need to plan where and when you want the color to go off in your garden!
Daffodils have also been bred to the point where you could grow ten new varieties every year and may never be able to grow them all. Flowers blossom as regal singles, blousy doubles, yellow sepals, white ones too, orange, red or pink cups — small ones, tall ones; well, you get the picture.
What a statement they make in your garden when planted in large groups instead of lined up like soldiers along a walkway. Clump your bulbs in groups of 20 to 25 for maximum impact. Nestle these clumps next to other plants or large rocks or stumps. Repeat the clusters or plant a drift of color, yet keep them together.
With my shovel, I dig holes wide enough for the clump and deep enough for the recommended bulb depth. Since I plant clusters of 25 to 100 bulbs at a time, I don’t particularly appreciate using bulb planters as it takes much longer to dig individual holes for each bulb.
A shovel makes short work of digging the hole, throwing in some bone meal, and plopping in all the bulbs simultaneously. After spacing them right side up and close together, yet never in contact with each other, backfill the hole and water. Top it off with compost or dry mulch, such as a fine bark. When the plants are above ground in spring, the mulch keeps the rain from splashing mud onto the plants while suppressing the winter weeds. Mulch provides many other benefits, too.
Potting up bulbs in containers for staging later is another way to use them. Stuff the bulbs in to fill the pot horizontally with any bulbs you choose. Next year, when they begin to flower, stage them on your porch.
Nothing chases winter away faster than going outside on a sunny deck on a warm spring day, and next to you is a large pot overflowing with fragrant daffodils or festive tulips at their peak in your favorite color.