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Brenda's Garden
by Brenda Beust Smith

Friday, October 01, 2010

Time to plant bulbs in Brenda's Garden



"No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one autumnal face."
~John Donne

If I didn't know better, I'd think John Donne had been a Gulf Coast gardener.  Not many people realize that fall is actually a better gardening time here than is spring, and certainly better than summer!

Bugs get fewer, days get cooler, rain comes for in reasonable quantities, flowers that have languished all summer suddenly pop out with the most intense colors of the year.

It's also the season of the Garden Club of Houston's huge Bulb & Plant Mart(  There you'll find the biggest variety and quantity of bulbs available anywhere in our area. (They also have a huge selection of super hardy flowers, shrubs, trees, vines and "unique" plants.)

DEAR BRENDA:  I love tulips but the ones I planted last year had just low foliage and no flowers.  Or they had tiny flowers hidden down in the foliage.  What did I do wrong?  They grew beautifully for me in Kansas.  SM

DEAR BRENDA:  Why don't my pansies ever do well?  I see them all over but mine are always puny.  BK

DEAR SM & BK:  You both need to realize that we are a unique little subtropical pocket and plant accordingly.  The picture of tulips and pansies above is a great example of "Do" and "Don't" gardening chores.

DO pick out your tulip bulbs now.  What happened to you, SM, is that your tulips "blasted." This is what happens when the bulb does not receive enough cold to help it develop properly.

We have to refrigerate tulips, hyacinths, muscari and crocus  a minimum of four to six weeks before planting, to compensate for our lack of prolonged cold.  Longer is better, but never less than four to six weeks if you want pretty flowers.

Pick them out now, put them in a paper sack or old stocking, and store them in the refrigerator until the end of December.  Then plant them in a spot that gets good winter sun.  They'll bloom in spring and then are discarded. They won't rebloom here.

DON'T plant pansies now in the ground.  They are starting to show up in nurseries, but our October sun is still too hot.  I bet, BK, that you planted too early.  The roots never properly developed because the soil was just too hot.

Since choices are best now, go ahead and buy your pansies.  But pot them into containers for a while and set them in the shade.  Put them in the ground around the end of November.

If your pansies are disappearing overnight, suspect wild rabbits.  Caviar! I've never tried it, but I hear that human hair is great for repelling rabbits.  Next time you get your hair cut, take a wastebasket with a plastic bag.  Ask your hairdresser to please save a day's supply of hair clippings for you and sprinkle them around the pansy bed.

Actually, I do have a lot of wild rabbits that I love and I do cut my son's hair and throw all the clippings in the gardens.  So I don't have problems with other flowers but I also don't bother with pansies anymore.

DEAR BRENDA: What's the difference between narcissus & daffodils?  I love paperwhites. Which are they? Why can't I get my daffs to come back more than just one or two years? JO

NarcissusDEAR JO:  All daffodils are Narcissus.  But not all Narcissus are daffodils. I love them, because they bring to mind one of my most favorite poem, Woodsworth's Daffodils, that ends:

In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

But that doesn't answer your question.  Paperwhites LOVE us.  You can plant these fragrant ladies almost anywhere and they'll grow and bloom in January and February when nothing else is blooming.

'Fortune' daffodils (the traditional yellow) doesn't hate us, but it's usually not crazy enough about us to return and bloom again for more than a couple of  years. 

The farther north you live, the better success you'll have with them — depending on our winters, of course.

Fancy daffodils will bloom the first season.  You don't have to refrigerate them. But don't take it personally if they don't come back.

One more tip on daffs/narcissus/paperwhites:  If you have a squirrel problem and you feed the bulbs with bonemeal, squirrels may dig up the bulbs to get the bonemeal.  Use superphosphate instead.

AmaryllisLouisiana Iris

Let me close by recommending two of my most favorite Lazy Gardener bulbs: amaryllis (left)and Louisiana iris (right). 

Actually, Louisiana iris aren't bulbs, they're tubers. 


Flowers with tubers (cannas are another example) and corms (gladiolus) are usually lumped in with "bulbs" because their culture is so similar.

LA iris are perfect for almost any spot in the yard except deep, deep shade.  They tolerate very wet soils and droughts.  They may go dormant if the weather gets too extreme, but for the most part the 2- to 3-foot sword-like foliage stays green all year round.  The flowers come in almost every color of the rainbow and the Bulb and Plant Mart (see above) is a great source.  They're very hard to find in nurseries because they don't like being out of the soil that long.  But, ironically, they make striking container plants.

Most bulbs are planted here in the fall.  Louisiana iris and amaryllis (another Lazy Gardener favorite) can be planted anytime.

About the only problem you'll have with amaryllis is if they sink too low.  Keep that neck about ground, especially if they stop blooming as well as they have in past seasons.

P.S.  Don't miss new posts. Make the Houston Chronicle Lazy Gardener's Blog ( your home page.

Brenda Beust Smith > Brenda's Garden)
Email Brenda for list of area gardening/environmental speakers ($5) andlist
of her topics for garden club presentations ($250-$300)

"THE LAZY GARDENER'S GUIDE ON CD" — a gardening book on CD offers gardening tips plus 12 pre-designed gardens for butterflies, hummers, sun, shade and more. Monthly what-to-do reminders for Greater Houston/Gulf Coast gardens. $20 each. Make checks payable to Brenda B. Smith & mail to: Lazy Gardener's Guide on CD, 14011 Greenranch,
 Houston, TX 77039-2103.

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