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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

Note: Information has been added to the original article.

by Carolyn Singer
October 11, 2008

Pushing garlic cloves into fertile soil moistened by an early rain is one of the joys of fall. Once I get my garlic crop planted for next June's harvest, I can turn my attention to all the other bulbs.

Garlic should be grown in soil enriched with compost. Your own compost, poultry manure, or organic mushroom compost may be used. Add an organic source of phosphorus: colloidal phosphate, soft or raw rock phosphate, using 15 to 20 pounds per hundred square feet. Since foothill soils tend to be acidic, also add 5 pounds of oystershell per hundred square feet.

Mix all these amendments thoroughly into native clay soil. Soil prepared for garlic should be light and rich. Cloves will not grow vigorously and may even rot in heavy clay soil wet with winter rains.

garlicSeparate each head of garlic into individual cloves saving the largest for planting. Push the cloves into the soil to about two-inch depth (one inch of soil above the top of the bulb). A light mulch of straw will prevent compaction from winter rains. I plant a bed three feet by six feet, spacing each clove six inches from its neighbor. Too much garlic? Never!

While I am planting my garlic this week, the window for planting extends well into November. I prefer to get cloves into the ground while the soil is still warm. Once the soil cools, the development of a good root system and the absorption of nutrients will slow.

Narcissus 'Little Beauty'Local nurseries always have an enticing assortment of bulbs for spring flowering. Each year I try to add a few more to my landscape. The challenge with this is remembering where I have already planted!

A few years ago I decided to plant bulbs in containers. It was more efficient, and I didn't have to be concerned about previous plantings. It is disconcerting to dig into the "perfect spot" in the garden only to discover that it is already taken!

bulbs in containersIf you are an older gardener or have back problems, planting bulbs in containers makes good sense, since you can do this with little or no bending over!

Make a good container mix, with compost, perlite and a little vermiculite, adding the rock powders already discussed. This magic mix goes into the bottom of the nursery containers, allowing a few inches for good root development. Place bulbs on top of the mix, and then cover with light compost and leaves on top. Hold in a shaded area where bulbs will receive consistent moisture from rains, bringing the containers into brighter light (part shade) when leaves show. Irrigate only as needed between rains if the planting medium dries out.

Hyacinth bulbsDistance between bulbs varies, depending on the size of the bulb. Smaller bulbs are placed an inch apart. Large bulbs such as summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), tulips, and hyacinth may be separated by three inches. They will fill the container with foliage and flowers. Sometimes I plant them into the garden in midwinter when other bulbs are emerging. Or I may wait until the bulbs are flowering to find the perfect place in the garden. Slip the rooted bulbs from the container, gently separating the roots, but without separating the bulbs.

Of course some of these bulbs are given as gifts to friends. Others are placed in a decorative pot while they are in their prime, then removed to a holding area to be planted later, or to enjoy at least one more year in the same container. Bulbs are forgiving, blooming year after year even with the benign neglect of a busy gardener!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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