Now is the time to plant flowering bulbs for a burst of color early next spring. Those bright colors are so welcome after a long colorless winter. Tulips have a pointed end. That’s up. With some of the minor bulbs, it’s hard to tell which way to plant them. If you can’t tell, plant them on their side, they know which way is up. This has a fancy name, geotropism. You can use the same trick with wide seeds like pumpkin, melon or cucumber seeds. The stems will always grow up and the roots down.
Now how to plant; dig a wide hole for the minor bulbs as they should be planted in groups. Tulips need to be about a foot deep. Mix in a “bulb food” under the bulbs. Just bone meal doesn’t do the job. Put a layer of chicken grit (crushed granite), about an inch below the soil surface, then top with soil. This deters squirrels and chipmunks from digging your expensive bulbs up for lunch. Don’t bother with daffodils as all of the plant is poisonous. Don’t jam the bulb into the soil as you could damage the basal plate, the part of the plant where it will grow roots. If this is damaged, your bulb will probably rot, so be gentle.
If, like Bunkey, you have a habit of losing your tools in the garden, here is a tip. For wooden-handled tools, clean off the dirt and sand them smooth. Then paint with orange marking paint. There is nothing in the garden that color so they will stand out. That is unless you cover them with soil or mulch. Bunkey lost a favorite trowel in the garden for five years. It finally showed up one spring after the garden had been deep plowed. Needless to say, the handle was in bad shape.
If your tools have plastic handles, they can be sprayed with a special paint just for plastic. Of course, the best way not to lose hand tools is to keep them in a pail you can carry in the garden. Petunia has threatened to number his hand tools as he leaves them all over the place, then of course complains when he can’t find them.
Start mowing your grass shorter, about 2 ½ inches now. This will help prevent snow mold next spring. Keep mowing until the grass stops growing. Never burn or discard leaves. There are many ways to use them to enhance your estate. If you have a mulching mower you can leave a layer of chopped leaves on the grass. Not too deep. You should be able to see some grass leaves poking up through the leaves. Put a layer of chopped leaves on the vegetable garden and till them in. They will be well rotted by spring planting time. Your flower beds love a thick layer of leaves in the fall. It keeps the plants from being pushed out of the soil by frost heaves. It also keeps the soil from drying out in the strong fall and early spring winds.
If you have planted trees in the last five years, keep watering them. They need at least an inch of water a week. Newly planted perennials should be watered until a hard frost. Mums are popping up in all the local stores now. Don’t bother to plant them in the garden as these plants aren’t meant to be perennial. Only those from your nurseries will be the hardy types. Remember, the calluses you get in the fall ensure a floriferous spring.
Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.