Jody’s gardening column for 0509

Delighting in dahlias, so happy about glads
Good morning! And a very Happy Mother’s Day to all. Mother’s Day, spring and flowers just all seem to go together so well in the merry, merry month of May. I was extremely happy to turn that calendar page from April to May and know that things in the garden would start popping much faster. I am quite impatient this time of year, and I know many of you feel the same.

I went outside this morning and was greeted by the first brave little souls in the garden. A small batch of very early red tulips had opened, as had the grape hyacinths. Usually the first color in the garden each spring is the result of bulbs planted last fall. But not everyone is aware of the beauty that can be found from planting summer bulbs and now is the perfect time to search them out and begin planting them.

There is such a wide range of possibilities for adding variety to the garden and to containers. Unfortunately, for those of us in Maine, many of these wonderful bulbs won’t winter over. So, you can treat them like annuals or you can bring them in to winter in the basement and bring them back out next year. Either way, many of them are worth the effort.

There are dahlias, of course. Many of you are already aware of them and value the colors and cut flowers they provide in late summer into the fall. They range from short at 18 to 24 inches to 6-feet tall. The flowers cover the gamut from little pom-poms to dinner plate size blooms with everything in-between. I dedicate an entire bed to them and since I start the shorter ones in the house in April, I start filling vases at the end of June instead of the beginning of August. Once dahlias start blooming, they continue full force until frost. The bulbs also multiply. So, you can buy six and have 18 or 24 to store next fall.

Dahlias do better in the ground than in pots except for the short patio dahlias, which are great in containers. There are only a few tricks to dahlias. They don’t like a lot of nitrogen. It makes them very green but inhibits flower production – so no Miracle Gro. When you plant the bulbs, stake the tall ones at that time so you don’t puncture the bulb trying to get a stake in later.

Gladioluses also like the ground because of their eventual height. Many glads are hardy to our zone, so check the bulbs carefully when you purchase them and plant them where you would enjoy seeing them each year. Most glads will not stand up to wind and driving rain, which our summer thunderstorms produce, so staking them will save your blooms.

Lilies come from bulbs as well and the range of Oriental and Asiatic lilies available around the state seems to multiply each year. A majority of these can stay in the ground for the winter, will multiply and come back for years. But there are dozens of other lilies that are wonderfully different and fun – like spider lilies and Peruvian lilies – that will happily grow and bloom but will not winter. Putting them in large pots will add the color and interest in the garden and allow you to collect them quite easily come fall. This is also the case with calla lilies. I originally purchased four bulbs about three years ago. I now have 18 pots started and ready to bloom in the greenhouse with a few left to give to friends.

Good drainage required

The effort of collecting, cleaning and storing bulbs can be well worth it when you look at the numbers and the “free” flowers you get in the end.

Many folks in Central Maine buy tuberous begonias in hanging baskets or in pots each year for their shady spots. They grow from bulbs, as well. Their maturity time is a bit longer and therefore starting them early is a good plan if you want ongoing flowers beginning in spring. The same is true of caladiums and freesia.

Another hardy summer bulb is allium or ornamental onion. The hybridizers have been working full out on these, and the results can be really fun. They range from the 5-foot tall purple or white allium with a round flower the size of a softball to tiny little pink ones that are airy and ethereal.

Advice for summer bulbs is much like that for tulips and daffodils. The hardy ones that are to be left in the ground require soil that is well-drained and gets sunshine. The quickest way to lose bulbs is through rot because the ground is wet. For the tender bulbs, like cannas, callas and the unusual lilies, put them in pots with good potting soil or in the ground with good drainage and give them lots and lots of sunshine. If you start them early and it is going to get cold, bring the pots inside or cover them in the garden. Just turn a pot upside down over them and put a rock on top. But remember to take the pot off in the morning.

So check out those bulb displays at the nurseries and the box stores. You may find an experiment this summer will produce wonderful results for your garden.

Until next time, watch for the hummers, be careful of the ladybugs that are awake and in the garden, open your window in the morning and just listen to the songbirds who have returned and brought their music with them, wave to your neighbors as they begin coming back outside and enjoy those cookout smells. Happy gardening!

Some handy hints

• Get those peony rings on now or you’ll be breaking branches in a few weeks trying to accomplish this task.

• If you put lime on your lawn, save a bit for your lilacs, peonies and clematis – they all have a fondness for it.

• The slugs will be appearing soon to munch on all the new green. Get the Sluggo out now and stop them fast.

• Start saving your used coffee filters now. When you get ready to plant your containers, place a coffee filter over the pots’ drainage holes before filling the pots. The filters keep the dirt in and let the water out.

• It’s easier to get compost around your plants before they get too big and you have to reach in under branches. But pull any early weeds before applying it.

• Apply slow-release fertilizers by the end of the month.

• Feed your roses, beginning now!

• If you are planting new perennials, put a plastic plant marker in the hole with the plant. Then do a garden metal marker near the plant. If the permanent marker disappears while raking etc., the backup is available. If you put the plastic marker at the edge of the hole, with only a tip showing, the ground will protect it but you would be able to pull it up to identify the new perennial.

Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 20 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her two dogs and two cats. She can be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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