Time to get busy with bulbs

Jeff Lowenfels

Two things are in order this week. The first is the annual call to get spring flowering bulbs into the ground. Of course, this means buying some. The second is to note, before the frost, which plants need special care so as not to be killed by a dip in the temperature. Hopefully, this is information that won't be needed for a long, long time.

Let's start with the spring flowering bulbs. These are the bulbs you plant in the fall and which bloom in the spring. Tulips, daffodils, galanthus, squills and in the warmer, microclimate locations, crocuses, can all be planted now. These bulbs are the first things to bloom in the spring and really add some needed color when nothing else does. Many bulb sellers don't market this time of year, as it is a bit early for most in the Lower 48 to plant. The trick is to get your hand on bulbs so that you can plant them this month.

Fortunately local nurseries -- and some of the box stores, too -- recognize the demand for spring bulbs here and bring them in early. Start looking for them now and buy when you see them. Don't wait or you will be sorry. Go for the biggest bulbs in their class and get as many as you can afford.

Each should come with instructions for planting. The important thing up here is to mulch well and by that, I mean thickly. I use grass clippings as it feeds the right microbes that feed the plants. The mulch will also keep the ground thawed for a while so that roots can develop. Once things freeze up, the mulch keeps it frozen.

Of course, you can order bulbs from Outside as well. I like Brent and Becky's Bulbs (store.brentandbeckysbulbs.com) as they have been here and know what we require. Plus, they have fantastic stuff. Frankly, I like them so much, I can't think of another place to send you. They have top-notch bulbs and that is all that really matters.

On to the possibility of a frost soon. At the top of the list are the plants you want to bring indoors. These would include amaryllises, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cacti and other houseplants. I would get them in now. Why wait? In addition consider coleus, impatiens, begonias, pelargonium fuchsias and anything in hanging baskets. These too, can be enjoyed indoors for a while, at least, and perhaps all winter long if you have lights (big hint there).

Isolate them in a separate room or the garage for awhile, if possible, to intercept hitchhiking aphids and slugs.

Next, fuchsia really don't do well with a frost. Get them to a storage nursery or store them yourself. Bring them into an unheated garage and let the growth die back. Then clip to a pyramid shape and store in a dark, 40 degree spot where you can check from time to time to ensure yours doesn't completely dry out.

Rhodchitons need to come in and can also be stored in a dark, cool spot for the winter. Or, like fuchsia and pelargoniums can be grown indoors in a cool location with a bit of supplemental light.

Tuberous begonias, dahlias and gladiolas can withstand a few light frosts, so you can leave them be if they are still preforming (or about to preform) as is the case with many dahlias and glads. Otherwise, bring them in. Let them die back in the garage and then store them. Dahlias go in sand or sawdust with the neck of the stem still attached. Tuberous begonias can stay in their containers and glads and be put in a paper bag. Don't forget to label things and store them at 40 to 45 degrees.

Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at teamingwithmicrobes.com or by calling 274-5297 during "The Garden Party" radio show from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays on KBYR AM-700.