Saturday, October 1, 2011

It's Fall in North Carolina - Time for Bulb Shopping!

It is now officially fall, and the weather is getting cooler.  It's one of my favorite times of the year - bulb shopping!   The plant stores are full of bulbs, the bulb catalogs have come in, and I am having fun deciding which new flowers to add to my gardens.

Springtime at the Red House
Bulbs are one of the easiest ways to grow plants, in my opinion, and nothing says spring like those early bulbs coming up after a long brown winter.  (Here in North Carolina, we have brown winters.  Having grown up with white winters, I must say I appreciate a little snowfall to pretty things up!) 

Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' is one of my earliest bloomers, coming up with the crocuses at the end of February.
Where is the best place to get bulbs?  Many common bulbs you can get in big home and garden stores, and these have grown just fine for me and are the most economical.  Their selection will also give you a clue as to what type of bulbs work well in your area.  Many local garden nurseries will have a larger selection of bulbs.  If you get bulbs early, store them in a cool, dark place until it is time to plant them.

If local stores do not have the color or type of bulb you are looking for, you can order them online.  I order many bulbs at Brent and Becky's Bulbs.   Their selection is amazing (they have over 200 different types of daffodils alone) and many of the bulbs I've gotten from them are more like doubles.  If you want to see reviews of any online stores, you can find them at Dave's Garden, a plant and garden store review site. 

Narcissus 'White Lion' with Narcissus 'Sweetness'
What bulbs do well in North Carolina and the Southeast?  NC State University has some good information about bulbs that do well in North Carolina as well as some tables on their bloom times.

If you are looking for critter-proof bulbs, Narcissus (also known as daffodils) are the easiest to grow, and they tolerate my heavy clay quite well.  Allium needs better drainage than my clay is currently affording, but they are more critter-proof as well.  Hyacinth bulbs are toxic to animals, and Snowdrops are supposed to be critter-resistant as well.  (I do not make any guarantees, however, especially when it comes to squirrels!)

As far as non-critter-proof bulbs go, Crocus grow well in this area if you can keep them away from the squirrels and voles.  (Let's not talk about those 100 crocus bulbs that 'disappeared' even after I covered them with netting and mulch.)  Most Tulips are considered to be an annual here in the Southeast, as they need a cold winter to flower reliably.  I have tried growing them in outdoor planters to keep them colder with some success.  You can also dig them up after their foliage dies and store them in cool dry place for replanting in the fall.  Species tulips are more likely to be perennial.  Tulips do need good drainage, and be aware - they are very tasty to many critters.

Red tulips in an outdoor planter.  They came up again, but deer and rabbits often ate the flowers.
There are various tricks you can try to keep the animals from eating your plants, such as planting with tabasco and red pepper, planting bulbs in cages, and spraying foliage with various repellants.  Planting bulbs in gardens close to house entryways will deter a lot of critters.   There is a reason I plant so many daffodils, though!

I had many crocus planted in the gardens at my last house.  Animals usually left them alone, probably because they were so close to the house.
When should I plant my bulbs? You should plant your bulbs when the soil temperatures are below 55° or 60°F, or when the temperature at night is below 50°F for a couple of weeks.  In North Carolina, that is usually around the end of October or beginning of November.  If you plant your bulbs when it is too warm outside, it will start putting its energy into sprouting as opposed to making nice roots, which you don't want.  Also if it is too warm and there's been a lot of rain, the bulbs are more susceptible to developing mildew and rotting.

For more Northern gardeners, you want to plant bulbs about six weeks before the ground freezes solid so that your bulbs will have a chance to develop a nice root system before the winter. 

Narcissus 'Queens Day' with a few tiny Crocus chrysanthus 'Ard Schenk'
 What if my bulbs sprout early?  In North Carolina, we often get bouts of warm weather in the middle of winter, and bulbs will often start sprouting then.  Most of the time, this will not hurt the bulb.  If it has already sent up a flower bud, however, and the bud then freezes, you will have to wait until the next year to enjoy them.  It can be helpful to apply a winter mulch to insulate against some fluctuating temperatures and also make sure that you plant the bulbs deeply enough.  Some bulbs such as grape hyacinths and fall-blooming crocus are supposed to send up leaves in fall, so don't worry when they sprout!

So enjoy bulb shopping!  
(And let's not tell Mr. Red House how much money it's possible to spend on bulbs, okay?)

Ooo, maybe I'll try growing Ranunculus from bulbs this year?

7 comments:

  1. Mum's the word...Mr Redhouse need not know a thing!! x

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  2. Great post and very informative!

    You are correct. That farm is in the Berkshires!

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  3. I have finally started putting bulbs in my garden over the past two falls. The critters detered me for the longest time but vole proofing them has worked. I love when they come up in spring! Happy shopping!

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  4. I plant lots of daffodils as well because they are critter proof. My tulips go in a very protected area to keep them from voles and rabbits.

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  5. Bulbs are a great way to plant lots of plants cheaply and produce flowers all season. I never buy bulbs anywhere besides Brent and Becky's. It is a family business run by very knowledgeable and helpful gardeners with dedication to quality.

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  6. Jane - Thank you for your silence! ;)

    Barbara - That's funny - no wonder the painting looked familiar!

    Karin - I guess that is one advantage of hard clay. There are areas here where I can put bulbs in isolated garden beds, and there is no way voles can tunnel through that clay to get to them (unless they're stronger diggers than me)!

    Sage Butterfly - I haven't planted tulips the past couple years due to the wildlife. Now that we've built a fence in the backyard, I'm going to give them another try!

    Carolyn - I love Brent and Becky's! Their customer service is fabulous as well!

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  7. I've been busy planting bulbs all afternoon, and I feel a bit achy ! I know I'm a bit late, but this year in the north of France, we have had a really warm and sunny and dry autumn, what could be called an Indian Summer I suppose... Anyway, my favourite bulb plants are the aliums, and I never grow bored with them poking their long stem and big head above the lower plants. I also went for Cleopatra's needles this year but to tell you the truth, I had a bit of a busy moment digging a hole wide enough for the spiderlegged like roots they have !

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