Magazine article Sunset

Beautiful Ways with Bulbs

Magazine article Sunset

Beautiful Ways with Bulbs

Article excerpt

Plant them this fall--in containers or garden beds

Pack a pot with bulbs

ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL TRADITIONS AT SUNSET'S headquarters in Menlo Park, California, is the early-spring show of flowering bulbs in big pots. Each year, from around mid-March through mid-April, visitors to our gardens see scores of terra-cotta pots bursting with blooms of hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips.

Over the years, our garden staff has learned how to coax these bulbs to give their best performance. One of the main requirements is patience: while you can plant one of these pots in minutes, you'll have to wait a few months for the payoff. Flowers appear about four months after bulbs are planted.

Here's how to duplicate this springtime spectacle.

Shop for bulbs in nurseries from September through December, or order them by mail. A 16-inch-diameter pot with flared or straight sides will hold about 40 to 50 bulbs, depending on their size.

In the West's mild-winter climates (coastal California and the low desert of southern Arizona), it's best to prechill hyacinth and tulip bulbs in the refrigerator for six weeks before planting. For advice on chilling bulbs, see page 69. After chilling the bulbs, plant them between November and mid-January.

Fill the pot about half full with a fast-draining potting soil. (Good drainage is essential; soggy soil causes bulbs to rot.) Add 1 tablespoon of a granular fertilizer high in phosphorus (10-18-10, for example), and mix it into the soil.

Set the bulbs close together atop the soil. Barely cover the bulbs with more soil, leaving about 1 inch of clearance between the top of the soil and the rim of the pot. Tamp the soil down firmly.

Set the pot in cool shade. Top off the pot with wood shavings (sold in garden and pet supply centers). The shavings help insulate the soil, keeping it cool so bulbs won't sprout prematurely during winter warm spells. Dampen the shavings with water. If winter rains are scanty, water to keep the soil moist. When leaves develop, move the pot into full sun.

Stretch the wealth with tulips

A TULIP LOVER'S DREAM garden might look something like Holland at tulip time: masses of elegant blooms that are twice as big as Easter eggs, planted so closely that their petals almost touch. Making such a grand splash usually means using lots of bulbs, which can be costly--as much as $1 each for some varieties.

How do you get more tulip punch for less money? Horticulturist Ellen Henke, known to television viewers as America's Plant Doctor, has discovered ways to mix tulips with other plants so it looks like more with less. …

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