There's still time to plant your bulbs

Duane Campbell

I never thought I would have a good word to say about weeds, but as a gardener you learn something new every day. What I have learned today is that a heavy mat of weeds can act as a mulch, and a mulch in December can keep the ground from freezing.

Place this in conjunction with finding large bags of Red Emperor tulips for a couple of bucks. Most stores in the Christmas shopping frenzy donít waste valuable shelf space on clearance items from fall, but I always look in the back corners. And there I found them. I couldnít pass them up, though I had no idea, at least no fully formed idea, of what I would do with them. I donít always make lucid buying decisions in winter.

I love planting bulbs in December. Well, I donít reallylove it. I love planting bulbs in October, but occasionally I donít get to it. OK, often I doní;t get to it. Even with bulbs bought at full price in a timely manner. I suspect I am not the only one who sometimes finds a bag of forgotten bulbs in the garage while looking for the wrapping paper scavenged from last yearís presents.

So there were these Fosteriana-type tulips, red, cheap enough for mass drifts. Many gardeners think tulips are tulips, but there are several different types. My favorites are the Darwin hybrids. When you picture a tulip in your mind, it is probably a Darwin hybrid that you see. They bloom mid season, and the best thing about them is that they perennialize, i.e., they tend to come back, even multiply year after year. Many tulips are great the first year, decent the second, and eventually peter out.

My new tulips, Red Emperor, are not Darwin hybrids, but they were the next best thing: cheap. There is a sliding scale of what I want and what I will buy. Fosterianas are among the first tulips to bloom, and they can perennialize, given the right soil and spot, though not quite as reliably as the Darwin hubrids. Anyway, I donít have just the right spot and soil for them. Those places are already taken. They will go in front of the house, an area I try to ignore, so there is room to plant them, once the weeds are removed. But I havenít put the effort into the soil that I have out back over the years. Iíll plant them this afternoon. Promise.

Hereís another great thing about this serendipitous find. The best tulips to force are the very early ones, like these. Single early, double early, and botanicals are also easy to force. If you have some different type in the garage, forcing might work or it might not. But here is one thing that is certain: Leaving them in the bag in the garage wonít work at all.

You can try to force any bulbs from the bag in the garage, not just tulips. Daffodils are even easier, and the small bulbs like grape hyacinths and Dutch iris are easier still. But the very best bulbs to force are whatever bulbs youíve got. Or find really, really cheap.

Thereís nothing to it. Grab a pot. Shallower pots work best, but any pot will do. Fill it half way with soil, like the soil you dumped out of the pots of last summerís geraniums and pansies. They might even be sitting there in the garage next to the bag of bulbs. Set the bulbs in shoulder to shoulder, almost touching, and cover with more soil so that the tips are right at the surface. Water.

You want to put them in a place that is cold but not quite freezing. Like the garage where you found them in the first place. If it gets really cold there, put them in a cardboard box covered with packing peanuts. Now wait. How long? There are charts that show that, but the best advice for bulbs planted in December is: As long as you can stand it. They probably wonít grow and bloom until the outside spring flowers do. But if you leave them in the bag in the garage, they wonít bloom at all.

Duane Campbell is a nationally known agricultural expert. He can be reached at R6, Box 6029, Towanda, PA 18848 or e-mail at dcamp911@gmail.com.