It’s that that time of year when we see the beginnings of fall color in the trees. There’s a nip in the air in the morning, the squirrels are busy burying acorns and it’s time to buy bulbs that will welcome spring in next year.
Speaking of squirrels, squirrels, mice and moles are observant and crafty. Once they discover newly planted bulbs, they’ll assume it’s food. Just disturbing the earth is a tip off for them. Daffodils and narcissus bulbs are toxic but if they dig them up then leave them exposed with just a nibble taken, so much for any spring flower display. Protect your bulbs with wire baskets or spray them with foul tasting repellent, letting the spray dry before planting. You can also bury the bulbs with ground up egg shells. Another way to foil squirrels is to plant the bulbs deeply, This only works if you have good drainage, however. Next year, if the squirrels start nibbling the foliage as it emerges try spraying it with hot pepper spray.
One of the more unusual bulbs I grow in pots is Forest Lily (velthemia bracteata). I got several bulbs over 25 years ago and fortunately divided them a couple years ago to give as gifts. My pots of these spectacular bulbs did not come back after the fire but I was fortunate that one of my friends gave me hers. The bulbs are enormous and bloom for months. The handsome foliage lis thick and wavy, looking somewhat like a succulent but it’s the huge, showy dark pink flower spikes that bloom from February to May that I love. Grow them light shade and allow them to go summer dormant. Velthemia are native to the northern Cape area in South Africa where it grows on rocky slopes along the famous Namaqualand Flower Route.
Another bulb I’ve wanted to grow for a long time is Ixia viridiflora. A friend divided hers a couple years ago and gave me a handful of bulbs. They need to be completely dry in summer and I forgot and watered the pots that I planted them in so alas, I was not able to enjoy this most striking and unusual bulb but I want to try again this fall. Few plants can beat it for sheer brilliance of flower. Each flower is a brilliant turquoise green with a purple-black eye in the middle. The dark eye is caused by the deep blue sap of the cells of the upper epidermis. The green color is due to the effects of light being refracted from the cell wall and granules embedded in the pale blue cell sap.
What about bulbs in the shade? Bulbs that will bloom in light shade are crocus, scilla, tulips, grape hyacinth, leucojum, snowdrops, chionodoxa and lily of the valley. Many from the daffodil clan, including jonquils and narcissus will grow, bloom and naturalize year after year under tree canopies or other lightly shaded areas.
Whatever you bulbs you choose to try this fall, you will be happy you planted some bulbs come spring. And to help them bloom again the following year fertilize them at the time of planting with bulb food or bone meal worked into the soil a couple inches at the bottom of the hole. Mature bulbs respond to an early spring feeding with the same fertilizer.