Monday, October 29, 2012

Ghoulish Gardening — the “Mass Grave Technique”

October is the best time to plant fall bulbs in Maine, but you can usually get away with doing it in September or November if necessary. Check with other gardeners or at your local garden center to find out the ideal time for planting where you live. If you plant too early, you run the risk they’ll sprout and put up foliage; too late and they won’t have time to put down any roots before the ground freezes.

Planting Large Bulbs 

Long ago I discovered a good bulb-planting technique in an antique gardening book and have used it ever since. Planting them is a bit of work, though, so be prepared to get your knees dirty. This works for planting tulips and other large bulbs.

The technique requires fertilizer and sand, and I put these ingredients in separate flip-top Rubbermaid drink bottles for easy dispensing directly into the planting hole. I use granular bulb fertilizer instead of bone meal, because inhaling bone meal is suspected of causing serious health issues. Adding sand on top improves drainage and cushions the bulb from the fertilizer; the roots grow down through the sand to find the fertilizer. I use “play sand” or “sandbox sand” because it contains no silica and the dust is not hazardous to breathe. This technique is especially good with daffodils, which are so finicky about drainage.

1. Put bulb fertilizer and sand in their own shaker bottles for ease of application.

2. Use your weight to press down on the bulb planter and
wiggle it into the ground right up to the handle.

3. Gently twist the bulb planter out and set it aside. It should be full of soil.
Don’t let soil fall back into the hole.

4. Following the package instructions, sprinkle the recommended amount of
fertilizer into the hole, then pour about ½ inch of sand on top of the fertilizer. 

5. Place the bulb in the hole, being sure the pointy end is pointing up.
If you ever need to plant a bulb that doesn’t have an obvious top and
bottom, plant it on its side and it will right itself as it grows. 

6. Push the soil back out of the bulb planter into the hole. It’s much easier to push it out toward the handle. Gently pat the soil flat (do not pack it down).

Planting Small Bulbs 

For small bulbs, I have developed a planting system I rather ghoulishly refer to as the “mass grave technique.” Like the previous technique, this system uses granular bulb fertilizer and sand.

1. Excavate a straight-sided (not slope-sided), flat-bottomed, oval or kidney-shaped hole about 12 inches long and several inches deep, then sprinkle granular fertilizer evenly across the bottom. 

2. Top the fertilizer with ½ inch of sand.

3. Place the small bulbs at the recommended spacing on top of the sand.
Gently replace the soil, being careful not to tip over the little bulbs.

Excerpted from The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden © 2009 by Lee Schneller

No comments: