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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

LOE Bulbs Garden Spot

Air Date: Week of

Steve Curwood visits with Living on Earth gardening expert and editor of Traditional Gardening magazine Michael Weishan. This time, Weishan helps listeners get ready for the winter, and the spring, with advice on flower bulb planting. Tips include information on planting at different soil levels for stagger timed blooms, and how to get tulips to live longer.


CURWOOD: Michael, this is quite a pile of bulbs you've got here. What kind of flower sare you going to get out of these?

WEISHAN: These are tulips. And we have some of my favorite, little miniature narcissus. And we have some snowdrops, Galanthas novalis, which in this part of the world actually do appear often with snow.

CURWOOD: Gardeners, listen up. It's that time of year again. That's right. Autumn is quickly passing into winter, so you have to make sure that you've got your flower bulbs planted. To figure out just what to do, we're out at the home of Michael Weishan, Living on Earth's traditional gardener. What's your favorite here in this group?

WEISHAN: I don't really have a favorite per se, because each one follows in succession. And that's one of the keys, I think, to planting bulbs, is to choose things that are going to extend the season. If you do it right, you can have flowers for almost 3 months.

CURWOOD: Michael, my wife is pretty good at this but I'm not so good. Which one of these bulbs is, like, well, let's face it -- idiot-proof?

WEISHAN: Actually, most bulbs are pretty idiot-proof, at least for the first year. The trick is to getting them to come back. There's been a tendency in some of the modern introductions, like some of the modern tulips, that they're not perennial. They're annual. Which is kind of a pain.

CURWOOD: Why go to annual tulips, if they don't come back and it's such work to put them in the ground?

WEISHAN: Well, it wasn't the intention of the breeders, I don't think. They were breeding for flower color, size of stem. But that means that something has to go along the way, because you can't have everything. And they weren't paying much attention to the perennial qualities of tulips. So the old- fashioned varieties will come back year after year after year. A lot of the newer ones are good for a year or 2 and then they sort of peter out. The bulb splits into little tiny bulblets and then they don't flower for many years. Many bulbs like daffodils are good for 20, 30, 40 years. These anemones, for instance, will, if they're planted in the right spot, will naturalize and go longer than you and I will be on this earth.

CURWOOD: Okay. Well, show me how to do this right. Let's go outside.


(A door opens)

CURWOOD: It's a beautiful fall day, Michael. It's going to be pretty cold tonight, though. How long do you think we'll be able to keep planting in this part of the country?

WEISHAN: Well, the general rule is, you can plant bulbs whenever you can get into the ground in the fall. And here, our season generally lasts from October all the way through to December.

CURWOOD: So if you can get a shovel in the ground, you can put them in.

WEISHAN: Pretty much.

CURWOOD: Okay. Let's get to it.


(Sounds of digging)

WEISHAN: There's no great trick to this. You want the hole to have sort of a flat bottom to it. It makes life easier. I think the question most people have is how deeply do you plant them? (A rooster crows) And the general rule is, you plant a bulb 4 times deeper than its widest dimension, I should say.

CURWOOD: That's 2 inches, maybe.

WEISHAN: Yeah, 2 inches. So 8 inches is about how deeply you would plant these. The one exception is tulips. The way to get tulips to come back year after year is to plant them very, very deeply: 10, 12 inches. They seem to like a very long period of dormancy, and they like to be down below the level that water gets to them often in the summer. So if you plant them deep down, they have a very long time to rest, and then they'll come back.

CURWOOD: Okay, Michael, now which way up or which way down, whichever way you figure it, to put these things in?

WEISHAN: Well, it's not too difficult normally. With tulips and most bulbs, the pointy end is the side that goes up, and the basal plate here, it's sort of the flat end where the roots will appear, you can often see little roots, is the side that goes down.


WEISHAN: What do you want to plant here? I think, we're right at the edge of the border. Generally, the tallest things should be toward the center, if it's something you can walk all the way around. Or toward the back, if the bed is one-sided.

CURWOOD: Well, it's an easy one for me to answer. Those things that come up in the snow. Anything to encourage me to think that winter could be over.

WEISHAN: That's a great choice, because we're right here in front of the windows of the office. So we'll see this first thing in the spring.


WEISHAN: Here's another trick for planting bulbs, especially for gardeners who have a very limited amount of space. You can kind of get 2 for 1 in the same hole, and we're going to plant the daffodils on the bottom, and then the snowdrops on the top, in the same space. And because they bloom at different times, they won't interfere with each other.

CURWOOD: Very clever.

WEISHAN: One of my favorite combinations is to do grape hyacinths. You know, those little tiny little hyacinths?

CURWOOD: Oh yeah.

WEISHAN: And then plant daffodils, and then the grape hyacinths. They often bloom together, so you'll have this sort of sea of blue on the bottom and the yellow or white on the top. Very pretty.


WEISHAN: Yeah. Very neat. Okay, so we're just putting our last of our snowdrops in the ground.


WEISHAN: Now just fill it up.

CURWOOD: All right. We'll just cover it over here, huh?


CURWOOD: Well, thanks for taking this time with us today.

WEISHAN: Oh, my pleasure. Any time, Steve.

CURWOOD: Michael Weishan is Living on Earth's traditional gardener, and publisher of Traditional Gardening. (Honking geese in the background) You can reach him via our Web site with your questions. The address is www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org. Click on the picture of the watering can.



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