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

Planting Bulbs in the Garden Spot

Air Date: Week of

This segment of the organic garden spot deals with what's involved in planting bulbs now for next year's harvest. Evelyn Tully Costa shares her advice with Steve Curwood.


CURWOOD: Summer's lush heat and long days are past. Night is slow to leave and quicker to arrive each day with ever-chillier temperatures. Like other mammals making ready for winter our bodies slow down, telling us to eat and sleep more with the onset of longer nights. Our gardens insist on following suit. They wither, they shed their leaves, drop seeds and prepare for the deep freeze ahead. It can be a melancholy time, but luckily, Evelyn Tully Costa, our Green Garden correspondent, has some thoughts on turning the autumn blues into spring color. Hi there again, Evelyn; how's the gardening business in Brooklyn?

TULLY COSTA: Well, actually this is a fabulous time of the year for us. We are running around like giant squirrels trying to cram in as many gardens as we can, and we're working up against kind of a scary deadline of frost, snow, and the winter that's heading our way.

CURWOOD: Okay, now what should this big squirrel do?

TULLY COSTA: Well, I never thought of you as binging on acorns, Steve. But like any other self-respecting mammal, we spend this time of the year getting ready for the spring. So I would recommend to all of us who get sad and melancholy and depressed during the cold, long, dark winter nights, that you plant bulbs, and lots of them.

CURWOOD: Mm. Bulbs. You mean, like daffodils and tulips and hyacinth?


CURWOOD: What about those chores you talked about? You know, that squirrel rushing around?

TULLY COSTA: Right. Well, won't torture you with that here, Stephen, because there's plenty of gardening books that we can get our hands on that will tell us: clean the garden, prune it up, dig in all that organic soil that we've -- I'm sure you've been working on all summer long. But really the best and most fun thing to do this time of year is put in bulbs. It's like an insurance policy. It's like saying spring is going to come again. And it's a little cheaper, I think, than sacrificing a maiden or a lamb.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) So I'll just go outside and plant some bulbs. And I really do prefer outside, you know, because I'm allergic to them for when they grow inside.

TULLY COSTA: All right, Steve, so go get those gardening catalogues. They're more than happy to show you these sort of really gaudy pictures of what spring's going to look like in 3 months if you buy their bulbs. You could have beautiful snowdrops, for instance. They're about 4 inches high, they look like miniature daffodils, they're a little bit droopy, and they will come up in late February, early March. They come up through the snow. So that's the most positive sign of spring. You can have fertilaria, for those who like unusual types of bulbs. They have petals that look like checkers. They have checkerboard patterns on them. And other -- and other types, too -- they're really a magnificent bulb. There are daffodils of a zillion different types, and there are also tulips. I prefer the classical varieties that have some of the ruffled edges. So really, the choices are endless.

CURWOOD: So I can just put any kind of bulb out in my back yard and it'll go --

TULLY COSTA: Mm, well, no, actually, because you live in a northern climate so you have to put hearty bulbs outside that need a 3-month dormancy or cold period to gather their strength and get ready for the summer, the spring and the summer. People living in Florida, for instance, don't have daffodils and tulips. If you can imagine spring without that --


TULLY COSTA: No. We can't. But then we don't have amaryllis, which is a very tender bulb that can only grow in warmer climates.

CURWOOD: So how do I handle these hearty bulbs, then?

TULLY COSTA: All right. Well, once you've made your selection and the bulbs have arrived, you go out in the back yard and you figure out where you want to put them. And instead of poking them in one at a time, which is kind of time consuming and it doesn't look as good, dig out the entire area. The instructions will tell you how deep. Generally speaking, the bigger the bulb the deeper the area, but follow the instructions on the depth, that's important. Then you place the bulbs right on the ground in a random pattern. This will have a beautiful, natural clustered effect come spring. You can even mix daffodils and tulips up, so this will be quite beautiful. Cover it over, mulch it up, and then wait for spring.

CURWOOD: And what about the littler bulbs, like the crocuses?

TULLY COSTA: Right. You can poke those in with your thumbs, in a random pattern of course, and there's one more thing for people living in cities. Squirrels, remember, are rodents and they will do anything to get food in the fall as they're getting ready for the winter, including eating up all your expensive tulips.

CURWOOD: Oh, no!

TULLY COSTA: So I would recommend heading over to an Agway or a good garden shop and getting some predator urine, such as bobcat or fox urine, and sprinkling that all over your garden, and that should take care of not only the squirrels but you, your neighbors, your cats -- you can look at your garden but you can't go in it. (Curwood laughs.) And hopefully the squirrels will instinctively remember that, you know, maybe a couple of hundred years ago they were being hunted down by bobcat and fox.

CURWOOD: Now, not everybody is allergic to these things, and so what about people who want to have them inside to have a little bit of spring flowers?

TULLY COSTA: Well, then they can force them, that's easy enough. You order your bulbs in time, you have to have a 3-month lead period. Anybody in the country with a refrigerator can do this. You get your bulbs, you put them in a sandy, kind of loose soil, you bung them in the vegetable bin for about 3 months, and hopefully you have back-timed this. So that come January or February you take them out, you put them on warm window sill, and in 2 to 3 weeks, there you have it: beautiful bulbs.

CURWOOD: And so when they're done I can just plant them outside?

TULLY COSTA: Yeah. But don't expect them to bloom again this year. They will bloom the following year. So take good care of them, put them in the ground at the proper depth, and the following year they will come back for you.

CURWOOD: Ah. Okay, so now what do I do next?

TULLY COSTA: Well, what I would do is get my hands on a wonderful new handbook that's just been put out by the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, called Bulbs For Indoors: Year-Round Window Sill Splendor. So y'all can get the book but I got to go put some more bulbs and bobcat urine out in gardens in Brooklyn. So, till next time -- bye!

CURWOOD: Okay, Evelyn. I'll be reading, and thank you. Tips on surviving the winter from our Green Garden correspondent Evelyn Tully Costa.



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