I'm an idiot-level white-belt beginner gardener. I've just moved into a
fantastic new place with a back yard. Since I grew up in Holland, I
immediately thought "crocuses" and "tulips".
No-one in the UK will need telling that it's not really possible to dig
and plant at the moment... (I'm in Glasgow: -10 most nights).
Is it too late for me to stick some crocus or tulip bulbs in, if we get
a thaw in the next few weeks? Or do they need to sit in deep-frozen
ground for a few months to start growing when things get warmer?
Does the ground in Glasgow freeze hard and deep in the winter? If not I
wouldn't hesitate to get some bulbs in the ground and I wouldn't worry
about super-thick mulching either -- just get the bulbs into the ground at
the recommended depth (or even a hair more) in amended well-drained soil
and add a normal covering of mulch (preferably dark-colored). A
south-facing location up against a wall would be even better if you can
manage it since it will provide a better micro-climate. I've gotten away
with planting tulip and hyacinth bulbs in Anchorage, Alaska in November
when the ground was on the verge of freezing solid after clearing snow from
the bed and they came up perfectly and thrived for years. The great thing
about bulbs at this time of year is, if you can find them, they are likely
to be priced in your favor -- the garden center really wants to dispose of
them. The choice may be bad but the prices often make up for that.
I suspect that the largest top-grade bulbs such as tulips and hyacinth and
daffodil will respond better to this sort of treatment although I don't
have enough evidence to swear to it. For certain I wouldn't want to be
mucking about with tiny crocus or bluebell bulbs in the freeze -- just to
fiddly for cold fingers.
Thanks for all your knowledge! I did say I'm a
white-belt gardener, so I won't be embarrassed to ask: what does the
mulch do, whether thick or thin? Presumably it doesn't do anything for
nutrition - is it to do with preventing ground frost from penetrating
deeply? But then I get the impression that bulbs _like_ being frozen.
@JohnMcGaw - your physical location puts the problems we've been having
in Scotland into perspective! No, I don't think Glasgow generally gets
bad ground-frost (though this year has been exceptional) - in the
context of Scotland it's facing the Atlantic and Gulf Stream, and tends
to be damp, wet and warmer. Two hours with a hairdryer on the pipe got
my water supply back online the other day - and that problem was to do
with 3m of air-exposed pipe crossing a sunken area, rather than ground
I guess I'll see what my muscles and a fork can do with the earth once
the thaw sets in (seems to be warmer already), get some bulbs cheaply in
this off-season and stick them in. Love to know what the mulch is for.
I'd develop them in pots set outside then plant them for real next year just
I'm in a warm enough area I can still plant them, but the competing problem
is I am so warm, they don't do as well unless you dig them up every winter
and put them in the freezer.
Your last question is pretty much the answer :-) The majority of
spring flowering bulbs need an extended chill period in order to
vernalize properly and produce flowers. That ranges anywhere from
12-20 weeks, depending on bulb type. So forget the fact your ground is
frozen solid, you are pretty short on time to achieve this necessary
chill period before the bulbs begin their normal bloom cycle. You
*could* perhaps pot them up in containers now and store the containers
in a cold but above freezing location but you are still pushing the
time period required. And can you even find any bulbs this late in the
year? In my area, spring flowering bulbs have been off the shelves and
unavailable for sale for a couple of months now.
You may be able to find already started bulbs at local garden centers
later in the season, closer to spring. These are purchased in
containers like other perennial plants and are ideal for those wanting
instant color in spring or those who have procrastinated in the
planting of bulbs in fall. These are not necessarily forced bulbs but
those that have been planted up and undergone a usual chill period.
They can be planted out in the garden when available and will return
annually like regular fall planted bulbs.
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