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Wed, Jan. 29

No more critters eating my fall bulbs

There isn't a garden on earth that couldn't use a few more bulbs. In fact, I heartily recommend that everyone plant as many as possible every year. That way, we'll have lots of fat and happy gophers, javalina, squirrels, and deer and plenty of flowers every spring.

Seriously, those critters eat most kinds of bulbs almost as fast as I can plant them. I have tried covering the newly planted areas with old metal window screens or hardware cloth. The screens are unsightly and the hardware cloth costs more than the bulbs themselves. I've also tried covering the bulbs with extra mulch, but that seemed to make the critters dig them up even faster.

Home Remedies – There's an old wives' tale about using hair brushings from the family pet to keep rodents away from plants, but the pair of my dogs wouldn't produce enough hair to use in my plantings. The old spread-around-some-mothballs trick is no longer recommended for safety reasons. I've never tried dipping each bulb into a rodent repellent immediately prior to planting because, frankly, that takes more time and effort than I am willing to put into it. Digging generous, deep, planting holes already takes enough time, especially in our rocky soil!

The Daffodil Solution – So when I plant bulbs, I rely on daffodils for the mainstay of the spring show. The display gets better every year. It improves for two reasons. First, I plant drifts of tried-and-true varieties such as 'Ice Follies' that are recommended for naturalizing. Second, the erstwhile hungry critters leave those daffodil bulbs and flowers alone because they are poisonous to those critters and they seem to know it!

The bulbs increase in number over the years and produce generous swaths of bright blooms each spring.

Now lets talk about fall clean up and how to care for your summer blooming bulbs like dahlias, gladiolas and perennials that are starting to look yellow and thin.

After a season of enjoying the blooms from your perennial flower garden, late fall is the time to prepare the beds for winter.

Taking good care of beds in fall will help them thrive next spring and summer.

Dig up Bulbs. After the first frost has struck and foliage begins to yellow and die, cut back the foliage, dig, and store tender perennial bulbs such as dahlias and gladiolus that can't survive the winter in the ground. When digging, be careful not to damage the underground bulb or tuber.

Water and Cut Perennials Back. In dry-winter areas water perennials once a month to keep them alive and healthy. On perennials that have finished for the season, cut back stems to 6 to 8 inches from the ground.

Feed Plants. Fall is a good time to feed perennials by working in a 2 to 3 inch layer of compost into the beds. The compost slowly breaks down, releasing nutrients to the plants and improving the soil structure.

Adding 'Winterizer' granular fertilizers helps the plant store up much needed food to get through a hard winter, and for better growth next spring. Everything from perennials and bulbs, to trees and shrubs would benefit from this type of fertilizer.

Mark you plants so you don't forget what was planted. I have cut my perennials back to far and forgotten where they were.

I have gone to plant a nice looking shrub in February or March only to stick the shovel right through the heart of my favorite perennial. It really hurts my ego when I didn't remember my most valued flowering perennial in the garden.

Perennials always recover from this type of mistake, but I should have identified where they were in the garden from the get go.

Plant bulbs, have fun, and watch how easy it is to have spectacular flowers next spring season.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.

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