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GARDEN TIPS – written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written October 25, 2015

I occasionally get asked to give a presentation on “putting the yard and garden to bed for the winter.” Fall garden chores are pretty simple and can be designated as “should-do” and “good-to-do”. I am not sure I could give a thirty minute or longer presentation, but here are the “should-do’s” for fall.

RAKE LEAVES: On the should-should do list is raking leaves. If you have a number of trees like I do, the leaves can certainly pile up. They tend to blow around and pile up at my back door and elsewhere in the landscape. As we start to get more dew and moisture, these leaves can mat down and smother the grass and other plants. Get those leaves raked up and consider using them for making compost or tilling them into your vegetable garden soil where they will decompose over the winter and help improve the soil.

MOW THE GRASS: After the stress of a very hot summer, your lawn needs all the help it can get. You should keep mowing if the lawn is growing. Do not mow the grass extra short and then put the mower away. Also, do not leave it extra long, as this can lead to matted grass and favorable conditions for snow mold. (This past spring snow mold fungus showed up in many area lawns and caused significant damage.) Mow at the recommended height of about 2.5 inches until you no longer need to mow. The good news is that as the weather cools, you will not need to mow as often.

TREAT FOR BROADLEAF WEEDS: If broadleaf weeds, like dandelions or clover, have shown up all over your lawn, now is the time you should treat for these weeds with an herbicide spray. However, if you only have a few of these weeds here and there, dig them out by hand or pop them out with a “weed popper.”

Herbicide sprays for broadleaf weeds will not control grassy weeds. Annual grasses, such as crabgrass will die with a hard frost, and need to be controlled next spring with pre-emergent herbicides or “preventers” that will keep the seed from germinating and growing. Perennial grasses, such as Bermuda grass, are not controlled with fall chemical applications.

DIG TENDER BULBS: Many of the tender bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tubers that we plant in our gardens, including cannas, calla lilies, gladiolas, and dahlias, are tropical plants from warmer climates (Zones 7 to10) where they can stay in the ground over the winter. In cooler climates (Zones 6 and lower) like ours, they should be dug each fall and stored for the winter in a cool, dry protected location where they will not freeze. Some years in our area these tubers and bulbs may survive if left in the ground and heavily mulched. However, if winter brings severely cold temperatures, they will be killed.

To store them, wait about two weeks after frost kills their tops and then carefully lift the tubers, rhizomes or corms from the soil; shake off as much of the soil as possible; rinse them with clean water; and let them dry in a protected dry spot. Place them in cardboard boxes or paper bags using dry sawdust, wood shavings, or peat moss for packing.

You know, maybe I could give a talk on getting your yard and garden ready for winter. There seems to be a lot to do in the fall. More soon on the “good-to-do” fall garden tasks.


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
published 9/13/2013

Last year at this time I talked about planting tulips and pointed out that tulips don’t “perennialize” well, coming back year after year and blooming again like daffodils. Even tulips sold as “perennial tulips” only bloom for a couple of years before declining. That’s why I wasn’t too upset when one third of the supposedly pink tulips we planted in our landscape last year turned out to be dark purple. If I want an attractive pink tulip display next spring, I should buy more bulbs (from a reputable bulb nursery this time) for planting this fall.

This isn’t good news for my husband who did all the hard work of planting the tulip bulbs in our landscape beds. I did buy a hand bulb planter for him to use, but even in our sandy soil it was a tough job cutting out the holes for all the bulbs.

To make the job easier this year I’m thinking about buying a different bulb planter. A. M. Leonard company (< offers a bulb planter with a 36 inch handle. The planter allows gardeners to pull out a 6 inch deep 2.75 inch round core of soil, creating a hole for a bulb. It also has a plunger that allows the user to push the core of soil back into the hole on top of the bulb. No bending over or kneeling is needed for planting bulbs.

Similar to this is the Badger Semi-Automatic Planter ( This bulb planter removes a plug of soil to a depth of 3 to 6 inches. Their other planters make holes the size of a three-inch and five-inch pots. They are designed to help dig holes in the garden for planting flower or vegetable transplants in the spring.

The DeWit Double-Handle Bulb Planter is another type of long-handled planter available from Lee Valley ( This planter is a smaller version of a post-hole digger with two 30 inch long wooden handles each with a blade at their base and attached together with a hinge. When the blades are plunged into the soil, this hinge can be used as a step for pushing down on the blades. When pulled up, the blades remove a core of soil.

Power tool enthusiasts should find power augers a handy tool for making the needed holes. One company ( sells bulb and garden augers for use with everyday household drills. They offer 1.75, 2, or 2.75 inch diameter augers, each with a 24 inch long 3/8 inch diameter steel shaft. The company points out that their augers can be used for digging holes for transplants, deep root watering, aerating the soil, and turning compost piles.

There’s also the Bulb Bopper sold by the Garden Supply Company ( It also attaches to your power drill. This is a steel auger cylinder that can make holes 9 inches deep and 2 inches in diameter, but does not have a long shaft.

I’m don’t really know how well any of these work, but hopefully whichever one I buy will make the job of planting bulbs easier.

Published: 9/13/2013 2:23 PM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 3/1/2013

It seems like spring has arrived… primroses are for sale at the garden store, daffodils and tulips are starting to pop out of the ground, and buds are swelling on the trees. Keep in mind it’s only the beginning of March. The average date for the last spring frost in our area is between May 1 to 15. Even if you’re itching to get planting, most things should wait. However, there’s plenty of garden jobs to do right now to get ready for when spring truly arrives.

Water: Gardeners who have been out working in their gardens have noted that the soil is dry. Because of this, it’s advisable to haul out your hoses and water trees and shrubs, especially the evergreen ones. Provide them with a deep soaking in their root zone. It’s also a good idea to water your perennial flowers and emerging bulbs.

Perennial Flowers: If you didn’t cut them back in the fall, now is a good time to get perennial plants in shape. Before new growth begins, cut your perennials back to within 2 to 3 inches from the crown. For this job, I like to use ratchet hand pruners. There are lots of cuts to make and the ratchet action makes it much easier on my hand. Remove any leaves that have piled up around the base of the plants during our winter winds.

Last fall I labeled all of my perennial flowers, to remind me which plant is which. I also noted on the tags if I wanted to divide them or remove them from the garden this spring. I have a few that haven’t lived up to my expectations and I want to replace them with something new.

Planting Trees & Shrubs: Planning on planting any new trees and shrubs? Early spring is the best time to plant. It’s also when you’ll find the best selection at your local nursery. Carefully consider what you want to plant. Before choosing, consider the plant’s mature height and width. It may look like a cute little thing at the nursery but grow to gargantuan proportions with time. Why fight it when you can try to find a cultivar that won’t outgrow the space. Other things to check out are potential pest problems and seasonal interest, like spring flowers, fall color, and interesting bark.

Ornamental Grasses: I’m so happy that I have a number of ornamental grasses in my landscape. They provide interest to the landscape over the dreary winter months and spring is the only season that they require much care. Before new growth gets started, cut back the tops to about 4 to 6 inches from the base of the plant. Waiting delays growth several weeks because the crown does not warm up as quickly. It’s also difficult to cut them back adequately after new growth begins without risking injuring the new growth.

The chore of cutting back grasses sounds easy, but it isn’t. I recommend tying an upright clump of grass together with twine or an old belt and then cutting it back using a small chain saw, heavy duty hedge trimmer, or serrated knife, depending on the toughness and size of the clump. Be sure to wear heavy duty gloves to protect your hands.

Don’t cut back grasses that are partially green, like blue fescue. Use gloved hands to ‘comb out’ dead leaves.

Warmer days have arrived and gardeners can get outside and get started on this year’s gardens and landscapes. Hooray!

Published: 3/1/2013 10:49 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 10/26/2012

One question I’m often asked is about tulips and their re-bloom. The question is, ‘Why don’t my tulips re-bloom?

Tulips don’t ‘perennialize’ well, coming back year after year like daffodils.Hybrid tulips are not reliable ‘re-bloomers’ and typically start to decline after the first year of bloom. Several practices that help encourage re-bloom include planting them where they’ll receive full sun, cutting off the flower stalks right after the bloom fades, and not trimming back the leaves until they turn yellow.

If you’re trying to encourage re-bloom of tulips, fertilization at planting will help encourage root and plant growth needed for bulb growth next spring. Before planting, mix bulb fertilizer (at the rate recommended on the label) into the soil. Work this in to a depth just a little deeper than you will be planting your bulbs. Adding some organic matter to the soil at the same time is also advisable. In the spring fertilize again as soon as the plants first start to emerge from the soil being careful to keep the fertilizer off the plants.

However, even if you do all this it’s likely the tulips will decline over a few short years. This is because tulips are native to the mountainous areas of central Asia characterized by rocky soils, cool wet springs, and hot dry summers. In their native climate tulips sit quietly dormant during the summer in very dry soils and start growing new roots when fall rains begin.

While our climate is somewhat similar, bulbs don’t stay dry during the summer when they’re planted in our gardens. Moist to wet soil conditions during the summer can cause bulbs to split into a number of smaller ‘daughter’ bulbs that aren’t large enough to bloom the following year.

Peter Chan, renown Portland gardening expert, recommended planting bulbs in wire baskets in the ground and then digging up the bulbs and baskets every spring. That way the bulbs could be stored over the summer and replanted in the fall. Digging up your bulbs every spring is labor intensive, but can help you lengthen the blooming life of your tulips.

Lee Valley Tools ( carries open plastic bulb baskets that are used both for storing bulbs during the summer and for planting bulbs in the soil. Planting tulips in the baskets makes it easier to locate and remove the bulbs in early summer. The stacking baskets allow for good air circulation and compact bulb storage.

Because most gardeners won’t go to the trouble of digging up tulips each spring, bulb researchers have been evaluating tulip varieties for their ability to come back year after year when left in the garden. They have been able to identify some varieties that have less of a tendency to split and a greater tendency to re-bloom over a longer span of time than just a year or two.

In trying to find more reliable re-blooming tulips, the researchers have also discovered that by growing the bulbs in production fields for one year longer than the normal six years, they have extra large bulbs. These larger seven-year bulbs are more likely to re-bloom in the garden for at least several years.

These ‘perennial’ tulips are available from a variety of different bulb companies. If they’re a little more expensive, they’re probably worth it because you won’t have to replant your tulips as often. However, the tulips will eventually decline. So if you prefer not having to replant your spring bulbs often or dig them up every year, stick with daffodils.

Published: 10/26/2012 11:25 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
Published 10/19/2012

In past years during the fall I’ve answered some of the frequently asked questions about the basics of growing spring flowering bulbs. This week and next, I’ll attempt to address some of the more advanced questions. Here goes…

What’s the difference between a daffodil, narcissus, and jonquil?
To the every day gardener there isn’t really much difference between a daffodil, narcissus, and jonquil, but daffodil experts like to split hairs. The botanically correct term for referring to the entire group of these flower bulbs is ‘narcissus,’ but gardeners often use the common term ‘daffodil’ to refer to the entire group or just to the larger yellow flowered members of the genus. ‘Jonquil’ is correctly used to refer to a smaller group of narcissus that have narrow, reed-like leaves and smaller fragrant flowers with flat petals.

What’s the ideal time in the fall to plant spring bulbs and when is it too late?
For our hardiness zone (USDA 6-7) the best time to plant bulbs is October through early November. If warm weather persists, wait to plant until the soil temperature goes down to 60 degrees. This is usually when the average night temperature drops to 50 degrees or cooler for about two weeks. You don’t want to plant them in warm soil, but you should get them planted about six weeks before the ground freezes. This gives the roots of the bulb time to grow and become established before the soil freezes. Be sure to water the bulbs in to settle the soil immediately after planting and again through fall and early winter when conditions are mild and dry.

If the soil isn’t frozen, can I still plant bulbs in December?
It’s not the ideal time, but if you find some bulbs that haven’t been planted go ahead and plant them. The bulbs won’t keep until the next fall, so you might as well give it a try. If the winter weather is mild, you might have success.

What are pre-chilled bulbs?
Spring flowering bulbs need a period of chilling to break their dormancy and trigger flowering in the spring. Spring flowering bulbs planted in northern climates (USDA Zones 7 and lower) receive this chilling naturally when planted in the ground over the winter. Tulips and daffodils planted in warmer climates need to be pre-chilled before planting to bloom. Pre-chilled bulbs can be purchased through some bulb catalogs or gardeners can pre-chill their own bulbs in the refrigerator for 8-10 weeks before planting. In warmer climates, pre-chilled bulbs are treated as annual flowers.

I’ve noticed a wide variety of prices when purchasing tulips and daffodils. Why is there such a variation in price?
One of the main reasons for different prices is the size or ‘caliber’ of bulb which is a measurement of the bulb’s circumference. When it comes to a particular variety of bulb, the more mature the bulb, the bigger the bulb, … the more expensive the bulb. Bigger bulbs will have bigger flowers and put on a more dramatic display. The smaller, less expensive bulbs will still flower, but be less impressive. Bargain bulbs can add color to your garden without hurting your wallet as much. Keep in mind that daffodils have a greater tendency for repeat bloom and most hybrid tulips tend to flower only for a season or two at the most.

Next week I’ll answer a tough question on how to get tulips to re‑bloom.

Published: 10/19/2012 11:17 AM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

It’s hard to believe that autumn is right around the corner, although cooler temperatures are a sign that we should be starting to make our list of fall gardening chores now. At the top of my list is planting more spring flowering bulbs. I must admit my past efforts in this arena have been haphazard.

This fall I want to do it right… plant more spring flowering bulbs with a plan in mind. Bulbs can be costly, so it’s good to make the most of this expense by keeping some simple bulb design principles in mind.

Whether planted by in beds by themselves or integrated into landscape and perennial beds, bulbs make the biggest visual impact when planted in masses of one color and one variety. They will look more natural if they’re placed in irregular groups instead of a line of ‘little soldiers.’ Twelve or more tulips or daffodils qualify as a ‘group.’ The bigger the group, the bigger the affect. When it comes to smaller flowering bulbs, like crocus or grape hyacinth, fifty or more is a good size ‘group.’

The experts at the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center point out that gardeners should think of spring as three seasons in one…early, mid, and late spring. That’s because different bulbs bloom at different times in the spring. Everyone has seen pictures of crocus in bloom with snow on the ground, so obviously crocuses are early spring bloomers. However, not everyone knows that some types of bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, have different varieties that are designated as early, mid, or late season bloomers.

Luckily for us, most of the companies who grow and sell bulbs indicate for each type and variety whether it blooms in early, mid or late spring. Keep in mind that these blooming times are all relative, with bulbs blooming earlier or later depending on the area weather and the climate of the region.

If your bulb budget is limited, use a little trick to make it seem like you’ve planted more bulbs than you did. Rather than planting your ‘groups’ of bulbs in irregular circles or ovals, place them in rough triangular groups with the narrowest point of the triangle facing front ward.

If you only have limited space available for planting spring flowering bulbs, you can create an effective display by planting in layers. Start by placing your larger tulip and daffodils in the bottom of a planting hole using the recommended depth and spacings. Cover them with soil and then in the same hole, plant smaller flowering bulbs such as crocus, species tulips, and scilla at the shallower recommended depths.

Bulbs are starting to show up in local garden stores now, so I’d better get busy and decide what and where I want to plant my bulbs. If I don’t hurry up, all the bulbs that I want will be gone!

Published: 9/17/2011 11:59 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Do you have any “naked ladies” in your garden? I’m pretty sure you would know if you did, but I’m talking about some fall flowering bulbs that are called “naked ladies.” They’re also known by the name of colchicum. While fall is typically the time that we’re thinking of planting spring flowering bulbs, there are actually some fall blooming bulbs that gardeners might want to consider planting in the fall too.

Colchicum (Colchicum sp.) flowers in September and October and looks very much like a crocus. Depending on the species and the variety, “naked ladies” come in various shades of light lilac, purple, pink, yellow, and white. The “naked” name is probably due to the fact that they bloom without leaves in the fall. Their leaves are produced in the spring and then fade by mid-summer. They grow about 4 to 10 inches tall and their corms are planted six to eight inches deep in the fall. They’ll do best in a spot that has well drained soil, adequate soil moisture, and shade in the summer. Plant them in clumps under deciduous shrubs or amongst your perennials.

One interesting feature of this plant is that it contains an alkaloid known as colchicine. Colchicine can cause spontaneous mutations in the number of chromosomes within a plant and is used in some pharmaceuticals. Because of this alkaloid, all parts of colchicum is poisonous to animals and humans.

There are about 30 species of colchicum native to Europe and Asia. Colchicum autumnale, native to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, is one of the first to flower in September with small purplish pink blooms. Gardeners favor Crocus speciosum as the best colchicum for planting in gardens, producing purple-pink rounded flowers in September. I think


colchicum would be particularly lovely with its pretty double, lilac pink flowers… making it look much like a waterlily.

In addition to colchicum, there are also fall blooming crocus. Who knew? In fact, there are about 30 species of fall blooming crocus. Most resemble spring blooming crocuses, but instead flower in the fall. They’re planted eight inches deep in late summer, July to August. Like colchicum, they produce “naked” blooms with their leaves developing in the spring.

One of the most popular fall blooming crocuses is Crocus sativus. In the fall it blooms with clusters of four inch lilac-purple flowers. Not only is Crocus sativus prized for its bright fall blooms, but it’s also known as the saffron crocus. This is the flower from which the prized spice of saffron comes.

There are three red stigmas or “threads” in the center of each flower. These are harvested and dried to produce saffron. It’s a tedious process to pinch out the threads with tweezers, but you can grow and harvest your own saffron. Once you try harvesting it yourself, you’ll learn why it’s so expensive to buy. Keep in mind that to produce a pound of dried saffron requires over 50,000 flowers!

Contact the Extension office for instructions on how to harvest the saffron. It’s important that you only harvest the stigmas from Crocus sativus and not from any other crocuses or colchicum which is poisonous. To keep your saffron crop coming back and getting bigger each year, protect the six to twelve inch grass-like leaves that grow in the spring until they fade by the middle of summer.

Next year think of the fun you’ll have telling your friends about the naked ladies and the saffron fall crocus you’ve planted to brighten your fall garden.

Published: 11/6/2010 10:40 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

There are “mom-isms” that many of us have heard when growing up. One of them is “Don’t point, it’s not polite.” Another is “You can learn from your mistakes.” These mom-isms tend to be true, thus the internal struggle I’m having about pointing out common errors gardeners make when they plant bulbs. Perhaps “Learn from the mistakes of other gardeners.” could be a garden-ism.

Planting bulbs in straight rows is a common mistake that novice gardeners make. Spring flowering bulbs put on the best display when planted in what seems like a natural or haphazard arrangement. Don’t line them up in rows like soldiers, place them in a random clusters. You can do this by tossing them into the area you want to plant them and repositioning as needed to keep enough space between bulbs.

Another mistake sometimes made by very novice bulb gardeners is planting the bulbs upside down. Tulips and daffodils have one pointed end and one broader, flatter end. The pointy end goes up. However, some “bulbs” are different. The “pointy” end of crocus bulbs, or actually corms, is not as obvious. The bottom is flat and the top is slightly pointed.

I sometimes get calls in November or even December and January from gardeners who bought bulbs and then forgot to plant them. Oops! They ask if it’s too late to plant them. The experts say it’s best to plant the bulbs six weeks before hard frost is expected in the area, making early to mid-September a good time to plant. The same experts also say to plant them when the average nighttime temperatures stay in the range of 40 to 50 degrees. That would usually be sometime in October for our area.

So when is the best time to plant spring flowering bulbs here? The bulbs need to be planted late enough to allow the soil to cool a bit, but early enough to allow for root establishment before cold winter temperatures arrives. Our fall weather tends to be unpredictable from year to year, but mid-October is usually a good time for planting bulbs.

Planting bulbs late in November or even December? The bulbs won’t keep until next year, so plant them anyhow. What have you got to lose? If you do plant late, consider mulching the bed with compost or another type of loose mulch to insulate the bulbs some and encourage root growth.

Another mistake made by gardeners is not digging a deep enough holes for their bulbs. The gardener’s rule of thumb is that the hole should be two or three times as deep as the height of the bulb, with a minimum depth of two inches for very small bulbs. This means that large bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips, should be planted in holes that are six to eight inches deep, and smaller bulbs, such as crocus, should be three to four inches deep. If bulbs aren’t planted deep enough they won’t develop adequate roots and they’ll be at greater risk from cold temperatures.

Our area often experiences mild late fall and even winter weather without much, if any, significant precipitation. Bulbs need moisture for root development. Be sure to water your bulbs in after planting and then water them periodically during mild fall and winter weather, keeping in mind that their roots are developing as deep as eight inches.

Finally, “Bloom where you are planted,” another good garden-ism to ponder when you’re planting spring flowering bulbs.

Published: 10/23/2010 10:34 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Hopefully, all the Thanksgiving dinner leftovers have been used up. I still have some “leftovers” from other columns earlier in the fall. They didn’t get used up when I wrote those columns, but they’re too good not to share with you.


Ever wonder why flower bulbs planted in the ground don’t freeze over the winter? As you might guess, nature provides a way for bulbs to avoid cold temperature damage. The first is the insulation that soil provides. Even if the soil freezes, the soil temperatures where the bulbs are planted, typically don’t fall much below freezing, staying in the 29 to 30 degree Fahrenheit range.

Of course, there are also biochemical changes that occur within the bulb, according to the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center. With the onset of fall and cooler temperatures, starches stored in the bulb start to break down into glucose and other molecules. The glucose acts much like salt would by lowering the temperature at which water freezes. Also, layers of mulch and snow provide extra insulation during severely cold weather.

Have you ever noticed that the bulbs you planted two years ago or more come up much later than the first year they bloomed? For some reason, established bulbs tend to bloom about two weeks later than they do after their first year. For some, this is simply an interesting bit of trivia. For others, it’s important to know for when you’re adding bulbs to an existing planting and trying to coordinate bloom times for specific color combinations.


Where do gourds fit into the scheme of things when we’re talking about pumpkins and winter squash? Are they just dried out squash? The title of “gourd” is not an official botanical term. Instead, it generally refers to any member of the squash family that isn’t good to eat, dries well, and may be useful in some manner. As with any rule, there are exceptions. The Turk’s turban squash is considered by some to be a gourd, but it actually is a winter squash that’s both decorative and good to eat.

The bumpy, warty, colorful gourds that are so familiar to many are all in the group of Cucurbita pepo, along with some pumpkins, acorn squash, and all kinds of summer squash. The gourds are a subgroup or a “botanical variety” of this squash species. This subgroup includes pear, apple, orange, flat fancy, and the ugly warty-skinned fancy gourds.

In recent years, the lagenaria (Lagenaria spp.) or utilitarian gourds have become quite popular for use as birdhouses, crafting decorative items, and creating utilitarian items, such as ladles or bowls. Prized for their thick, hard shells when dry, this group includes bottle, siphon, calabash pipe, dolphin, club, and birdhouse gourds.

The third group of gourds are the luffas or vegetable sponges. The luffa gourds have elongated fruit with an outer shell that’s easily removed. Beneath the outer shell, the pulp is a tough and fibrous. When dried it can be used as sponges for scrubbing or made into ornamental items.


Is it safe to compost black walnut leaves, oak leaves, and pine needles in a compost pile? While you may have heard that one or all of these are bad to use in compost piles, don’t believe it.

Black walnut leaves do contain small amounts of the toxic plant chemical juglone. Juglone can cause the wilt and death of sensitive plants that come in contact with low concentrations of juglone. However, the juglone in black walnut leaves can be degraded in two to four weeks, according to Ohio State University Extension. That’s because this plant toxin degrades when exposed to air, water and bacteria. It breaks down completely within two months in a compost pile.

If one has volumes of black walnut leaves and wants to make sure there is no problem, the leaves can be composted separately and then tested for juglone toxicity by planting tomato seedlings in the compost. Tomatoes are very sensitive to juglone and will wilt and die if there are toxic levels of juglone present in the compost. Sawdust mulch, fresh sawdust or wood chips made from black walnut are a different story. They should not be used as a mulch around plants sensitive to juglone, such as blueberries, peppers, or tomatoes.

There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t use oak leaves or pine needles in a compost pile. The concern that they’re too acidic for adding to the soil is false. They should have no greater affect on soil acidity than other types of organic matter used in your compost pile. If they perchance do acidify the soil, that would be highly beneficial because most of our area garden soils are quite alkaline and the majority of garden plants prefer a slightly acid soil.

One drawback with oak leaves and pine needles is that they’re quite tough and break down slowly in the compost pile. If using them in a compost, be sure to chop up leaves first by shredding them in a shredder or running over them several times with your lawn mower. Smaller pieces of leaves and needles will decay more rapidly.

Also, take note that pine needles make great mulches for your garden. One reader let me know that she used pine needles as a mulch in her rose garden… based on my recommendation. It may have been circumstantial, but she notes that her roses are healthier than they have been in years and she has had much less of a problem with powdery mildew. It’s nice to hear from readers who have used my advice… successfully.

Well, I hope you enjoyed your leftovers.

Published: 12/4/2004 2:12 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Bulbs are a promise that gardeners plant… a promise that the long winter ahead will eventually pass and spring will come again. Fall is the time of year when gardeners should be thinking about planting “promises” for next spring… spring flowering bulbs.

Both novice or experienced gardeners often have a variety of questions about planting and growing spring flowering bulbs. That’s because bulbs are a little different than growing simple annuals and perennials. They require special care and planting.

To answer questions about bulbs, it’s advisable to consult the experts. Some of the best experts can be found at the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center. Here are their answers to some of the FAQ’s or “frequently asked questions” of bulb gardeners.

When is the best time to plant tulips, daffodils and most other spring flowering bulbs?

In many areas the window of time is fairly large. Here are the guidelines:

– Start planting once nighttime temperatures drop into the low 50

s or 40

s for two weeks.

– You will want to be finished planting your bulbs by the time hard frosts start occurring. Generally, bulbs root best in the period six weeks or more prior to the ground freezing.

– After your bulbs are planted, water the bed well. You will then need to keep the soil slightly moist to provide enough moisture for the bulbs to root. Our region’s fall precipitation is usually inadequate to provide for the needs of bulbs, so the beds will probably need to be watered before and after irrigation water is no longer available. Soil moisture is critical because the fall period is when the bulbs develop their roots.

What’s the difference between a daffodil, narcissus, and jonquil? There is no difference between a narcissus and a daffodil. Narcissus is the Latin botanical name for all daffodils. Daffodil is the common name for all members of the genus Narcissus and its use is recommended by the American Daffodil Society at all times other than in scientific writing.

In the southeastern U.S all yellow daffodils are traditionally referred to as jonquils. However, in the official book of daffodils, “The International Registry and Daffodil List,” only certain daffodils can rightfully be called jonquils. True jonquils have several yellow flowers, strong fragrance, and rounded leaves. However, you may want to be polite and not argue with a southern gardener if she or he calls any yellow daffodil a jonquil.

Bulbs are already for sale in some stores, plus catalogs from bulb nurseries are appearing in gardeners’ mailboxes. If I buy some bulbs now while the supply is still good, do I need to plant them right away? While it’s generally considered best to plant your bulbs as soon as possible, it’s still too warm in our region. If you buy your bulbs now, the best bet is to store the bulbs in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight. Heat and moisture will hurt bulbs. Do not store your bulbs in plastic packaging, even if the plastic is vented. Remove the bulbs from the plastic and store them in brown paper bags. (Don’t forget to label them.)

If stored in a cool dry place for several weeks, the bulbs should be okay, but don’t procrastinate. You should get your bulbs planted at least six weeks before the ground freezes. However, there are some bulbs that are vulnerable to drying out and these should be planted as soon as you get them. They include Colchicum, snowdrops, dog’s tooth violet, Cordyalis, Fritillaria, Anemone nemorosa, and Anemone ranunculoides.

I have some bulbs that I forgot to plant last year. Can I plant them now? It wouldn’t do much good. Just throw them out. As already mentioned, bulbs should be planted as soon as possible in the fall, after the soil cools down a bit but before the ground becomes too frosty. Bulbs aren’t like a dormant plant, they’re alive and they won’t last very long after fall planting time. If bulbs are planted by late fall or early winter, chances are fairly good that they’ll grow. After that, it’s unlikely that they’ll grow at all. Bulbs need a certain amount of cool temperatures to grow and flower. If they receive less than 10 to 14 weeks of sustained cold, the bulbs may still come up but may be shorter than usual.

Is it really important to plant a bulb with the right end up? What is the right end? Plant the pointy end up. That’s about all you need to know. It’’s easy to spot the pointy end of a tulip and daffodil, but tougher with a crocus. But in most cases, even if you don’’t get it right, the bulb’s flower will still find its way topside.

How deep should my bulbs be planted? Your package should tell you the recommended depth, but a good “rule of thumb” is to plant big bulbs about 8-inches deep and small bulbs about 5-inches.

Published: 9/4/2004 2:17 PM

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