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Forgotten Bulbs and The Real Deal on Bare Rooted Plants

Forgotten Bulbs and The Real Deal on Bare Rooted Plants

Q. (from my neighborhood 'Hometown' site.) Scott Johnson on Winding Brook Manor (somewhere near me here in Eastern PA) writes: "Health problems prevented us from getting in some perennials, tulip bulbs and grass seed in the fall. We kept everything in our unheated garage over the winter. Some of the perennials have started to sprout; should we plant everything now and see what happens?"

A. You should certainly plant the sprouting perennials this Spring; wait for a somewhat dry stretch and install them as you would normally. They should react the same as if you bought them yesterday. Note: as I pound these words into my defenseless keyboard, it is sopping wet with a wetter week to come, and it's never a good idea to work in wet soil; so be patient. You got them this far; don't screw it up now!

The Spring Bulbs are a little dicier. If you had written back in January, I would have urged you to pot them up in organic potting soil and place them in that energy-wasting 'beer fridge' in the basement. After 12 weeks for daffodils and 16 for tulips, the pots can be taken outside and there's a good chance these 'pre-chilled' bulbs would flower nicely.

But that's only if they're in tune with the season. "Forcing them" to bloom outside of their normal time in Spring requires special equipment, lots of knowledge and a lot of luck; but it is a great option if you can plant them outside in January. Move them into pots inside a fridge that contains no fruit. Wait 12 weeks for daffodils; 16 for tulips. Then put them outside and you have a darn good chance of a nice display.

But alas it not just temperature and timing. The necks of the bubs must emerge at a certain period of celestial events to induce flower formation. You can't sidestep this one. BUT I notice that no tulips have yet emerged in my garden of wonders (I wonder how anything grows there), so I would plant those left-overs ASAP and they may decide to flower on time. Your locale is decidedly warmer than mine so for this to work well, I suggest you fire up The Way Back machine and drop back to mid-April. But you got nothing to lose; they won't wait another year, so plant them now.

Even if all you get is leaves, don't cut them back; let them turn brown naturally, and you should have flowers the following Spring.

The grass seed? Store it in a mouse proof container until August. The soil is much too cold to do anything with it now.

And finally, apologies to David in Alexandria who received one of the most mixed-up answers I have EVER delivered on the show a coupla weeks ago. He wrote: "A local government agency has a bare root seedling sale, and this year I purchased two each of American Hornbeam, Canadian Serviceberry and Winterberry Holly. I'll be picking up my new trees on April 1.

"I know generally where I want to plant them, but the areas aren't quite ready for new trees for a variety of reasons. One spot is existing zoysia lawn, and I need to remove the grass. Another has existing dense weedy (and invasive) brush that I need to remove. The last spot is a mossy, shady spot of the yard with pretty spotty grass (and a few weeds) - probably the easiest area to prepare except I also have a new shed being installed and would like that project to be done before planting a new tree that might just end up getting trampled in the work zone.

"So, can I pot these bare root seedlings for now and plant them in the fall? From listening to your show, I know that's the best time to plant trees generally. But will I be losing some advantages if I pot them up as bare root seedlings? If potting them is a good idea, what size pot should I put them in? What potting medium should I use?

"Any suggestions for how to prepare the different areas I will be planting them?Thanks for your time! Looking forward to your advice."

Ha! My time was less than worthless when I first tried to answer your call a few weeks ago David! I was watching the first airing of that show, your call came up and I was quickly screaming at myself on the TV: "Make up your mind! Plant or pot! Or at least tell him to run them over with a truck and get it over with!"

Anyway, without delving into my normal bag of pointless excuses ("sunspots"), When you receive bare root plants in the Spring and don't know what to do with them (or they're impossibly small) you first sit each bare root plant in a bucket of water for an hour or two, then pot them up into a mixture of organic potting soil, compost and perlite, set them out in dappled shade and plant in September.

If they're tiny, place them in medium size spots. Otherwise, make sure the pot is twice as large as the rootball. If you drop the pots into a big pile of mulch, you won't have to worry about watering them so much. Otherwise, dappled sunlight until September.

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