Tulip planting mania and taking flowers and vegetables to the fair

Green Knees Newsletter     Vol. 2 #4     August 2010


You can view the entire newsletter online and see other gardening articles at www.GreenKnees.net as well.


August is the time for county fairs -- at least in Idaho. If you like sharing your horticulture successes, whether that is the finest lily on the block or the best tomatoes in the county, pick up a fair book and prepare your entries.

Many fair books offer tips for helping you answer questions about what makes the best display. This information can tell you that you need four ripe tomatoes, five potatoes or two zucchini squash. In the flower department, the general rule is that the larger the flower the fewer the number of stems.

General rule of thumb is to choose your specimen as if you were going to purchase it out of a store. As a judge the biggest mistake that I see is the need to display a 3 lb. zucchini, when the right choice would be to pick a zucchini the size of a slicing cucumber.

In the flower department, be sure you wash your flowers before entering them. If you have aphids on your roses, no one else wants to share the problem, especially someone, who entered a house plant.

If you are interested in more info on fair exhibiting, look at my website for a couple of articles posted in 2009.

Now for the real meat and potatoes of this newsletter.

I posted a number of articles about spring blooming bulbs in 2009. I recently received a wholesale catalog from Colorblends, 888-847-8637, or www.colorblends.com. The catalog has a wide array of information explaining why tulips are considered annuals and other facts about spring blooming bulbs.

I rarely suggest planting mixtures of bulbs of any sort. And this catalog specializes in mixtures. So let me explain why I don't personally like mixtures. Unless the mixture is carefully chosen, it is unlikely that the group of bulbs will produce their colors at the same time.

A mixture is more likely to bloom if the different bulbs are closely related. This doesn't mean that the mixture won't work if they bloom at various times. You'll have what is known as a color repeat in the landscape design business. And that works for me.

But most often I prefer a huge display, and you get that by planting one color. If you have a long range blooming bed, it may look decidedly skimpy if everything isn't blooming at once. It has also been my experience that a mixture may bloom altogether the first year, but then a difference in climate will cause one componet to lag over another.

If you know me, you know there are two things that irk my gardening heart: the first, I hate trees that are topped; the second, is tulips that don't come back year after year.

The Colorblends catalog says that if you plant tulips and get one good season of blooming, that may be all you can expect. Certain varieties perennialize better than some others.

Tulip hybridizers groom their bulbs to provide the gardener with a massive display the first season. The bulbs are grown in sandy soil, fertilized to produce the largest bulb possible.

The flowers are only allowed to bloom for a few days before being removed to keep them from de-energizing the bulb.This regimen produces top-sized bulbs: 12 cm. They don't get larger than this, but what they do is split into two bulbs, neither of which may be large enough to bloom the following year, or for years to come. If you have heavy soil, the bulbs may not grow back to blooming size and rot instead.

I have a very sandy soil, and plant my bulbs much deeper than recommended at a depth of 9-inches.I have an old garden book titled The Complete Book of Bulbs by F.F. Rockwell and Esther C. Grayson. I attribute my success with tulips to these writers and pure luck in choosing the right varieties. While I have other bulb books, this one is my 'bulb bible'. I have another book by the same couple titled The Rockwell's Complete Guide to Successful Gardening, which is also a great resource for the old book collector.

There are some tulips that are more naturally adapted to perennialize (but not always): Darwins, Fosterianas, and many of the wild or species tulips. This tulip list reads like my own for successful rebloom of tulips.

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