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Start Amending Soil Ahead of Bulb Planting

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Q: Last week you suggested waiting to plant the spring bulbs until the soil’s cooled a bit more. So when do you think we can start? – L.A., Downtown

A: Today being the first day of autumn (can you believe it?) you don’t have long to wait.

I’ll recommend having your crocus and daffodils in the ground no later than mid-October. Then mark your calendar for the end of October as a reminder to have the tulips and hyacinths in the ground by the first weekend in November. If the weather cools wonderfully, go ahead and bump those dates up by as much as two weeks.

Meanwhile, be planning and amending the spaces where you want to plant your spring bloomers. Most spring bloomers prefer to live in fertile, non-soggy soil. Planting in spaces where you’ve never planted or have to worry about running into anything else, go ahead and cover the area with a stout inch to two-inch layer of compost or composted mulch. Work it into the soil with a spade and then break up any clumps or clods. Next step is to consider sprinkling some “super phosphate” or “starter fertilizer,” both available at the local nurseries and most big-box retailers, over the area then go ahead and rake it smooth. The super phosphate will promote active root development over the course of the winter months. In space where you have perennials planted, sprinkle the compost around, covering the soil but not the existing plant life. Then turn the amendment in with a hand trowel so none of your other treasures are disturbed. The addition of the starter food or super phosphate in this type of area would be welcomed by everyone in the area so don’t be shy about doing it. After the turning, fertilizing and smoothing, be sure to dampen those areas so micro-organisms start to build their colonies and improve the soils even more. Throw in some garden earthworms, too, if you want. They always improve the health of any soil.

There is a rule of thumb I want to teach. Plant all of your bulbs twice as deep as they are tall. A sturdy three-inch-tall daffodil bulb needs to be planted six inches deep. Don’t forget that rule – it’s most important for the health of your new treasures. Remember, too, that bulbs do have a “top.” That top needs to point up. On most bulbs you’ll find a circular spot that might or might not have roots coming out of it and on the other end there will be a point of sorts. The circular spot goes down and the point heads up. Simple! So get the jump on your prep now because it’ll be bulb-planting time soon enough.

Q: I planted lots of the marigolds that have huge flowers this year and they’ve done really well. I know you can harvest the seed from the usual smaller-flowered marigolds and want to know if I can get seed from the biggies, too. – R.C.,Rio Rancho

A: You sure can. Harvesting marigold seed is so delightfully easy that I don’t know why more gardeners don’t do it. I’d suggest waiting to harvest until the flowers are well spent and on the way to the crunchy-dry stage. Pluck off the spent blooms collecting them in a paper bag. Once you’ve collected your quota, head inside out of the wind to begin the shucking process. Tear off the green “hip” part of the flower or try grabbing the finished bloom and literally tug the seed out of the hip. Pitch the hips – add them to a compost pile – and spread the seeds out so they can dry. About a week later you can re-bag the seeds, making sure to package them in paper and then store the fresh seed somewhere cool and dry – not freezing mind you, just nice and dormant.

Happy first day of autumn, while you are out Digging In!

Need tips on growing your garden? How much to water those bushes? How to transplant a tree? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio Rancho/West Side Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.
— This article appeared on page 22 of the Albuquerque Journal

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