Wait for it to warm up before planting bulbs

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Q: I ordered several bulbs that are spring-blooming. Can I plant them now? If not, how do I store them until the time is right?

A: The bulbs that you ordinarily plant in the spring – gladiolas, freesias, dahlias and the like, would not fare very well if you were to put them out this time of year. I wouldn’t plant them until the soil temperatures are in the 50s (at least upper 40s). The weather’s got a lot of warming to do before that.

The storing of those spring treasures is simple. If they were sent with sawdust, as long as it’s dry, keep the bulbs in it and wrap all of the bulbs that you had delivered in paper. Newsprint, paper bags, even gift wrap tissue. Then keep the packages stored somewhere with consistent temperatures. My favorite place is the pantry. Cool, and temperate, that’s your goal.

Every few weeks, tumble the packages around so they don’t get soft-sided. Also, smell the packaging. If they start to smell funky, that’s a bad sign. Investigate and remedy the situation. Do mark your calendar for mid-March as a reminder to get those treasures out and in the ground.

Q: I love holly but don’t have a cool place to plant it on my land. What else could I use to give me that sort of look?

A: Mahonia repens or Oregon grape holly. It’s not an ilex (holly) but looks quite similar in the leaf. The Oregon grape is classified as an evergreen sub-shrub that at maturity will top out at about three feet tall. With good care and pruning, it can get a bit taller. The leaves do have that pointy edge that the holly has.

Now, there are several differences between the mahonia and the holly. For example, the mahonia bloom in the spring months is bright yellow, not white like the holly. The berries that the plant sets are a dusky blue-purple, rather like a juniper’s berries. No bright red here.

Then there are the big habitat differences. The Oregon grape will take our full sun and do well for it. You won’t have to struggle making the soil heavier in the acid spectrum like you should for ilex. The mahonia is classified as “drought-tolerant,” too. Remember though, that doesn’t mean you can plunk it in the ground and not water the creature. What that means is at maturity, you’ll be able to water deeply and infrequently once the mahonia is established.

Know, too, that the plant will look better if given water regularly.

One observation I’ve made over the years is the plants completely dislike being watered from overhead. Don’t place the mahonia near or directly under a rain spout. The leaves mottle and spot, giving fungus infections a good leg up. This plant is much better when dry-headed.

Another feature of the Oregon grape is the color offerings. If it chooses, it will turn color in the fall. It can turn an orange-red-bronzy color during the growing season. All and all, the Oregon grape is a well-suited holly lookalike, easily found at most nurseries and garden centers during the growing season. And, it grows well in this neck of the woods!

Q: I want to be sure I get as much insect prevention this time of year for my roses and want to spray with dormant oil. Can I do that now?

A: Spraying with any type of pesticide this time of year has a few considerations for sure. Be sure to read the application “rules” for the safety of your landscaping. I remember that the oil sprays need to be applied when the temperatures are above 45 degrees and will stay that warm or warmer until the application is thoroughly dry. Aim for quiet days, too. Don’t spray if it’s very windy. With that in mind, you’ll want to really watch the weather forecasts and be Johnny on the spot to be ready to spray. Just be sure you do read and follow the label.

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