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COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Don’t be a dim bulb: plant bulbs in October

Got manure? Marianne Binetti will offer a free seminar, “The Scoop on Poop,” at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 at Chief Kanim Middle School on the Fall City-Redmond Road. Learn how to store, use and share your manure. Call 206-296-1923 for more details.

The beginning of October is the perfect time to dig in and plant bulbs. Fall is the time to plant spring-blooming bulbs like daffodils, tulips, crocus and hyacinths. Bulb planting in western Washington is as simple as digging a hole, dropping in the bulbs and covering them with soil.

If you’re a beginning gardener, here are the most asked questions about adding classic spring color this fall:

Q. What bulbs grow best in our climate?

A. They all love our cool winters and rainy climate but my vote for the most dependable bulb goes to dwarf daffodils (February Gold and Tete a Tete are two varieties), rock garden or species tulips (Lilac Wonder and Persian Pearl are two examples) plus all the small or minor bulbs like crocus, snow drops, wind anemones and rock garden iris.

Q. How do you pick bulbs from a bin at the nursery?

A. The bulbs offered in open bins at garden centers are a great value and you can mix and match from the open bins. Just be sure all the bulbs are firm, dry and as large as possible. The bigger the bulb the bigger the flowers. Plant in groups or drifts of at least five to seven of the same color and variety to make an impact. If you have room, plant tulips and daffodils in groups of 25 to 30 to really make magic in the spring.

Q. How deep must I dig?

A. It is up to you. The deeper you plant most bulbs the more likely they will be to return year after year. The general rule of green thumb is to plant bulbs three times deeper than they are wide. So 6 to 8 inches deep for daffodils and tulips, 3 to 4 inches deep for smaller bulbs like crocus, anemone blanda and snowdrop bulbs. Want to cheat? If you have well-drained soil, you can dig a shallow hole a few inches deep, lay all your bulbs in the depression then cover it all with the remaining soil plus an inch or two of mulch like bark chips.

Q. What if I have deer?

A. Deer love to eat the buds off of tulips but will avoid daffodils and alliums or flowering onions.

Q. I have so many slugs they make lace out of my daffodils and tulips. Any slug-resistant bulbs?

A. Not really, but you can trick the slimy slugs by planting winter-blooming bulbs like crocus, snow drop (Galanthus) and rock garden iris. These little jewels of the garden sprout as early as January and give much appreciated color in early spring. They often bloom before the slugs wake up from winter hibernation so you can enjoy pristine blooms without a coating of slime.

Q. Do I have to water or fertilize bulbs after I plant them?

A. No. Bulbs are pre-packaged and ready to bloom after a winter chilling period. Just plant and forget. Winter rains take care of the watering and all the food necessary for the flower is packed inside the bulb. You can fertilize the bulb after it blooms to ensure next year’s show.

Q. I have a small yard. How close can I plant spring-blooming bulbs?

A. Shoulder to shoulder as long as the bulbs are not touching. You can even layer groups of bulbs one on top of the other with a few inches of soil in between the layers to save space. This is called making bulb lasagna, with a more detailed planting recipe next week.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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