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COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Rip out frost-bitten plants, add some spring bloomers
By Marianne Binetti
The last week of October means it is really time to rip out your weary, frost-bitten annuals like marigolds, petunias and tomatoes and add them to the compost pile. Now, what do you do with all the potting soil left in your container gardens? You can add spring-blooming bulbs this week and enjoy pots of daffodils, tulips and early-blooming crocus in the spring. If you’ve been disappointed with a lack of blooms from bulbs before, try putting them in pots. Even if you pot your bulbs into plastic nursery pots and sink them into the ground you’ll be protecting them from the bulb-chomping field mice or voles and also ensuring good drainage. Our wet, winter weather can rot bulbs that are planted in a low spot or into clay or poorly-draining soil.
Q. I want to make bulb lasagna and layer some bulbs into my container gardens. How deep do I have to plant bulbs in pots? T.P., Tacoma
A. Mama mia, now is a great time to cook up some spring beauty with bulb lasagna. The general rule of green thumb is to plant your bulbs three times deeper than the height of the bulb. So the biggest and tallest tulip bulbs go into the container first, sitting on top of at least 3 inches of soil, then covered with another layer of soil. Bulbs that are two inches tall should be covered by 6 inches of soil. Next add a layer of medium-sized bulbs such as dwarf “February Gold” daffodils and cover with at least 2 inches of soil. Then place the smallest bulbs, like crocus or snowdrops, in the last layer and cover these inch-tall bulbs with at least 3 inches of soil. You’ll have layers of bulbs just like layers of noodles in a dish of lasagna with each layer covered with soil, instead of cheese. You can even add winter pansies on top of your bulb lasagna and enjoy color all winter with a burst of blooms that will come up right through that frosting of pansies in the spring. But you don’t need to build your bulb lasagna only in a pot. If you’ve got a well-drained spot in your garden, dig in and start layering bulbs and soil now. Planting spring bulbs is an act of faith that brings heavenly rewards each spring.
Q. We have deer that ate the tops off our tulips last spring just before they bloomed. I was so upset I admit that I cried a few tears. This year I want to try again. Are there any bulbs the deer won’t eat? There is no way to fence my yard and nothing scares away these very tame deer. R.P., Olympia
A. Daffodils are the way to grow if you want to say “Not tonight, deer” and get some rest from your deer nightmares. Although the local overpopulation of deer have created a new breed of animal that prefers suburban gardens over native vegetation, they still don’t like the taste of daffodils but will occasionally graze on a few blooms. The daffodil bulbs themselves are also poisonous to mice moles and voles. Daffodils do especially well under the braches of deciduous trees like Japanese maples that lose their foliage in the winter.
Q. I heard that if I plant fritillaria bulbs in my garden it will scare away all the moles. I am getting desperate and will try anything as the moles are digging up my entire front lawn. Will fritillaria send the moles packing? D., e-mail
A. I wish it were true, but you should plant fritillaria for the impressive spring flowers, not for any underground maneuvers you think they might make against the moles. This myth persists because fritillaria are not eaten by rodents and have a strange smell. The best mole control is still a trap (chewing gum, gas, plastic worms and flooding the mole holes may only encourage them to make new tunnels) and in our state it is not illegal to sell mole traps or to use them if the moles are causing damage that could harm you or your family – like broken ankles from holes in the lawn. One brand name is the “Victor Out O- Site” mole trap sold at local garden and home center stores, but I notice this trap is also sold on Amazon.com with lots of customer reviews and tips for learning to safely set the trap. Moles do help aerate the earth, but when they continue to dig up an entire lawn, either replace the lawn with groundcover or learn to set a mole trap.
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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.