Autumn is time for planting, harvesting tender bulbs before frost takes a bite


November 03, 1990|By Art Kozelka | Art Kozelka,Chicago Tribune

It's planting time for tulips, daffs and other hardy spring bulbous flowers but, lest frost take its toll, it's also time to begin harvesting the tender bulbs that produce some of the more fascinating blooms in the summer garden.

Prudent gardeners naturally want to preserve the tender bulbs for another season, which means that the bulbs must be dug up for winter storage before they are damaged by a hard freeze. Obviously, weather sets an unpredictable time limit to complete this project.

On the other hand, one is always reluctant to dig up some bulbs, like the showy tuberous begonias, dahlias and cannas, which still may be magnificent and should be enjoyed as long as possible. These plants often will escape damage from early light frosts and remain colorful through the Indian summer days that follow.

At the same time, however, there's no reason to put off lifting the bulbs that have already finished flowering. Then you can avoid a frantic, last-minute effort to finish the job all at once when a deep freeze is imminent.

Begin with the Peruvian daffodils, zephyr lilies, montbretias, earliest planted gladioli and the others that have long finished this year's bloom cycle.

It is not necessary to wait for frost to brown or blacken their foliage before you begin digging the bulbs (or tubers or corms, as some are technically called). You may be surprised to discover that many have multiplied generously during the growing season so there will be even more to plant next year.

To make sure you retrieve all of this bulb bounty, lift the plants carefully with a spading fork inserted deeply into the soil well away from the center of the plants. Break up soil clods to find any elusive bulbs.

After the bulbs have been lifted, with foliage intact, allow them to dry for several days in a sheltered, airy place where there is no danger of frost. Foliage then can be removed and the dry soil clinging to the bulbs will shake off easily.

Except for the begonias, foliage and stems should be cut off with a sharp knife close to the point where they emerge from the bulbs. Begonia stems should be allowed to dry until they are brittle enough to break off from the tubers.

Many of the summer bulbs, notably the glads, will have produced tiny cormlets or offsets, which will be found clustered around the base of the new bulbs formed for next season's flowers. These can be saved and grown to flowering size, although it may take several seasons to accomplish.

Store the bulbs, including offsets, in a dark, cool place -- preferably where the temperature remains 45 to 50 degrees. Dust them with a fungicidal preparation beforehand, and discard any that appear damaged or diseased.

Horticultural vermiculite makes a clean and convenient storage medium, but peat moss and sand also are satisfactory. Some bulbs like the glads and zephyr lilies can be safely stored in flats, shallow boxes or pans without a storage medium. All should be inspected periodically during the winter to see that they are in good condition.


Q: Would it be wise to eliminate one of two leaders that have developed on a young blue spruce tree?

A: To assure good symmetry of the tree as it matures, one of the leaders should be removed as soon as possible. Cut out the least desirable one, then place a stake against the trunk and fasten the remaining one firmly to it so it can grow upright without being impaired. Watch subsequent growth closely and prune away side shoots that could overtake the leader you want to save.

Q: When is the best time to transplant a rose of Sharon shrub?

A: You can transplant rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) this fall after it becomes dormant or very early in spring before new growthstarts.

Q: Will you please explain the difference between globe and Jerusalem artichokes?

A: Apart from the distinctive taste disparity, the essential difference is that the edible portions of the globe artichoke grow above the ground and actually are flower bud scales, while the edible parts of the Jerusalem artichoke are potato-like tubers that grow underground. The globe (Cynara scolymus) is a tender, thistle-like perennial grown chiefly in warm climates because it will not survive freezing temperatures. Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a hardy plant with hairy foliage. It is commonly called a perennial sunflower because of its bright yellow, composite flowers.

Questions may be sent to Art Kozelka, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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