To have happy and healthy daffodils next spring, grab your shovel now and get to work on the soil

Backyard Q&A

In the Garden

October 12, 2003|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

I am planning to plant about 300 new daffodils this fall in an area that has a heavy clay soil. Should I do anything to the soil before planting?

I have seen daffodils grow and bloom in poor, clay soil for many years; however, like many other plants, they will grow best in well-drained soil that has been supplemented with organic matter. If you have the time, prepare the soil by digging in a 3-inch layer of compost or other organic matter.

Because daffodils are planted deep (6 inches), the soil will need to be prepared deep for the bulbs to fully benefit. The roots that emerge from your bulbs will grow directly into the soil underneath them. So, I would turn the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches; and after that, I would spread out the organic matter and work it in as deeply as possible.

I would also work in a balanced organic fertilizer. You can do this with a digging fork or with a tiller. After the soil has been worked, it can be raked smooth and you will be ready to plant. The soil should be loose and friable. This will make your planting job very easy.

In a recent column, you did not mention damage to spring bulbs from Tropical Storm Isabel. How can I tell if the floodwater damaged my bulbs?

You will need to dig up a few bulbs to see if they have been damaged. The greatest concern is that the bulbs will rot from soil diseases that are exacerbated by cool temperatures and continuously wet soil.

After digging up the bulbs, rinse them off with water and examine them with your eyes and hands. The bulbs should be firm. If the bulbs have any soft spots, this would indicate a bulb-rot disease is present.

Once the disease gets started, it can quickly spread to the rest of the bulb and destroy it. And keep in mind that bulb rot often does not occur until the winter, so we may have more problems later this year.

If your bulbs are diseased, they should be discarded immediately and replaced with healthy bulbs after the soil has dried. I would not plant new bulbs in wet soil.

Checklist

1. Garlic cloves can be planted now. Select the largest cloves and plant them 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Mulch them heavily with leaves shortly after they emerge.

2. Cut back dahlias and cannas, lift them out of the ground, and store them in a cool, dry basement or garage.

3. Are you looking for some free mulch? Ask your neighbors to bring their raked leaves to your house.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site www.hgic. umd.edu.

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