Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Garden update: Planting tulips

Last weekend, I spent an afternoon cleaning up my garden after the first hard frost.  I dug up as many gladiolus and dahlia bulbs that I could find.  Even though I enjoy growing a backyard vegetable garden, I really love to grow flowers.  My favorite vase was full of dahlias, zinnias, asters and glads from late summer to mid-fall.  Always made me happy to look at those cheerful flowers on my kitchen counter while I was washing dishes.

I don't have a lot of garden space in my backyard, but I still like to reserve a spot each fall for planting tulips and daffodils.  It's so much fun to watch the tulips pop up in the spring before the other perennials start growing.

This year, I once again bought my tulip bulbs at Earl May, an Iowa-based garden center.  The store has an excellent selection of tulips shipped in direct from Holland.  I like that Earl May lets me mix-and-match different types of tulips, instead of having to buy one large bag of one type of tulip.  Since I have a lot of purple spring perennials in my garden, I decided to buy purple tulips and yellow daffodils this year.

By coincidence, right after I bought the tulips, I happened to watch an episode of the Martha Stewart show about planting tulips in the fall. Martha invited a couple of tulip experts from Holland to her farm, and they showed her how to "scatter" tulip bulbs in the garden for a natural look.  So instead of planting the tulips in straight rows, they took the different types of tulips, mixed them up in a paper bag, threw them on the ground, then planted the bulbs where they landed.

I decided to give the "scatter" method a try in my own backyard.  I just mixed up the different tulips and daffodils and threw them on the ground.  Then covered them up with soil and pine needles.  (I have pine needles everywhere thanks to our giant evergreen trees.)

It was a little difficult to plant tulips this year because the ground was so dry.  We went almost an entire month without rain this October!  But Iowa State University Extension recommends that Iowans plant tulips in October.  Unfortunately, I noticed last weekend that a few squirrels have already dug up a couple of the bulbs.  I could probably remedy that with a little bit of chicken wire fencing, but I'm not sure I like the look of it, so I'll probably just take my chances with the squirrels.  But I'll have to figure something out in the spring before the rabbits get to tulips.  They ate all my tulips last year!

I also planted a few garlic cloves just for fun.  Last year, I planted a large patch of garlic.  But for some reason, the garlic died back way too early, around July 4, and never grew large enough to harvest.  My husband told me just to leave the remaining garlic in the ground and see if it will grow bigger next spring.  Sure enough, the garlic started to green up again this fall. Gardening is always an experiment, isn't it?

Did you plant tulips or garlic this fall?  Do you have any planting tips you can share? Or any advice on how to keep the squirrels and rabbits away?  I'm always looking for new ideas.


  1. I planted tulips last fall and enjoyed their beauty all this spring. By the way, we used to live in Mount Vernon, WA, which is in Skagit County where tulips and daffodils are grown and the bulbs shipped to Holland and then back to the USA so they can be labeled as "from Holland." Every year they open some fields to visitors for the tulip festival and we have some wonderful pictures (the old fashioned kind) of the fields when our children were very small. You should have a gorgeous garden come springtime!

  2. I planted tulips last fall and covered the bed with plastic fencing, which is similar to chicken wire in looks. I laid it over the bed and just watched in the spring as they started to grow. I would loosen it to allow room for the plants to grow while still being covered. I continued this until they were large enough to remove it. I also have to put wire fencing around all of my beds to keep the squirrels and rabbits out.

    I had the same experience with my garlic this year. I opted to just leave it in the ground and hope for a good crop next year!

  3. Yeah. Gardening is an experiment, a work-in-progress. You may fail sometimes, but those mistakes can serve as learning experiences. That's why it's special when the garden is lively and beautiful, no?


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