Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Dimmed bulbs? Bright displays possible here, but takes planning


This is the time of year that – in many parts of the country and other countries as well – gardeners think of nothing but bulbs and more bulbs, and what kind of huge displays of bulbs they will gleefully plant for their spring delight.

I miss that. Having grown up in the Midwest, that was part of my essential gardening education, and when bulb time comes around now, I feel a letdown. And it’s not that we can’t grow bulbs here. It’s the lack of huge displays and the delight of planning them, that I miss. But, with many other Midwest transplants in Tucson and the number of bulb queries we receive I am assured that I am not alone.

So for any of you who can’t imagine the holidays without pots of fragrant paper-white narcissus greeting your guests, or the end of winter being signaled by the first spring bulbs popping up like welcome surprises – don’t worry! You can have bulbs here, too.

Some bulbs will take just a little more planning, but what the heck; having your own hyacinths is worth it!

Hyacinth, tulip and crocus must be refrigerated for a minimum of six weeks to simulate winter. Longer is even better, but less isn’t going to do it! If you would like to have any of these, get your bulbs and make sure you mark on the calendar the day they go into the fridge.

To pack your bulbs for the refrigerator, make sure you have some sturdy paper bags and some peat moss, sphagnum moss or coco fiber for filler. The best place for the bulbs is the vegetable crisper, but they can really go in any location that doesn’t get too cold and freeze. Make sure you forgo placing apples in the refrigerator with the bulbs.

Mark the bags with the colors (and kinds if you won’t recognize them) and sift a bit of moss or fiber between layers of bulbs to absorb any moisture that might accumulate. Once six weeks or more have passed, the bulbs are ready to plant as you normally would. I find that pots are the best place for hyacinths, tulips and crocuses, so I don’t have to look for them to dig them up for the next year.

All other fall-through-spring bulbs can be planted in the ground. A great place for almost all cool-season bulbs is under deciduous trees. They really want full sun during their growth and blooming time, but as they go into their energy-gathering period, the desert is heating up and can shorten their energy-gathering period if it gets hot too fast.

There are many places that make ideal spots for bulbs. A native mesquite, desert willow or ash tree can look bare and boring in the winter. A swath of daffodils underneath can change the whole look. And you’ll be surprised how well any kind of narcissus goes in that location.

If you have kids or grandkids who are showing a little interest in nature, you can show them a natural magic act – producing gorgeous flowers from hard brown bulbs. It’s an easy-to-love show that never fails to restore my wonder at the magic of the natural world.

Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at weekendplus@tucsoncitizen.com.



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