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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why the Snow and Cold are a Good Thing

     Our first measurable snow of the season, and the cold temperatures that go with it, have many of my friends grieving over the loss of summer.  But we not only need the moisture.  We also need the cold.  More specifically, the plants, from trees on down, need the cold.

     Sub-freezing temperatures are one of the best bug controls of all.   I welcome the cold because it helps take down the house fly population.  And that means I can leave my front door open for my pack of hounds to come and go without my constantly reaching for the fly swatter. 

     But it isn't just those insects still out and about that can fall victim to prolonged cold.  Damaging bugs trying to over-winter in the soil or under the bark of trees can be killed, too.  And that's a big help come next spring when our growing and gardening seasons return.

Plants take cues from Mother Nature

     Shorter day-length is a big signal to plants that it's time to slow way down and rest for the winter.  But cold temperatures play a significant role too, in coaxing plants into dormancy.

     The wet snow that's fallen this week is just what the plant doctor ordered:  nice and wet, but not heavy enough to break branches on trees and shrubs that haven't dropped all of their leaves yet. 

     We've had a beautiful show of fall color in the mountains and on the plains this year.  One of the best autumn displays we've seen in a long while. But it's time for those brilliantly-colored leaves to give it up, and let the plants "nap" 'til next spring. 

Compensating for Mother Nature

     In the best of all gardening worlds, Mother Nature would deliver a lot more wet, soaking snow during the next six months or so.  But we'd best assume that's not going to happen.

     So when moisture from the sky falls short, it's our job to make up the difference with winter watering.  I've written about winter watering before.  I'll write about it again, because it's so vital to plant survival. 

     When we go without a good soaking snow every month or so, we need to drag out our garden hoses and make up for the difference.  Remember that on average, in our soil, 85% of a tree's roots are in the top 12- to 18-inches of soil.  Trees, shrubs, perennials and even lawns don't need frequent winter watering, they need occasional deep winter watering.  There's a big difference. 

     Newly-planted trees, shrubs and perennials need enough moisture to soak down to the bottom of their root ball.  More mature plants will have larger root systems, and should be watered near their "drip line," the outer-most point of their branches. 

     The amount of water needed to do that depends on the type of soil the plants are growing in, the slope of the ground and the exposure.  Plants growing in south- and southwest-facing exposures tend to dry faster.  You'll need to check the soil in your own landscape with a moisture meter or small spade.  Tagawa's carries both, and our experienced staff will gladly offer
all the advice you'll need.

Colorado plants need winter!

     Even folks who want to hang onto an endless summer usually agree that our plants need winter.  It helps control damaging insects.  It coaxes plants into dormancy.  And hopefully, it brings some much-needed moisture. 

    But many of us who garden also welcome winter
for our own sake.... when Mother Nature finally forces us to put away our trowels and shovels.... at least for a while. 



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Plant Spring Bulbs Now!

Picture this!    

      Picture a long, chilly winter.  The landscape is fairly drab and colorless.  Will spring ever come?!

      Now, picture an array of daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocus in beautiful, bold scolors.  Interested?  Well, there is no better time than now to plant those spring bulbs that will greet and dazzle you next season.

     Planting bulbs can be as easy or as involved as you want to make it.  During October and early November, the soil hasn't frozen yet. And as long as you can dig, you can plant bulbs.  Obviously, how many bulbs you plant is up to you.  But once you see their spring show, you may find yourself planting more and more every year.

Basic bulb-plating tips and tricks:  Tip #1

     The bigger the bulb, the bigger the flower.  Seems pretty logical, right?  It's helpful to know that a flower bulb isn't the same thing as a seed.  Kris, Tagawa's bulb expert, says we should think of bulbs as "swollen storage systems."   Cut one in half, and you'll see layers of future leaves surrounding a tiny stem and an embryonic flower.  Cut open a hyacinth, for example, and the pale, half-inch tall blossom is clearly visible.  (And it's a great "visual" for kids.)

     If you're buying individual bulbs, it's well worth the money to invest in the largest bulbs you can find for that flower type.  Tagawa's has a big selection to choose from. 

     If you want a cluster of the same flowers, pre-packaged bags of bulbs make sense.  They'll be less expensive per bulb, but they'll also be smaller than the premium bulbs.  It's a trade off.

Tip #2:  Add organic material

     Odds are that if you're planting in Colorado, your soil is good old Colorado clay.  (For the record, the "good old" part is a joke.  A little gardening humor....)  Bulbs don't like heavy clay soil, but don't despair.  Compost is the answer.  Mix a few scoops of compost into the planting hole before you set in the bulbs.  The compost will help to lighten the soil so it doesn't stay too wet.  Give a bulb a soggy planting site, and it's very likely to rot before it ever blooms.

     Compost is also the answer if you have sandy soil that drains too quickly.  The organic material will help hold on to moisture. 

Tip #3:  A little food, please...

     Your bulbs will definitely appreciate a little phosphate boost.  Sprinkle the phosphate into the planting hole with the compost, stir to mix and then start planting.  The staff at Tagawa's can point out the
phospate fertilizer that you need.

Tip #3:  Easy does it as you plant
     The flat end of a bulb is the end with the roots, and should go next to bottom of the hole. The pointy end is the top and should be pointing up when you plant. 

     Remember that bulbs can bruise and damage.  You don't want to smash them into the soil  Just set them in carefully, give them a gentle push so they're well-seated, and then cover them up.   

Tip #4:  Planting depth is a big deal!

      The rule of thumb for our climate is to plant a bulb three to four times its height.  Example:  if a daffodil bulb is two inches tall, it needs to be planted six to eight inches deep.     

     Bulbs that are planted too high can emerge too soon in the spring and get zapped by the cold. 

     And here's a great planting tip from Kris:  plant in "bouquets."  You don't have to plant just one kind of bulb in each place.  Dig a hole wide enough and deep enough to accomodate different types of bulbs.  The largest bulbs, often daffodils, go in first.  Cover them with some compost-amended soil, then plant tulips, for example, above the daffodils at their proper depth.
Cover again, and plant still smaller bulbs on top of the tulips. 

     Depending on the bulbs you choose, you could have different flowers blooming at the same time, or have a succession of blooms.... one type of flower after another.  Either way, it's a great look!

Tip # 5:  Care after planting

     Water the bulbs well once you're done planting.  They'll actually begin to grow while the soil is still warm, but you won't see the shoots since they'll all   stay underground.

     Kris recommends that once the soil is "good and cold," usually some time in December, mulch the bulb beds to hold in the cold.  That helps to keep the bulbs from "waking up" during one of our warm spells in winter.
     Remember to water them once a month during the winter if we haven't had a good, soaking snow.  It can make all the difference in keeping the bulbs healthy until spring.

Tip #6:  After the flowers have gone....

     Be sure to cut off the flowers and stalks as the blossoms begin to fade.  Plants are programmed by Mother Nature to set seed.  "Dead heading," cutting off the flowers as they begin to fail, prevents the formation of seeds.  And that keeps more energy going to to next year's show of color.

     Now go plant some bulbs!  Give them a little T.L.C., and you'll be well-rewarded next spring.