GROWING BULBS ORGANICALLY
There is a certain joyful feeling that comes from planting bulbs in the ground and forgetting about them, only to be pleasantly surprised the day they break through the surface several months later. We at Dr. Earth® feel good about the many surprises that the garden offers us at different times of the year, especially the colorful beauty that bulbs provide for that short period of time. Growing bulbs organically is even more rewarding, because we know we have worked within the guidelines that Mother Nature provides.
Every time I put a bulb in the ground or in a container, I feel butterflies in my stomach. I think it’s because I know something really spectacular is going to happen. I can almost sense the flush of color that will delight my senses. With organic bulbs, I can feel good about bringing the color into my home while knowing I’m not bringing in the chemicals from fertilizers or pesticides. Organic bulbs show more hardiness than their chemically-grown counterparts, because they have been grown steadily, without the unnatural growth spikes that they would experience with chemical fertilizers.
Because of the remarkably beautiful flowers they produce, bulbs have become tremendously popular. They’re available in a wide range of colors, forms, and bloom sizes and can be grown indoors as well as out. Bulbs are really simple to grow, and re-grow, once we understand some of requirements.
The size of a bulb does not indicate its value or quality, but firmness, weight, and condition do. If it is a true bulb (daffodil, lily, or tulip) the layers or scales should be firmly bound, so that there is no feeling of softness or looseness when it is squeezed in your hand. If it is a rhizome, corm, or tuber (such as calla, crocus, or dahlia) the flesh should be plump and firm. Good quality bulbs also carry the distinction of being heavy. It is not unusual to find bulbs of the same species, variety, and size that vary considerably when it comes to weight, with those of inferior quality weighing in on the lighter side. The skin and condition of the coating should be bright and free of any bruises or deep cuts. Bulbs that are cut or damaged are likely to rot or decompose before ever sprouting.
It is always best to plant the bulbs immediately after purchasing; if you cannot do that, store in a cool dry location with good ventilation. Keep in mind that any extreme artificial temperature will dry the bulb and cause it to shrivel, which can damage it. Also keep in mind that pests such as squirrels, rats and mice find them a delicacy.
No matter where you live, you can turn your soil and environment to your advantage and achieve great results. Here are some tips that will help.
It is very important that the soil drains well. Bulbs require loose, porous soil in order to develop strong root systems. If your soil is heavy and mostly clay, it is very important to break up the soil with organic materials such as compost, mulch, and planting mix. I recommend that you use Dr. Earth® planting mix for amending all soil types, or Dr. Earth® potting soil for container plants. Dr. Earth® soils contain the proper medium to support the maximum root development that your bulbs will need to get off to a great start.
Refer to the back of our Organic 1™ Bulb Food box for a planting chart, or follow the bulb growers recommended depth for the variety you have chosen. Keep in mind that the area you live in will determine the depth your bulbs will be planted; the colder the soil, the deeper you will need to go.
Bulbs are starch bodies and naturally contain all the food they will need for the first season. Fertilizing with Dr. Earth® Bulb Food will ensure that they root more quickly and will provide them with added nutrients that will support maximum blooms.
Plant your bulbs with the point facing up. There are exceptions to this rule, such as anemones and ranunculus; their point is facing down. Make sure you have referred package or grower’s information as to the planting depth of each bulb. Dig the hole to the correct depth, place some Dr. Earth® Bulb Food in the bottom of the hole; place the bulb into the hole point facing up; then cover the hole with the appropriate amount of soil.
Thoroughly water the soil after planting your bulbs. Water will help to break your bulbs out of dormancy and will also activate the fertilizer. Water your bulbs at least once a week to the point that the soil is saturated. Once the foliage appears and your bulbs are established, continue to water deeply at least once a week.
Once the bulbs are established, and are showing abundant foliage before flowering, fertilize a second time with Dr. Earth® Bulb Food. Lightly cultivate one tbsp. into the top ½ inch of soil. Water thoroughly. This second application will enhance the blooming cycle and will also help the bulbs buildup their nutrient content for the following year.
Allowing bulbs to “die back”
If you want to save your bulbs for the following year, it is very important to keep the leaves on the plant after they have finished blooming. Fertilize a third time with Dr. Earth® Bulb Food to build up the maximum nutrient content for the following season. When the foliage begins to fade, cut back on the watering. Then shortly thereafter, stop watering completely. You can remove the brown foliage when they are at the stage where they just lift off the bulb with ease. The bulbs are now starting their dormant stage.
If you are storing your bulbs, you will need to carefully dig them up and clean off all the soil and debris. Dust them with a sulfur fungicide if possible. Store them in a paper bag in a dry cool location where they will be protected from heat, moisture, and pests.
Bulbs are easy to grow indoors. They can be forced successfully in the window of an apartment, home, cold frame, or in the greenhouse. No special skill is needed, and with adequate light and temperature, and sufficient moisture, you can successfully force bulbs. You can use many different types of containers. Larger bulbs will require larger containers. When spacing your bulbs, make sure they do not touch each other. There should be soil between every bulb and its nearest neighbor.
Some bulbs will force more easily than others, so please consult with your local independent nursery for their favorite selection. Plant bulbs as soon as you buy them in a container that has good drainage. Roots cannot grow in moist soil that easily stagnates. Follow all the other tips above to grow rich, hardy, organic bulbs that will delight all your senses.
Milo Lou Shammas
Founder and Formulator