Designing and Planting with Bulbs

Designing and Planting with Bulbs

Part of Ep. 1404 Harvest Traditions

Horticulturist Christian Harper teaches Shelley Ryan how to use a soil probe to plant blubs. The probe makes it easy to plant through turf or meadow without crawling on the ground.

Premiere date: Nov 01, 2006

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
This is a soil probe, but today it's a bulb planter.  We're at Olbrich Gardens in Madison to learn how to plant bulbs through turf or meadow, in this case to have a natural setting in our own back yard.  I'm with horticulturist Christian Harper.  Christian, this is cool.  I'd never think of using something like this instead of me crawling around on the ground.  Is that one of the things you used to plant this glorious meadow garden? 

Christian:
We did, we planted thousands of bulbs in here.  And we found that this was one of the best tools for planting lots of them in a timely manner. 

Shelley:
Obviously, from the size we're not talking about the great big tulip bulbs we're talking about much smaller, earlier bulbs. 

Christian:
Most of the bulbs that we plant in a meadow setting and that you would plant in a lawn at home are smaller than your typical, big daffodil or tulip bulbs. 

Shelley:
Now, you've got another, more high powered tool. 

Christian:
This also works pretty much the same way as far as drilling an appropriate size hole both in diameter and depth.  This is a bulb auger, and is actually made for this.  In combination with a sturdy drill this is good for planting lots of bulbs in a turf setting, also. 

Shelley:
Let's play with one of these.  Let's try the low-tech one first. 

Christian:
It's a very simple process.  You just sort of clear away the grass until you see a little bit of bare dirt. 

Shelley:
That's whether it's meadow or our lawn at home. 

Christian:
Yeah, if you have a lot of thatch at home you might have trouble seeing the actual dirt.  But you get down to about that level.  We've marked this about five inches up.  Five to six inches is a good depth for most of these bulbs. 

Shelley:
So, deeper is always better than shallow. 

Christian:
Yep, it protects them from extremes of weather as well as critters. 

Shelley:
And the critters can be annoying, they love bulbs. 

Christian:
And I'm not putting much pressure on this at all.  This goes right down in moist soil with a little twisting motion. 

Shelley:
And there's your core of soil.  Now you've got a hole for a bulb.  Let's do one of these, okay. 

Christian:
There we go. 

Shelley:
It's the same, with either tool. 

Christian:
You can see the diameter is about the same as that hole there.  Now, pulling this moist soil out of here and using this to go back in can be a little tricky.  So, we usually have a bucket of prepared fine soil to which we've added about ten percent milorganite. 

Shelley:
Why that? 

Christian:
Milorganite is a lawn fertilizer made from processed sewage sludge from the city of Milwaukee.  You can maybe smell it, it has a very distinctive odor.  And the animals don't like that either so it keeps them from digging in here. 

Shelley:
Excellent, that's a great solution, then. 

Christian:
So, make sure you know which end is up.  Most bulbs, you can see the remnants of the roots or they have a distinct point, which should be up.  Drop that down the hole.  Fill it to the top.  Press that in with a couple of fingers a little bit more on top. 

Shelley:
That's a lot easier. 

Christian:
Away you go, it goes very quickly.  It's a good two-person project. 

Shelley:
We're talking about planting a lot more than one.  How do we make it look like a natural setting? 

Christian:
Well, the old standby trick is people say scatter the bulbs on the ground and plant them where they lay.  You'd lose all your bulbs in a setting like this.  We like to take markers, flags, or sticks, whatever.  Place them in sort of a random pattern.  Then, by each marker, we'll plant three or five.  Odd numbers work good.  And then at the end, we go through and dot individual ones here and there.  We find that especially if you plant multiple different kinds of different bulbs when they come up next spring, it looks quite natural. 

Shelley:
When are we doing this?  Later in the fall is better than early in the fall. 

Christian:
We like to go mid-October in this part of the state.  If you were in northern Wisconsin early October would be good.  You can actually plant bulbs anytime, anywhere until the ground freezes and they'll do just fine. 

Shelley:
I've even done it after the ground freezes! 

Christian:
We all have. 

Shelley:
And what kind of bulbs are we planting?  These are going to come up through our lawns at home so they've got to be early. 

Christian:
Yeah, you want the foliage to stay as long as possible to make energy for next year's flowers.  So, early on, we like any of the species crocus, snowdrops, those are usually the first two to bloom for us and then, followed by early species tulips those are the tulips you'd find in the wild. 

Shelley:
The shorter growing ones. 

Christian:
Exactly, grape hyacinth. 

Shelley:
The fritillaries that we just planted are lovely. 

Christian:
Checkered fritillary is a wonderful meadow bulb.  Anemones, windflowers. There are quite a few out there.  Anything that's small and blooms early in the season is a good type to try. 

Shelley:
Okay, and unlike your glorious meadow here, we usually do mow in the spring or the neighbors get upset.  Can we mow this kind of garden? 

Christian:
Most of these things that we talked about will bloom in April into the early part of May.  And the foliage dies down pretty quickly.  You still want to give it a couple weeks but usually by mid-May, then you can go ahead and mow. 

Shelley:
Maybe mow high the first couple times to leave those leaves there. 

Christian:
That would be a good compromise in getting the best of both worlds there.  Excellent.  Thanks, Christian. 

Shelley:
So if you do all this in the fall just think what you're yard is going to look like next spring. 

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!  I am inspired.  Thanks to Anne Walker, I will turn to nature the next time I want to play dress up.  I am wearing little bluestem a little bit of amaranth and a lot of other beautiful things from nature.  To find out more about all the topics we discussed today check out our Web site at wpt.org/garden.  I'm Shelley Ryan.  Thanks for watching the Wisconsin Gardener.  I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too.  Good idea, yeah.

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