Category Archives: bulbs

Now Is the Time to Get Your Garlic!

garlic in bowl

Chesknok Red, a purple-striped hardneck garlic

As fall approaches, thoughts turn to garlic. Growing your own garlic is easy and the cloves are tastier than what you purchase in a grocery store. Typically, garlic is planted in October in the Washington DC metro area but I have planted as late as Thanksgiving Day.  You may find “seed” stock (the garlic you buy to plant, not the garlic you buy in a grocery store to eat) at independent garden centers, farmers markets, online seed companies or specialty garlic companies. If garlic at your favorite seed company is sold out, try a company that specializes in garlic because they have more inventory. Continue reading

Deer-Proof Bulbs for Spring Flowers

snowdrop blossoms in the woodsFall is the time to purchase spring-blooming bulbs in the Washington DC metro area. There is a wide variety of choices but if you have a severe deer problem, you may want to plant deer-proof bulbs. I know, you say, there is no such thing as “deer-proof” but with bulbs there are a few that are actually poisonous. I spoke with Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA, who explained the difference between deer-proof and deer-resistant. Continue reading

Now That You Have Seeds, Order Bulbs for Summer Blooms!

Many gardeners focus on obtaining seed in the spring to start their garden. Now that summer is around the corner, don’t forget to order summer-blooming bulbs such as alliums, cannas, crinums, dahlias, lilies, gladiolus, and iris. For interesting foliage, try caladiums, colocasias, and alocasias. Below is a list of companies that sell bulbs in alphabetical order. For other companies that primarily sell seeds and may also sell bulbs, click on the “Seed Companies” tab on pegplant.com. Continue reading

Early Spring Bloomers: Dwarf Irises

2014Marchgarden 017

Harmony

It is the end of January and already I can see the spiky green emerging from the mass of dead, brown leaves. Dwarf irises are one of my earliest bloomers in my zone 7 Virginia garden. These irises are only 4-5 inches tall and bloom solitary flowers. Mine have been in my garden for a long time, nothing bothers them. Usually they bloom in early March. This year we have had such a mild winter, I think I will see flowers in February.

J.S. Dijt

J.S. Dijt

Also known as netted iris, dwarf irises (Iris reticulata) are very small bulbs, covered with a fibrous netting. There are many cultivars; flower colors range from light to dark blue or light to dark purple. Preferring full sun and well-drained soil, they thrive in rock gardens, on steps and terraces, in containers, and can be forced to bloom indoors in pots. The flowers can be cut for small desk top vases, bringing early spring cheer to the office or home.

They are available to plant in the fall, along with other bulbs, at local garden centers or through bulb companies. Because they are so small though, buy at least a handful. Plant with roots pointing down, spike pointing up, three inches deep and three inches apart. Hardy to zone 5, they die back in the summer and come back in the spring every year. In my garden, ‘J.S. Dijt’ and ‘Harmony’ have thrived for years with no pests or diseases.

Subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a Newsletter for DC Metro Area Gardeners

Apricot Giant Tulip

Enter your e-mail here to subscribe to Pegplant’s Post, a free monthly newsletter about gardening in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Each issue lists 50 to 100 local gardening events, lectures, and workshops; recently published gardening books; and articles and tips specific to this immediate area. Subscribers have a chance to win a gardening product or plant every month.

For the November 2019 issue, we are doing something a little different for the giveaway. Instead of having one subscriber win one product, we are going to have five possible winners. Each person can receive 100 tulip bulbs. We have collaborated with Dutch Grown to give away a total of 500 tulips — five winners will get 100 of one variety. Winners cannot pick which variety, but it will be 100 of Apricot Giant, or Jumbo Cherry, or Strawberry Fields Collection, or Rainbow Parrot, or Apricot Parrot.

Rainbow Parrot Tulip

Established in 1882, Dutch Grown has been shipping and selling spring blooming bulbs from their family farm in Holland to growers in the United States. They launched their website in 2001 and in 2007 they were able to set up their online shop.  Initially only wholesale quantities were available for purchase online but they were able to provide retail prices by opening a warehouse in West Chester, PA. They ship bulbs from Holland to the warehouse in Pennsylvania and from this site they can deliver retail orders to gardeners and home owners. Their website has a blog, a question submission form, a bulb calculator, a zone finder, and several videos.

So if you are not a subscriber, subscribe now to Pegplant’s Post for a chance to win 100 bulbs. Read the November newsletter for details. All photos courtesy of Dutch Grown.

Apricot Parrot Tulip

Deer-Resistant Bulbs in the Lily Family for a Spring Show

Of the fall-planted, spring-blooming bulbs, there are several in the lily family (Liliaceae) that are deer resistant. These are worth trying in your garden. If you have a severe deer issue, you may want to try deer-proof bulbs. As mentioned in my deer-proof article, I talked with Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA, who explained the difference between deer proof and deer resistant.

“Critter-proof bulbs are poisonous to animals such as deer, rabbits, squirrels, and voles,” Brent said. “Critter-resistant bulbs have some quality that is unpleasant to the critter but if the critter is hungry enough it will eat the plant.” Because there are three types of deer-proof bulbs in the amaryllis family–daffodils, snowflakes, and snowdrops–you may want to expand your palette of colors with deer-resistant bulbs in the lily family. Try planting these in areas where you know deer do not frequent or cannot gain access. Brent also recommended using Plantskydd repellent for these bulbs. “Plantskydd is most effective,” he said. “You dip the bulb in the liquid, let it dry, and then plant in the ground. It prevents the critters from smelling the sweet smell of the bulbs so they tend to leave the bulbs alone.” Here are six deer-resistant bulbs in the lily family to plant now for a spring show.

Alliums

The drumstick shape of Allium sphaerocephalon

Alliums, also called ornamental onions, are grown for beautiful flowers, not for edible onions. “Allium bulbs have a distasteful, strong onion smell that critters find offensive,” said Brent. Usually the flowers are globe shaped and can be quite large. They bloom in late spring and early summer, preferring full sun and well-drained soil. Many of these flower heads work well as cut flowers and as dried flowers. There are globes, large and small; the drumstick shape (Allium sphaerocephalon); the firecracker shape (A. schubertii); and the large chive shape (A. unifolium), to name a few. The size of the bulb varies so planting depth varies but generally bulbs are planted 2 to 3 times their width.

Grape Hyacinths

Grape hyacinths in a container

The grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) is a small bulb but makes a big impact if planted in masses. Most people think of blue or purple grape looking flowers but there is a wide variety of colors. Some flowers are two-toned — blue and white or yellow and purple or white and purple. Some have all white flowers, or purple, or pink. Some flower structures have hairy, fuzzy flowers, instead of the common, grape-like clusters. Grape hyacinth bulbs naturalize well, can be grown in full or partial sun or dapple shade, and are great for planting under deciduous trees. Because of their small size, they do well in containers for forcing for an early indoor bloom. They bloom in March and April.

Hyacinths

“Hyacinth bulbs have scales that are a skin irritant so wear gloves when handling them,” recommended Brent. “This also is an irritant to critters.” Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) are less than a foot tall and flower colors come in ranges of pinks, yellow, blues, and whites. The actual flower shape does not vary much with cultivars. The bulbs last for a long time in the garden and over the years, the florets become looser, with more space between them instead of a tight cluster. Hyacinths prefer well-drained soil and full sun. They are very fragrant which is not as noticeable outside but can overpower a room if cut for a vase inside. Because of their small size, they do well in containers for forcing for an early indoor bloom. They bloom in March and April.

Spanish Bluebells

“Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are highly critter resistant,” said Brent. These have about the same height and color palette as hyacinths but the florets are tubular bells. They can tolerate shade, are often found in woodland areas, but also can be grown in sun. They naturalize well and can be used as a cut flower. They do not have such an overpowering scent like hyacinths.

Star flowers

Star Flowers

Star flowers (Ipheion uniflorum) have a nice fragrance but are too small for cutting and the foliage reeks of garlic. “When crushed, the star flower leaves smell like garlic so the plant is critter resistant,” said Brent. The flowers have six petals in pale blue, lavender, pink, or white, resembling a star. The plant is about 6 inches tall with thin, grass like foliage so it is best to grown them in a group or drift. As long as the soil is well drained, they have a wide range of soil tolerance and can be grown in full sun to part shade. They bloom in April and naturalize well.

Glory of the Snow

Glory of the snow (Chionodoxa forbesii) also has star-shaped flowers but they are more open and each flower is lavender with a white center. Again, a small, 6-inch plant so they are not used for cutting. They work well in a group or drift and naturalize easily. Glory of the snow blooms in March, sometimes with snow on the ground, and in April. They need well-drained soil and full sun to part shade.

Glory of the snow in a drift

All of these bulbs should be available to purchase now at your local independent garden center or order online through one of these bulb companies.

All photos courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

Deer-Resistant, Spring-Blooming Bulbs to Plant

Fall is the time to purchase spring-blooming bulbs in the Washington DC metro area. There is a wide variety of choices but if you have a severe deer problem, you may want to plant deer-proof bulbs. I know, you say, there is no such thing as “deer-proof” but with bulbs there are a few that are actually poisonous. I spoke with Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA, who explained the difference between deer-proof and deer-resistant.

“Critter-proof bulbs are poisonous to animals such as deer, rabbits, squirrels, and voles,” Brent said. “Critter-resistant bulbs have some quality that is unpleasant to the critter but if the critter is hungry enough it will eat the plant.” Of the spring-blooming bulbs, the amaryllis family offers three popular critter-proof bulbs that contain lycorine, a poisonous crystalline alkaloid. Somehow critters know about lycorine and stay away from daffodils, snowdrops, and snowflakes. A subsequent article will describe critter-resistant bulbs for gardeners who are not plagued by deer.

Daffodils (Narcissus)

Daffodils are very hardy in this area, they last for years. There is a wide range of daffodils–flowers vary in color, size, shape, and bloom time. In fact, daffodils are categorized in 13 divisions according to the American Daffodil Society. Usually people think of yellow when they think of daffodil flowers but colors range from yellow to white to cream to orange to pink. Plants can be as short 3 inches or as tall as 2 feet. The bloom time varies from January to the end of April.  “The earliest daffodil to bloom is Early Sensation, which blooms in January and February in my area,” said Brent. Because there are early bloomers and late bloomers, you can extend your range of bloom time by a few months.

Drifts of daffodils about to bloom under deciduous trees

Daffodils are usually planted in a mass for a natural look. They blend well with the front garden or landscape but the small ones should be planted up close to the walkway for visibility. The flowers are perfect for floral arrangements so when you buy bulbs consider planting bulbs for flowers in the landscape and flowers for cutting. Daffodils should be planted in a well-drained area with full sun or part shade. Usually bulbs are planted 5-6 inches deep and 6 inches apart but because the size of daffodil bulbs vary this depends on the size of the bulb. The rule of thumb is to plant 2-3 times the width of the bulb. When I asked Brent which daffodils he recommends, he said that the recommended daffodils for this area have a heart symbol next to them in their catalog (which they mail free). There are also several local daffodil clubs and shows if you want to get additional recommendations and see what the flowers look like before buying the bulbs.

Daffodils for landscape as well as cutting

Snowdrops (Galanthus)

Snowdrops are very early bloomers, sometimes as early as January with snow on the ground. They bloom until March and then their thin, green foliage seems to blend into the landscape and disappear. The plants are small, about 6 inches tall, with white pendulous bells of flowers. Usually each flower has six tepals (a modified petal) but there are double-flowering types too. The tepal length plus the green markings on them vary tremendously. Although they are considered common here in the United States, they have achieved cult status in Great Britain where they have been bred since Victorian times. There are thousands of cultivars, some of which are very expensive.

Snowdrops

Because they are small, it is best to plant many in a group. They naturalize well and can be used in rock gardens. They can be grown in full sun but do best in dappled shade or under deciduous trees. Snowdrops tolerate clay soil and black walnut trees. Plant bulbs 4 inches deep and about 2 to 4 inches apart.

Snowflake or summer snowflake (Leucojum)

There are two species of snowflake: Leucojum vernum and Leucojum aestivum. L. vernum blooms in the winter and early spring, at the same time as snowdrops. They are about 8 to 10 inches tall. L. aestivum blooms much later in April and is about 12 to 18 inches tall. A common L. aestivum cultivar is ‘Gravetye Giant’ which is slightly taller with larger flowers.

Leucojum ‘Gravetye Giant’ next to azaleas, photo courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs

Snowflakes have wide, strap-like foliage and dainty bells of flowers hanging above the green leaves. Each flower is white with green tips. Snowflakes can be grown in full sun or dappled sunlight. It is best to grow them in a drift, along river banks, and under deciduous trees. The L. aestivum in particular is a great companion plant for spring blooming shrubs and perennials in the garden because of its height and bloom time. Snowflakes prefers rich, well-drained soil, and can tolerate moist soil more so than other bulbs. They also can tolerate clay soil and black walnut trees. Plant the bulbs 6 inches deep and about 6 inches apart.

If deer are an issue for you, try these bulbs in the amaryllis family. You can plant them after a hard freeze, usually late October through November. All of these bulbs are easy to find at local independent garden centers or they can be ordered from these bulb companies.

Companies for Ordering Fall-Planted, Spring-Blooming Bulbs

School is back in session, which means it is time to order the fall-planted, spring-blooming bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips. In addition to your local nurseries, check out this list of bulb companies. For other companies that primarily sell seeds and may also sell bulbs, see the “seed catalog” tab on pegplant.com.

Amaryllis and Caladium Bulb Company, Florida, has catalog and can order online. Sells amaryllis, caladiums, and spring and summer bulbs.

Brecks, Ohio, has a catalog and can order online, states that it ships bulbs directly from Holland

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Virginia, has a catalog, can order online, can visit display garden and shop in Gloucester, VA.

David Burdick Daffodils and More, Massachusetts, has catalog and website but not able to order online. Has daffodils, trollius, colchicums, and a few other bulbs

Dutch Gardens, Illinois, has catalog and can order online, sells bulbs and perennials

Dutch Grown, Pennsylvania, order bulbs online.

Easy to Grow Bulbs, California, can order online, no catalog. Sells bulbs, succulents, and houseplants.

John Scheepers Beauty from Bulbs, Connecticut, can order online and has catalog. Also has sister company Van Engelen for wholesale bulb orders and a sister company, Kitchen Garden Seeds, for vegetable, herb, flower seeds

Longfield Gardens, New Jersey, can order online but no catalog, sells bulbs and perennials

McClure and Zimmerman, Wisconsin, has a digital catalog and can order online, sells bulbs

Odyssey Bulbs, Massachusetts, online, no catalog, sells unusual bulbs and perennials

Old House Gardens, Michigan, can order online and has a print catalog, known for heirloom bulbs

RoozenGaarde and Washington Bulb Company, Washington, has a mailorder and internet division called Tulips.com. There is a retail gift shop in WA. Also ships flowers and promotes bulbs as wedding favors.

Telos Rare Bulbs, California, sells bulbs from South Africa, South America, and wester U.S., online, no catalog

White Flower Farm, Connecticut, can order online and obtain catalog, wide range of bulbs, perennials, holiday plants, and gardening tools. Has display gardens and store in CT.

Daffodils: Reliable Spring Bloomers

daffodil

British Gamble is a Division 1 daffodil, with a pale pink, broad, showy cup

Daffodils are great investments for your garden. For very little money, you can plant daffodil bulbs in the fall and enjoy their bloom every spring for years to come. Reliable and dependent, these sunny flowers can be used to landscape your garden or cut for indoor flower arrangements.

Cultural Requirements

Daffodils are long lasting and are not bothered by deer or other animals. They can be divided to increase the numbers or simply left in place. Bulbs are available at local nurseries in the fall or through mail order catalogs. Select large healthy bulbs and plant about 5 to 6 inches deep and apart. Daffodils can be planted in the garden bed, in large swaths for a naturalizing effect, under a deciduous tree, or in containers with other bulbs. One caveat is that after the daffodils bloom, the leaves must be left in place until they yellow so you may want to think about disguising the foliage with other perennials. Do not fold the leaves down, tie with rubber bands, or cut until they are so yellow they detract from the garden’s beauty.

Dutch Master, the classic Division 1 daffodil

Daffodils prefer full sun but will tolerate part sun (a half day of sun). They are not particular about soil but because they are bulbs the soil has to drain well to avoid rot. When planting, apply a balanced fertilizer. On an annual basis apply a low nitrogen fertilizer in the spring and fall. Daffodils do not need to be divided, they multiply naturally, but they can be dug up and divided if you want to increase your number of bulbs. Division should occur after the blooming period, when the leaves yellow. Dig up, divide, and replant immediately if possible. If not possible, store the bulbs in a dry area with good air circulation until can plant in the fall.  If you see a decline in blossoms after several years of growing, you can also dig up and divide daffodils because the bulbs may have increased to the point that they are too crowded.

Daffodil Societies and Shows

While most people are familiar with the foot high daffodil with large yellow blossoms, there is a wide spectrum of colors, sizes, and bloom times. In fact the spectrum is so great that daffodils have been categorized into 13 divisions and there are thousands of cultivars. The divisions below illustrate the diversity but for more information contact the American Daffodil Society or a local daffodil society.

daffodil

In the foreground is Katie Heath, Division 5, and in the background is Pink Charm, Division 2

In the Washington DC metro area, there are three daffodil societies, each with their own spring shows that are open to the public. If you want to know what to plant this fall, visit these shows to see how the flowers will look, meet other daffodil enthusiasts, learn best cultivars for this area, and identify additional resources for purchasing bulbs. There also are local garden clubs that have their own daffodil shows such as the Garden Club of Virginia Daffodil show in Richmond, VA, on March 26; and the District II Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland Daffodil show in Severna Park, MD, on April 9-10. The daffodilfestivalva.org website provides a listing of local daffodil festivals and areas that have substantial daffodil collections.

Daffodil Divisions

One flower to a stem (corona is the center trumpet or cup)

  • Division 1: Trumpet: corona not more than one-third the length of petals
  • Division 2: Large cupped: corona more than one-third but less than equal to the length of petals
  • Division 3: Small cupped: corona not more than one-third the length of petals

One or more flowers per stem

  • Division 4: Double: many petals
  • Division 5: Triandrus: pendulous blooms, petals turned back

One flower per a stem

  • Division 6: Cyclamineus: petals turned back significantly and flower at an acute angle to stem

Several flowers per a stem

  • Division 7: Jonquilla: petals spreading or reflexed, usually has fragrance
  • Division 8: Tazetta: stout stem, petals spreading but not reflexed, usually has fragrance, have minimal to no chilling requirements, this is the division for paperwhites, which often are forced indoors

Division 9: Poeticus: white petals, short corona with green or yellow center and red rim

Division 10: Bulbocodium hybrids, one flower per stem, petals very small compared to a large corona

Division 11a: Split cup collar

Division 11b: Split cup papillon

Division 12: Other types

Division 13: Species or wild variants

Mary Gay Lirette, a Division 11a daffodil, has flowers that open with a yellow cup that turns salmon and folds back

Local daffodil societies and shows (open to the public)

The Washington Daffodil Society will have their spring show on April 13 & 14, 2019, at the Alexandria Valley Scottish Rite Temple, 1430 W. Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA.

The Maryland Daffodil Society   will have their spring show on April 24 & 25, 2019, at a new venue, Vollmer Center, Cylburn Arboretum, 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore MD.

The Virginia Daffodil Society will have their show on March 30 & 31, 2019, at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, VA. This society does not have a website but the contact person is Jennifer Potter, Jpotter890@msn.com

Sources

All photographs are courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs

Mid-Summer Review of my Virginia Garden

Now that it is August and my Virginia garden has suffered extreme weather, pests, diseases, and deer, I can definitely identify my survivors, or rather, my summer successes.

First, my pink and purple garden. This spring I was gifted four different annuals that bloom in the pink to purple range. In this full sun patch near the front door, I have Valiant Orchid vinca from Pan American Seed with extra-large flowers. Vinca is an impressive annual, it flowers all summer long and does not have to be deadheaded. It does not mind the heat, humidity, and periods of dryness. I also like the way the plant gets bushy, it fills its space. Next to them are Proven Winners Angelface Steel Blue angelonias. Often called summer snapdragons, angelonias provide vertical structure. This particular cultivar grows to 2 feet and has large purple flowers that do not need to be deadheaded. They are drought tolerant and deer resistant. I know because they are next to a volunteer dahlia that gets nipped by the deer every so often. Within this space are several shorter angelonias from Pan American Seed called Serena Blue. These perform just as well, just a bit shorter with smaller blue flowers to add a horizontal layer to the garden. At the ground level, to cascade through the plants, is Proven Winners Supertunia Vista Bubblegum. This petunia cultivar has bloomed all summer long, no pests, no diseases. I love the pink and purple combination plus the varying heights.

If I could duplicate this palette next year I might add the purple foliage oxalis. Mine are in a container along with other bulbs from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. The oxalis pips were planted in April and I put the container outside in May after the last frost. All of the bulbs have performed well but I am amazed at the longevity of the oxalis as well as the versatility. They have been blooming small pink flowers from May to August and the purple foliage does not seem fazed by our heat and humidity. Because they are low growing, the foliage can “hide” the “feet” of plants in containers.

Speaking of containers, I could have planted either the purple oxalis or the pink Bubblegum under the Black Diamond Best Red crape myrtle.  J. Berry Nursery sent the crape myrtle in the spring as a small plant and it has grown so fast I replanted it into a larger container. The Black Diamond series has very dark foliage and can withstand being a summer container plant. I have always liked the use of trees as container plants on patios and decks. However, because this crape myrtle is hardy to zone 6, it will not overwinter in a container so in the fall I will plant it in the ground. Eventually this tree will grow to 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide and I am sure it will be a stunner with the dark foliage and red flowers!

J. Berry Nursery also introduced me to their tropical hibiscus series called Hollywood Hibiscus. The Hollywood Hibiscus plants have many long lasting flowers in a wide range of flower colors. Of my five plants, I have kept my two favorite flower colors, Chatty Cathy (yellow) and Social Butterfly (yellow/orange), in containers on the deck. In the fall I plan to bring them indoors to overwinter them and “save” them for next year. I planted the other three in with the irises in the front of the house. After I trimmed the foliage on my bearded irises, I discovered that First to Flirt (pink), Jolly Polly (pink), and Bombshell Red (red) were perfect for filling up the space and providing color among the truncated iris foliage.

Chatty Cathy