Is This A Good Place to Plant Bulbs?
In my previous post on crocuses in the lawn, I explained why I chose the site I did. It had southern exposure, so the snow melted early there, and was near enough to the driveway so that anyone arriving would be sure to see them. So this site was perfect to satisfy my emotional goal of seeing flowers blooming–colorful flowers–as early as possible in the horticultural year. But I recognized that in terms of practicality, that is, how easily and quickly this planting could be accomplished, and how long it would endure, it was really not such a great spot. The problems were:
- clay soil
- rocky soil
- tree roots
From a practical standpoint, about the only thing going for this site was that I was physically capable of doing the work–however slowly or inefficiently–and the bulbs didn’t cost me anything, thanks to Longwood Gardens’ generous offer. That was sufficient for heart to overrule head, sufficient for me to bet against the odds, sufficient to justify the work in the name of educating myself and my readers.
A lot of people let their heart overrule their head without really considering how they are going to deal with the disadvantages of their current garden project. This is one benefit of experience: you can anticipate and plan for difficulties. Here’s what I was thinking about before I got started.
How I Deal With…
Clay soil: Don’t even bother trying to dig until the soil is moist, unless you like using a mattock. On the other hand, hold off if the soil is super-saturated. Crocus corms will rot in soggy soil, but I’m counting on the tree roots to suck up enough moisture during the summer to keep rot away. The trees are still dormant when the crocuses need the moisture most. During the summer, crocuses are fine with dry soil.
Rocky soil: Rocks? What rocks? I assumed there were plenty of rocks, because I had found them in every other place on our property I had dug. But it was always possible the previous owners had brought in good garden soil over the front lawn. (A girl can dream, can’t she?) As it turns out–well, you’ll see.
Tree roots: Contrary to what you may have been told, all those fine feeder roots in the top couple inches of soil are very important to trees. I wanted to disturb them as little as possible. There is a technique for planting bulbs in lawn that calls for peeling back the sod, planting the bulbs and then replacing the sod. That method would damage the tree roots too much, so it was out of the question here.
Rodents: I had seen squirrels, chipmunks, and voles hanging around before I planted a single corm. Besides planting Crocus tommasinianus, which is supposedly not as appealing to them, I was just going to hope that the rodents found the ground hard to dig and would ignore this planting in favor of more easily acquired food. This seemed to deter them from ravaging the Crocus Bank at the old house, so it’s not just wishful thinking.
Measure Once, Dig Four Hundred Times
I am not very good at estimating distance, area, or volume, and after going to the trouble to calculate how many bulbs I would need to plant in a twenty-five foot square area, I decided to measure it. Since I am going to do this planting in stages, I want to maintain the same bulb planting density through the years, so in the end it all looks like one planting.
I emptied all the corms out of their net bags into the shipping box. It seemed impossible that all those bulbs were going to fit into that five foot square. Of course, I wasn’t going to be legalistic about it. I knew I might have to skip areas with tree roots or unearthable rocks, but if I hadn’t measured I know I would have spaced them farther apart.
Which Tool Works Best?
I never know until I start what is going to be the most efficient way to get the job done. I had several tools at my disposal: a dibble, a garden knife, the Pro-Plugger, a dandelion weeder, and this DeWit Small Bulb Planter:The DeWit planter felt like a well-made, sturdy, good-for-a-lifetime kind of tool, but it was difficult to drive through the rocky, clay soil. (It worked perfectly in a cultivated garden bed.) I had used the dibble (to make the holes) and the dandelion weeder (to pry rocks out of the holes) when planting crocuses in the Crocus Bank at the old house. Pushing it through the soil here, I wondered at my past strength and stamina. I could do it, but it was hard, and the resulting hole was narrower at the bottom, so the crocus corm couldn’t go all the way down without resting over an air space. For making holes, the Pro-Plugger (which I received free to review), worked best. I tried to make each row of holes offset from the row before it, but didn’t always manage it. For that matter, my rows had a tendency to lean in one direction, and then I’d see gaps where I could squeeze in another bulb. None of this concerned me, because I wasn’t after a regimented effect. And having not even embarked on this project until November, I was more concerned about getting it done before snow fell–and stuck. We had already had a dusting or two.
Rocks? Yes, Plenty of Rocks!
The Pro-Plugger could cut through the sod, and made a nice, flat-bottomed hole, but even it couldn’t slice through rocks. The crocuses were supposed to be planted three inches deep, but here’s a sampling of hole depths after using the Pro-Plugger:I used the planting knife to pry rocks out of the holes. The knife is very strong, and it was surprising how big some of the rocks were that I managed to pull out of the ground. When I had pried one or more rocks out of a hole, then I dropped a crocus corm in, and put the sod “lid” back on.
Really? It Only Took Six Days?
So, to review, my method went like this:
- Made a row of holes with the Pro-Plugger
- Systematically went down the row, prying out rocks and dropping a corm in.
- Starting from the beginning, removed the “lids” or plugs from the top of the Pro-Plugger and pushed them back into the hole they came from.
- Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
I started November 5th and finished November 11th, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t work on it every day. Prying rocks out of each hole was tedious. It was cold and damp. The first day I worked on this, the high for the day was 36F. The following days were 45F, 36F, 43F, 44F, 49F, and 74F(!) on the last day. I often wondered if I should bother prying out the rocks, but when I didn’t, the lids often didn’t fit on top. Of course, after I removed the rocks, sometimes the lids sunk below soil level. This is madness, I thought. In my more romantic moments, I’m suffering for my art. And we really won’t know until spring if I suffered in vain.
But one thing I do know. Some critter already got into my horticultural cookie jar.On the other hand, since I planted these crocuses we have been adopted by a cat. A hunting cat. So maybe the losses come spring will be few.
At any rate, I’m done.
For this year.