Mud Season Mind Games: Dear Friend and Gardener

– Posted in: Mud Season, Plant info
17 comments

Dear Friend and Gardener,
I have learned through my online friendships with many garden bloggers that spring comes late to my part of the world. Friends around the country (and the world) speak of snowdrops blooming when mine are buried under snow, and show off their daffodils while I am waiting for my first crocuses to open up.

Psychological warfare on my own behalf

We cold climate gardeners are hardy souls but these are the times that try them. I have learned to exercise psychological warfare on my own behalf. It isn’t enough to have early-blooming bulbs like crocus. No, I am constantly searching for the earliest of the early, and planting them where the snow melts first. Odyssey Bulbs is a good source of such extra early bulbs. I bought these ‘Lemon Tiger’ crocuses from them last fall and they are the only crocuses now blooming in my garden.

Crocus korolkowii Lemon Tiger

Crocus korolkowii is a very early blooming species crocus. This selection is called ‘Lemon Tiger’.

Not only did I plant crocuses that bloom earlier than those commonly available, but I made sure to plant them in a warm spot visible from the house.

Earliest crocus planted here-north side of walk melts before south side.

You can see how the snow is melting sooner on the north side of the walk. I planted my especially-early-blooming crocuses where I can see them from the kitchen door.

It takes true grit

Since these crocuses are in a garden bed (and pretty expensive for crocus) I took extra precautions against rodent-pillaging when I planted them, a tip I first read in the Old House Gardens newsletter. I used grit under the corms:

Plant crocus on top of grit

Place the crocus on top of a layer of grit. (These are fall blooming crocus planted in 2012.)

Then I covered them with additional grit:
The crocuses are surrounded by grit on all sides to deter rodents

The crocuses are surrounded by grit on all sides to deter rodents.

Chicken grit, to be precise

The grit I am talking about is chicken grit.

Chickens peck this grit to use in their crops, but gardeners use it to deter rodents and improve drainage.

Chickens peck this grit to use in their crops, but gardeners use it to deter rodents and improve drainage.

It comes in two sizes: starter and developer layer. The starter is finer and is what I used for crocuses.
This starter grit has a finer texture than the layer developer grit.

This starter grit has a finer texture than the layer developer grit.

Be part of the solution

I planted over 700 crocuses in the lawn over the past two years, and none of them are blooming yet, so these few early-starters help me wait until the big show starts. But I shouldn’t have to wait so long. Every week when my husband and I “go to town” to do errands, I crane my head (while he drives) searching for crocuses in the front yards of the two-zones-warmer metropolitan area, to no avail.

Why don’t more people consider planting crocuses a public mental health service? All those lawns going to waste, when they could be planted with crocus, or Siberian squills, or glory-of-the-snow. It’s a travesty!

Dear friend and gardener, don’t be part of the problem; be part of the solution. Resolve to plant some small bulb like crocus, Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), or glory-of-the-snow (Chionidoxa) in your lawn by the hundreds this fall. Yes, I said hundreds. Thousands would be even better! Your neighbors and those who drive by will thank you for it.

Join the virtual garden clubPosted for the Virtual Garden Club. If you grow your own food, flowers, or herbs and have a garden blog (or start a garden blog), we would love to have you join in. Just go to the home page for Dear Friend and Gardener, grab the badge, put it on your blog with a link back to the club page. Then post about your garden about once a month during the growing season. We want to hear all about your growing adventures. Let Dee know you’ve joined, and she’ll include a link to your blog on the club page. That’s it!

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

17 Comments… add one

Angel April 12, 2014, 8:48 pm

Spring has finally come to my neck of the woods in the Midwest and I saw a lawn covered in small purple flowers yesterday (not sure what kind). I made a U-turn just to stare at them.

Ross April 11, 2014, 4:31 pm

I’ve put in around ten thousand scilla over the past few years. Not all of them survived, but most did, and I hope to have a scilla lawn and pasture in a decade or so. A tip: once the scilla have seeded, be sure to press the seed heads into the ground. This is a faster means of propagation than by divisions within the bulb itself (if, indeed, they do propagate this way: I do not know).

Kathy Purdy April 13, 2014, 8:48 am

Yes, I have observed squill seedlings in garden beds. They look almost like grass. I do believe they do most of their propagating by seed.

RJ April 10, 2014, 6:01 pm

Luckily, I don’t have any problems with critters eating the crocus and other bulbs underground in my yard, it’s when they come out…that the problem starts! I’ve had some success with using Milorganite to keep the critters away. When I have concern that they will be to tasty for the voles and other underground dwellers I’ve used the mesh bags that onions come in and cover the bulbs with the mesh and have had good luck!

Kathy Purdy April 11, 2014, 7:13 am

Thanks for the tip! I tried encasing tulips in chicken wire once. It did work–they didn’t get eaten–but eventually the tulips petered out, and by then I had tree and perennial roots entangled in the chicken wire, as well as weeds! It was a mess to remove.

Weedy April 9, 2014, 7:32 am

There is a more traditional feed store in Syracuse where I think you can buy grit by the pound (or you used to be able to). Is there turkey grit?? Since the demise of our last cat and the rescue of the worst mouser ever the chipmunks cavort on our back porch and eat tulip and lily bulbs with abandon. They do leave the snowdrops and daffs alone but this is going to be a bad summer. There is so much deer and rabbit poop in the back yard I could fill a five gallon pail, I can only hope it works as fertilizer.——————Weedy

Kathy Purdy April 9, 2014, 7:21 pm

I’m sure once it is well-composted it will work as well as any manure, but you will need more than a five gallon pail to really do any good.

Layanee April 9, 2014, 6:08 am

There is nothing more satisfying than spotting the earliest blooms. I used to have just dandelions in my lawn but now there are the small crocus, the tommies. Love them.

Carol - May Dreams Gardens April 8, 2014, 8:59 pm

I need some chicken grit. I hear it is also good for seed starting. And thanks for the link love!

Frank April 8, 2014, 7:13 pm

Haha, nice! A public service is a good way to look at it. I have a couple bulb catalogs sitting on the kitchen table and was trying to hold back, but after reading this post I think that might just be selfish of me. I need to give back to the community, and if that means buying a couple dozen crocus, well then maybe it’s just time I thought a little more about other people ;)

Kathy Purdy April 8, 2014, 7:36 pm

I’m glad you see it my way, but really, don’t stint. Couple hundred, not couple dozen. Like this.

Barbara April 8, 2014, 9:39 am

I’ve never heard of chicken grit. Where do you buy it? I used chicken wire above my bulbs in the small beds, and inter planted allium bulbs. It worked against squirrels. But that was many years ago and I’m no longer agile enough to go through all that. Grit would be easier, I think.

Kathy Purdy April 8, 2014, 2:54 pm

Chicken grit is available at farm supply stores such as Agway and Tractor Supply. I’ve always gotten it at my local Agway, but the last time I bought some I had a terrible time convincing the clerk that they actually carried it. It was listed in the computer as starter and layer-developer, not as Grani-Grit. That’s actually the real reason I took a picture of the bag–to show the sales clerk!

Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern April 8, 2014, 8:31 am

I’m going to do it! Plant hundreds of bulbs. They need to be rabbit resistant, but thanks for the great gritty tip! I noticed someone’s been “rooting” in the back gardens yesterday. I have a few tiny crocus blooms! The Snowdrops were still buried under snow until a couple days ago – also a great tip to note where the snow melts first. We had unusual snow build up because of the ice storm in December of last year and it seems my drifts were out of place this year – everything was just a little different. But THAT is over with!

Brenda April 8, 2014, 5:23 am

Not only was it a brutally cold and snowy winter, but “spring” has been pretty cold and snowy too. I am desperately craving some blooms. I will look into those specific crocus, since I have a variety and some are earlier, and some later.

If you don’t have snowdrops, you must get some! They bloom even earlier than the crocus. In fact, when the snow banks melt back, the snowdrops are actually already blooming under the snow. I don’t know how they do it, but it is such a joy to finally see a bloom. Then I know that despite the 20 degree weather and snow, that spring REALLY is on the way. I plant them in the lawn and they do fine there, but don’t stand out as much as colored crocus.

Kathy Purdy April 8, 2014, 2:51 pm

I sure do have snowdrops! Type the word in the search box in the sidebar and you will come up with a number of posts on that topic. I tend to plant them along paths because, as you say, they don’t show up as well against a brown lawn.

Weedy April 7, 2014, 5:28 pm

Not only are little bulbs late the whole of April goes so fast you can’t catch up.Last week we had snow, it melted in about three days and now it’s raining and Galanthus elwesii, nivalis, woronowii, Iris reticulata, and a couple of tiny crocus are in bloom. On the other hand the bearings, the power steering, and the ball joints are rusted out on my car probably from this winters weather. If it stops raining this week I may try to hack down some more brush and plant some peas. Next week it will probably be hot and dry and every plant will need water and I may go for a walk on a trail near here where about two hundred square feet of Eranthus blooms every Spring making me sick with envy–but sometimes it is pleasant just to look at other gardens. I may try that grit idea as chipmunks have eaten all the species tulips at my back door and the few tiger lilies I had.———————-Weedy( my wife hates that internet name-I may have to change it but it fits)

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