Bulb rotation can be habit-forming | Sow There!

When you get to any age, you have made and broken a few habits. When I walk into my house, I plop whatever I am carrying on the couch, place my purse on the rocking chair and clang my wad of keys on the kitchen table. If I was carrying nothing, I think my body would still go through these habitual motions.

I eat dessert every night and feel like my day is missing something if I don’t watch the PBS “Newshour.” I usually stream the news while I’m eating dinner, which I habitually eat on the couch. I check for my cell phone when I leave the house, brush my teeth before bed and continuously wish I was in the habit of getting more exercise.

After a while, a gardener adopts yard habits.

One of my garden advisers told me to remember to plant bulbs around Thanksgiving. Bulbs are better if they are “chilled” for umpteen weeks. A cold place indoors is the crisper drawer of the fridge. After Thanksgiving, most people need every inch of the fridge to stash the leftovers. After Thanksgiving you take the bulbs out of the crisper drawer.

The crisper drawer allows you to separate bulbs from fruit (or leftover fruit salad), which sends out ethylene gas, which can ruin your bulbs.

This week I put my hyacinth bulbs in the crisper drawer.

Chilling bulbs is a thing. If you order bulbs through a fancy online catalog you might purchase (and pay extra for) bulbs that have been pre-chilled. However, if you’re like me and buy bulbs at a big box store before the price goes up, a lack of chilling is your own fault.

Some bulbs, such as daffodils, will bloom beautifully even if you leave them in the middle of your living room for most of the fall. However, the website Plants for all Seasons suggests 12-15 weeks of shivers for tulips, crocus, hyacinth, muscari, snowdrops, alliums and iris. They also mention Siberian squill, which I have never heard of but must be popular somewhere. Daffodils will theoretically also do better after a cold treatment, but I haven’t tested this garden philosophy in many years. If they perform so-so this year, they will likely blooms again next year.

Squirrels will hunt for your tulip bulbs like a sow on the search for truffles. But the long-tailed tree rats will simply dig up daffodils to make a gardener’s life crazy, remember that squirrels don’t like to eat daffodils, and leave your yard looking like the earth coughed up your bulbs.

Consider it a prolonged game of hide-and-seek.

I’ve been busy with school or teaching the past several years and did not have time for the “bulb ritual.” This year I had a beautiful hour between a visit with my friend Laura and a drive to my mother. This was just enough time for “bulb rotation.”

Buying bulbs

If you shop at Costco, you probably have too much of a good thing in every cupboard of your house. Sometimes I’ll open the linen drawer and find long-forgotten rolls of paper towels. Most years I buy several bags of bulbs at Costco, which means I have enough for myself, enough to share with my mother and a few left over to throw out the window while I’m driving.

Over the years I’ve shoved daffodil bulbs just about everywhere I can imagine. I have bulbs that bloom behind the gate, in the planter box with my blood orange tree and quite a few that only bloom if I forget to mow the lawn. Freesias are another bulb that can and will repeat. I buy more each year because you really can’t grow too many freesias (They’re small and fit in among the geranium, annual vegetables and the wheelbarrow filled with sand and cactus).

On that languishing day, with an hour in between a visit with a friend and the trip to my mother’s, I hauled about 10 pots from the side of the house, which is where I store the pots of bulbs after bulbs bloom. The shady side of the house is not ideal. The best place to store the bulbs would be in a “cool, dry place.” However, the only “cool” place in Chico in the summer is the crisper drawer of the fridge.

One-by-one I dumped the dirt from the pots into a shallow, yellow plastic tub most people would use to store iced beer at a barbecue. Some of the pots contained only fragments of bulbs — bulbs which had rotted over time. I learned a good lesson about those black, fabric pots that are so easy to drag around the yard. Bulbs rot very quickly in those fabric pots.

I also learned that gardening can work up a good sweat, especially when you’re in a hurry.

Most of the plastic pots contained bulbs that looked viable. I stopped dumping out the soil in the plastic pots, and simply shoved more daffodils on top. Even if the squirrels dig them up and use them to play badminton, I’ll have a fantastic show next spring.

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