Spring magic planted in fall
November 1, 2013
My first spring on the site of the Sonntag homestead near Peardale was magical. Hundreds of daffodils emerged in unexpected corners.
Did Grandma Sonntag keep dividing them and planting them anywhere they would be seen on the property?
Even the foundation for the fruit-loading dock was brightened in spring. I know she took some with her when she moved to Chicago Park in her 80s.
The magic has continued for more than three decades, as I move old clumps, now in too much shade, soon after they appear in winter.
Some I plant without disturbing the roots, simply treating them as I would any transplanted ornamental.
Oyster shell and colloidal phosphate or soft rock phosphate are mixed into the soil where the roots will reach the nutrients.
Other clumps from the original Sonntag homestead are separated, each bulb planted a few inches from the next, again with an ample supply of rock powders to ensure strong root growth and many years of flowering.
The daffodils naturalized on the site of this homestead are smaller than most of the Narcissus usually offered by nurseries in the fall.
Some are bright yellow, some pure white and others pale yellow and white. All are sweetly fragrant.
Keep in mind when you are adding this harbinger of spring that the daffodil flowers will follow the sun. Just outside my living room window seat is a glorious mix, but because the windows face south, the best show is from the garden. Still, I enjoy the color and the invitation to come outside.
The genus Narcissus includes many daffodils, large and small. Some are only a few inches tall, perfect in a rock garden or beside a walkway. Rarely are they bent by a spring snow. The early blooms of February Gold begin soon after the crocus.
In my garden there are the most species and cultivars in bloom in March. For weeks the show continues, even into May.
Narcissus also includes the paperwhites that are often forced for earliest blooms.
Unfortunately, forced bulbs rarely transition to the garden. You can purchase these intensely fragrant bulbs in fall and plant them directly into the garden or into containers that will be held outside in a cool dark location until growth begins.
I use light compost for planting bulbs in containers (including the paperwhites). I prefer a two-gallon container for all species of Narcissus. This is also a good container size for large hyacinth and tulips. Four to five inches of compost in the bottom of the container should have four tablespoons of rock phosphate and one of oyster shell added. Bulbs are placed close to each other, one to two inches apart. Cover with compost.
Irrigate until the material has absorbed moisture. Containers are kept on the north side of a building, with shade cloth covering them. Keep checking them each week. As soon as growth begins to show, the container must be moved into stronger light. Keep the container in partial shade until flower buds form.
Even after the buds open, partial shade will prolong blooms. In spring, containers of bulbs may be placed in your garden to be removed after bloom, or planted into the soil.
If you are adding more bulbs each year, starting them in containers helps with the planning.
Use a bulb planter to plant large bulbs. It easily removes a core of soil, allowing you to add some rock powders, then the bulb, before replacing the core.
For smaller bulbs, remove all soil to a four-inch depth. Add the rock powders, then space the bulbs 2-3 inches apart.
Cover with the removed soil (you can add some compost at this stage too.
All the species of Narcissus are deer-resistant. Last spring I watched deer grazing in the spring grasses, carefully avoiding all the daffodils. Not a bit of foliage was browsed. Wish I could say the same for tulips!
Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. For more information, visit http://www.carolynsingergardens.com.