Homegrown: It’s not easy being a bulb
We’ve lived in Grand Junction four summers having come here from a colder climate. Three falls ago, I planted literally hundreds of crocus, muscari, scilla, tulips, hyacinths and dwarf iris for my purple/blue flower garden. I added good soil and bone meal and lots of TLC.
Each year has seen a substantial decrease. Last year I had one scilla, a few tulips and eight hyacinths and most of the dwarf iris.
I have found evidences of bulbs on my patio. Am I providing a feast for some critters, or could you please tell me what I’m doing wrong?
— Mary Anne
The fact that you found some evidence of bulbs on the patio leads me to believe that your problem is with some critter eating the bulbs. The most common are mice and ground squirrels.
You usually will see evidence of their digging in the bed. They could be doing their dirty work subtly — it’s just hidden in the mulch or under other plants — or just doing it in the off season when you’re not out there quite as much.
The solution for these guys, if they are the problem, would be to put out some D-Con for the mice and/or some traps for the ground squirrels. You also could talk to a pest control company to see if they could help you. There is one guy who specializes in “vertebrate pests” such as mice and squirrels along with a whole number of other animals such as skunks and birds.
Another possibility is that the bulbs are simply rotting in the ground, a situation that is not uncommon here in the Grand Valley with our heavy clay soils.
Bulbs require good drainage and need well-aerated soil to thrive. If the soil stays too wet, they’ll struggle and often rot away. This is why we so strongly recommend that people do a GREAT job of amending the soil, especially below where the bulb will be planted so water drains down past the bulb.
We usually recommend that you use a somewhat coarse, low salt organic amendment such as Soil Pep or Compost. Mix it half and half with your soil. Be sure to mix it well below the bulb. If the bulb is going to be planted 5 inches underground, dig that 5 inches and then go another 12 inches below that to mix in the organic matter.
Along with this, you’ll need to watch the water your bulbs receive. Most bulbs like regular watering but it’s so easy to overdo it with the soils we have.
Soak them well when you water, but allow the soil to dry a little before soaking them again. Dig down 3 or 4 inches and wait until the soil is the consistency of pie dough before watering again.
Most people do fine watering their bulbs with “regular garden watering” but maybe your situation is different with especially heavy soil or if the area is a low spot where water from other areas in the yard collects.
Another possibility is the quality of the bulbs you put in. There can be some pretty crummy bulbs out there that are sold pretty inexpensively. They can be damaged or bruised or rotted when you plant them, and the results are usually dismal.
Many bulbs just don’t persist very long here. That goes back to what I’ve been talking about before about our soils and watering. Crocus, scilla and especially tulips just don’t last very long.
I tell people that you can expect three to five years of tulips before they peter out. Though planted in the right spot, they will do fine for years and years.