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Soil preparation is key to successful bulb growth

August 27, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

It's the time of year to go shopping. Not back-to-school shopping, but bulb shopping for fall planting.

For those who want to try something different, there are plenty of new varieties available and some lesser-known ones that might catch your eye.

Plant breeders have been going crazy with many innovative colors and structures, says Richard Zimmerman, professor emeritus of horticulture at West Virginia University.

What to buy depends on personal taste, but key to successful bulb growth is soil preparation, says Zimmerman, a retired West Virginia University extension specialist from the Kearneysville (W.Va.) Tree Fruit Research and Education Center.

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Here are some tips in regards to soil preparation, what's new this year via mail order or sold locally, and planting trends:

Soil preparation

The Tri-State area has lots of clay in the soil, which can cause drainage problems as well as hinder bulbs trying to emerge through the heavy soil, Zimmerman says.

Gardeners want a soil pH level of 6.5 to 6.8 for bulbs, Zimmerman says.

People can test the pH levels of their soil, but Zimmerman recommends they go a step further and have their soil tested to better determine what additives, such as composted manure, sphagnum or peat moss, are needed. Local extension service labs tend to be less busy in the autumn than in the spring so this is a good time to send in a sample.

Take it easy on applying nitrogen additives because overfertilizing could cause more foliage than bloom, he says.

What's new or different

Some unusual looking and brand-new tulips that are selling like crazy are the ice cream tulip and the omnyacc tulip, says Kathy La-Liberte, director of gardening for Dutch Gardens in Burlington, Vt.

The ice cream tulip is an extreme of the double tulip variety that looks like a vanilla ice cream cone.

The omnyacc, well, it's a conversation piece as well, LaLiberte says. The stamens are in a coral formation surrounded by contorted petals.

Fritillaria are not new, but whereas a bulb garden in Holland would rarely be without them, they have not caught on in the states, LaLiberte says.

The circle of down-facing bells are quite beautiful, and the bulbs repel rodents so animals won't dig them up, she says.

Breeders have been breeding daffodils to have stiffer stems so the head or bloom will remain facing upward in summer winds and rains, LaLiberte says. Examples of these are the decoy, galactic star and chromacolor.

Proven performers

Snavely's Garden Corner, north of Hagerstown and in Chambersburg, Pa., will have more than 100 different varieties of bulbs available a la carte starting this week that include new releases and proven performers from Van Bloem.

These include some uncommon colors such as blue beauty and pink parasol, though they are not a true blue or a true pink.

"If we do this, it's going to be different" said Stiles, recalling what she told her children. "I'm not going to be there as much as I'd like to be. I'm not going to be the mom who can visit you (at college) on the weekends."

"Even if we had to sell the cows, we weren't going anywhere," Stiles said of her commitment to the farm.

Callison said even before Tracy's death, Stiles had always known the meaning of sacrifice. "Traditionally women on the farm are the bookkeepers, the ones who write the checks, while their husbands are out doing the work," Callison said. "Janet was always out there working."

Each morning Stiles wakes up at 2:30 a.m. Like every other day, there are the ordinary tasks: milking, feeding and tending to the cows. If she wants to finish by sunset, she must rise before dawn.

"Working long and hard is nothing new," Stiles said. "I've been doing it all my life."

She grew up on a farm in Beaver Creek. Both her parents were raised on farms. Often, she would have to rise well before dawn in order to finish her farm chores before heading to school. Stiles would eventually attend the University of Maryland and graduate with a degree in dairy science.

Stiles said being a dairy farmer in Western Maryland has grown more difficult, as small farms are often not able to keep up with demand. She milks 100 Jersey cows, producing 20,000 pounds of milk a year.

Stiles said she doesn't want to force her children into taking over the farm.

"I want them to have the option, I want to have (the farm) there in case they want to take it over," Stiles said.

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