Gardening with Galligan: Advice for you ‘newbies’

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO | The daffodils outside my front door ­ — they cheer me up both coming and going. Wherever else you plant, a few where you see them on the way in or out is at least one of the ways to go.

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO | The daffodils outside my front door ­ — they cheer me up both coming and going. Wherever else you plant, a few where you see them on the way in or out is at least one of the ways to go.

Finally, finally, finally…

The red buds have opened, the forsythia is “syth-ing” and the early daffodils are up and out everywhere. Not only that, but it’s stopped raining almost every day – in other words, spring seems actually to have arrived.

Not that there won’t still be a few “gray days,” because certainly there will, but clearly now, the worst is behind us. And so what, my fellow gardeners, should we be thinking of? Yes, of course, bulbs. Because this time last year I was heavily into my succulent craze (and I am still but have calmed down somewhat) it’s a long time since I’ve addressed the subject of bulbs.

So, newbies, this one is for you. Experienced gardeners usually know all they need to know about bulbs, but beginner gardeners may well find them confusing and in fact, perhaps even a little surprising. The most important principle to understand applies to all bulbs, not just daffodils. Remember, crocuses are bulbs, and so are tulips, lilies, scilla, narcissus, muscari, anemone, alium and hyacinths.

But one word of caution before going to basic principles since many of you will be ordering soon for fall, take note of the fact that in almost every one of bulb categories, “doubles” are for sale, i.e. the same flower you’re familiar with but with twice, i.e. an additional ring of petals, which thereby make the bloom, of course, twice as arresting in appearance.

I advise you, especially if you’re a weekender and not available to respond to last minute weather advisories, to avoid these, tempting as they are. In almost every instance, unless they’re staked, heavy rain will bring them to the ground. And who wants to look at a staked tulip. Or a muddy one.

Now for the promised basic principle: a bulb must go through its entire life cycle for it to bloom the following season. Let’s look at that sentence carefully and make sure we understand exactly what it means. And what it does not mean.

If a daffodil or a lily blooms and then dies, has it gone through its entire life cycle? The answer is a clear, unambiguous and loud “no.” It has not. Not at all. All those green leaves? What’s left after you cut the daffodil? They are definitely, and in fact integral, to the “life cycle” of the bulb. They need to — and I hate to use the word — wither. It’s after they have “withered” that the bulb’s life cycle is complete.

Now, the key question: what, exactly, does “wither” mean? I always thought I knew, i.e. brown and crispy. But experiences, some for good, others the opposite, always have something to teach us. To wit: my daughter, raised as a gardener by me, always followed the same rule I did: i.e. brown. Then came her phone call one late spring day, and she was more than a little distressed, since she had literally hundreds of daffodils.

Her newly hired grounds crew for her extensive gardens in her Westchester home, had come and gone while she was at work, and cut down all the daffodil foliage, still very green. When she called, to ask what (in Heaven’s name) they were thinking, they were totally non-plussed. They always did that, they said, standard procedure. She cited her mother; they cited experience.

What did I think, she asked? I said, I had no idea, but it was a wonderful scientific experiment. I would follow my usual procedure, she would keep careful track of her bloom the following season and, perhaps, we could come to a conclusion. We did, with caveats. As follows: forget crispy. Not necessary. But, and this is an important “but,” give the leaves, at least, several weeks to go on being “green.” Then you can cut. And keep track. If, in any year, you feel you have less bloom the following spring, wait a little longer the next time.

Okay,  newbies? Everyone else ? Have you done your first feeding yet? If not, crack to it!

See you in May.

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