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Flower Bulb Basics and FAQs

What is A Bulb?

A flower bulb is really an underground storehouse and flower factory. Within the bulb is just about everything the plant will need to sprout and flower at the appropriate time. Split a bulb in half and you will see this clearly.

In the basal center portion of the bulb are the leaves cradling a baby bud. (In many species, this bud already has the appearance of a flower while still in the bulb!) Surrounding the bud is a white, meaty substance called the scales. In true bulbs, it is these scales which contain all the food the bulb will need to flower and thrive. Anchoring the scales and the floral stalk which holds the bud is the basal plate. This plate at the bottom of the bulb also holds the roots of the plant. The entire package is protected by a thin outer skin called the tunic.

All this remarkable organism needs from humans is to be placed in the ground at the appropriate season of the year, given a liberal drink of water and then left alone. The bulb does the rest!

The Difference Between Bulbs, Corms, Tubers, Roots

Technically speaking, many popular "bulb" flowers are not produced from true bulbs at all. Crocuses and gladioli, for example, are really corms, while such favorites as dahlias and begonias are really tubers.

The differences between bulbs and corms are slight, and indeed the two look very similar. The main distinguishing trait is the method of storing food. In corms, most of the food is stored in an enlarged basal plate rather than the meaty scales, which in corms are much smaller. Corms generally tend to be flatter in shape than round, true bulbs.

Tubers and roots are easily distinguished from bulbs and corms. They have no protective tunic and are really just enlarged stem tissue. They come in a variety of shapes, from cylindrical, to flat, to just about any combination you can imagine. Many come in clusters.

Generally, however, you are safe using the term "bulb." Bulb has commonly come to mean any plant which has an underground food storage capacity.

Spring-Flowering Bulbs are Hardy;
Summer-Flowering are Tender

Bulbs fall generally into two groups: spring-flowering (which are planted in the fall) and summer-flowering (which are planted in the spring). A more accurate grouping, however, divides bulbs into hardy and tender varieties.

As a rule, spring-flowering bulbs are hardy bulbs. These bulbs are planted in the fall, generally before the first frost, and can survive (and indeed require for sprouting) the cold winter months. Many hardy bulbs, such as daffodils, perennialize well and can be left in the ground to flower year after year.

Most summer-flowering bulbs are tender bulbs. These bulbs cannot survive harsh winter conditions and must be planted in spring after the last frost of the season. To enjoy these bulbs year after year, they must be dug up in fall and stored indoors over the winter. A notable exception is the lily. Many summer-flowering lily varieties are quite hardy and can be planted in either fall or spring.

Bulb flowers are among the most popular and best loved in the world. Spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips, crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils, and irises are universal symbols of spring. Their lush and colorful flowers are the first to bring life back to a barren winter landscape. Summer-flowering bulbs such as dahlias, begonias and anemones bring variety, texture, unique color and long flowering times to summer gardens. Planted with care and planning, bulbs can keep a garden alive with color from the last snows of winter through the first frosts of fall.

Flowers and the Facts of Life

An uncensored look at the easy way
to a beautiful garden

The Truth about Tulips, Daffodils and other Bulbs

It's a fact of life: to enjoy the glorious bulb flowers that bloom in spring such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus and others you must plant them in the fall. That's the hard fact. The fun fact is that nothing is easier to grow or more colorfully rewarding than flower bulbs. Even the most unskilled gardener can create a breathtaking and beautiful spring garden with bulbs.

Spring-flowering bulbs must be planted in the fall because they require a sustained "dormant" period of cold temperatures to stimulate root development.

As a rule, the colder your climate, the earlier you plant. In colder northern climates, for example, plant in September or October. In warmer climates you may need to plant bulbs in December (or even later). The only universal rule is that, spring-flowering bulbs must be planted before the first hard frost.

It's best to plant bulbs as soon as possible after bringing them home. If you must store them, keep them dry and cool between 50 and 60 (F). For long storage periods, a refrigerator vegetable compartment can be used, but be sure to keep them away from ripening fruit. The gas emitted by fruit's ripening process can destroy bulbs.

Tempting Choices

In addition to tulips and daffodils, you'll also want to plant other exotic Dutch bulbs, such as spring-flowering scilla, puschkinia, muscari, fritillaria, allium, camassia, and eremurus.

Your local climate will affect which bulbs you choose to plant. Not all bulbs have the same cold requirements. Ask your bulb supplier to recommend the flower bulbs that do well in your area. The USDA publishes a climate zone map covering the entire U.S. This can be found reproduced in many gardening books and magazines.

Spring-flowering bulbs offer a wide variety of colors, heights and flowering periods. Let your imagination run wild, easy-to-grow bulbs allow you to concentrate on garden design.

All you really need to learn about planning your garden is written on the package, or available from your bulb supplier. What you need to know is:

  • the color of the flower
  • what months it will bloom
  • how high it will grow
  • what months to plant, and
  • how deep to plant

By cutting out pictures from mail-order catalogues or booklets picked up at your local garden center, you can plan your dream garden on paper right in your own living room!

There are just three factors to consider:

  • color,
  • plant height, and
  • flowering time

These are the keys to colorful and creative plantings around your home. Here are some professional planting tips:

  • Plant low-growing bulbs, such as grape hyacinths, in front taller flowers, such as tulips,
  • Always plant bulbs in groups, either in small clusters or large beds, a single flower standing alone is not very dramatic,
  • Plant scattered clusters of early-flowering bulbs, such as crocus, throughout your lawn to achieve a "natural" look,
  • Plant clusters of daffodils around the woodpile, or in a meadow area that is not mowed often. These will add a colorful accent to your landscape in spring and, if left on their own to wilt away, will return year after year. Well-selected and mature plantings of naturalized bulbs can add value to your home, just as mature trees and shrubs do,
  • Experiment. You know better than the experts what flowers you fancy. Pick a flower bulb variety on a whim and try a small planting. If it does well for you, add more next year.

Digging the Dirt on Bulbs

Most spring-flowering Dutch bulbs will thrive in either full or partial sun, but do just fine in almost any location that offers good drainage. Bulbs will rot in standing water so avoid areas prone to flooding, such as the bottom of hills or under drainpipes.

After choosing the site:

  1. Dig either a trench for a bed planting, or individual holes for individual bulbs or small cluster of bulbs. (Note that a cluster of flowers is more striking to the eye than a lone bloomer.)

    To determine how deep to plant, consider the caliber or size of the bulb. Large bulbs (2 inches or more) are usually planted about 8 inches deep; smaller-size bulbs (1 inch) are planted 5 inches deep.

  2. Loosen the soil with a rake to aerate it and remove any weeds and small stones. Mix in a bit of peat moss to improve soil drainage. Place do not push bulbs firmly in the soil with the pointed side up. Space large bulbs 3-10 inches apart and small bulbs 1-2 inches apart. (If you're not sure which end is right-side-up, don't worry. Upside-down bulbs usually come up anyway!)
  3. Cover the bulbs with soil and water generously. Add 2-3 inches of mulch, pine bark is fine, on top of the garden bed. This will provide added protection from the cold and keeps the soil from drying out.

It's as easy as 1-2-3. By following these simple guidelines, your colorful garden is sure to turn the neighbors green with envy. Basically it all boils down to: buy those bulbs, put them in the ground and dream all winter of the glorious spring that awaits you.

Flower Bulb FAQs

(Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. Q. Why can't I plant tulips in the Spring?
    A. Spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils must be planted in the fall or early winter to bloom in spring because they require a long period of cool temperatures to spark the biochemical process that causes them to flower. In fall, it's important to get them into the ground before the ground freezes. They need time to develop strong roots.
  2. Q. It's February and I just found a bag of bulbs that I forgot to plant. Do I save them till next year?
    A. No! If they are still firm and plump, plant them now. Bulbs are living plants, not seedsthey cannot wait, they will dry out. Either chill them in the refrigerator for use indoors as forced bulbs or somehow get them into the ground outside. Because they are so tough and contain a full storehouse of food, your bulbs will try their best to bloom no matter how late it is in the season. This is a case of "nothing ventured, nothing gained." Chances are you may still get some results, even if you plant them late.
  3. ewQ. I've been told to plant bulbs in clusters -- why is this important?
    A. Groups of bulbs make a much nicer show than individual "soldiers marching single file." To create greater color impact in the garden, plant clusters of same-color flowers together in blocks or "bouquets." Visually, you get more "bang for the buck." One trick: try positioning similar bulbs in atriangular planting pattern in the garden, with the point of the triangle towards the front and the long leg towards the back. The result: it will look as if you planted more flowers than you did. Generally, larger bulbs should be planted 3 to 6 inches apart, smaller bulbs 1 to 2 inches apart.
  4. Q. Spring weather is often so erratic. What should I do if we get warm weather followed by a cold snapand my bulbs are already "up"?
    A. Nothing. Tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs are tough. They can usually take what Mother Nature dishes out. When the weather turns, don't dash outside to cover early-sprouting bulbs with extra "weather protection." A short freeze won't do lasting damage to young bulb shoots and buds, though it may "burn" already open blossoms. Many, such as snowdrops, crocuses, and early rock garden narcissi are supposed to come up in very early spring, even peeking through the snow. Mother Nature has provided them with the means to survive. An unseasonably warm spell may cause some bulbs to bloom earlier than anticipated, but in most cases won't result in damage.
  5. weQ. How do I keep squirrels from digging up bulbs?
    A. Squirrels can be terrible pests! They won't bother daffodils and other narcissi bulbs (which taste terrible to them!), but they find tulips and crocus in particular to be worth the effort to sniff out and dig up.

    The only sure-fire way to protect tulips and crocuses and other tasty bulb treats from squirrels is to lay wire mesh such as chicken wire on top of the bed. The squirrels can't dig through the mesh and the flowers will grow neatly through the holes.

    Bulbs are most vulnerable in fall immediately after planting when the soil is still soft and worked up. Digging then is easy! Squirrels often "chance" upon bulbs when burying their nuts in soft ground. Or they are attracted by "planting debris" such as bits of papery bulb tunics and other bulb-scented bits from the bulb bags. Don't advertise your plantingsclean up and keep those squirrels guessing!

    Here's one neat trick that garden writer Judy Glattstein has found to work: after planting new areas, lay old window screens in frames on the ground, covering the newly-worked up soil. The screen weighs enough to foil the squirrel, but allows for air circulation and rainfall. Once the ground has settled, remove the screens and store for future use.

    Another remedy that some find successful is to actually feed the squirrels during the fall and winter. The theory is that the local squirrel population, when offered a handy plate of peanuts or other easy-to-get treats will leave your bulbs alone. At the White House, the gardeners put up six peanut-filled feeding boxes to satiate the furry denizens there -- and reduced squirrel damage on bulb beds by 95 percent! Many gardeners claim success with commercial repellents, but these are often sticky and unpleasant to deal with, or wash away in the rain.

    Home remedies include sowing cayenne pepper into the soil or on the bulbs before planting and scattering moth ball flakes on the ground. You will find advocates and detractors of both methods. A favorite Dutch remedy is to interplant Fritillaria imperialis. This tall dramatic plant gives off an odor that squirrels (and deer too, reportedly) find repellent. There is a book on the subject, "Outwitting Squirrels," by Bill Adler, Jr. (1988 Chicago Review Press, Chicago, IL). It's aimed at owners of bird feeders, but you may find some helpful hints.

  6. Q. How do I get my amaryllis to bloom again next year.
    A. After the flower fades, clip it off, leaving the green foliage. Treat the plant like any other houseplant.Water regularly and fertilize either with a slow release NPK fertilizer which lasts several months, or a liquid NPK administered 2-4 times per month.In mid-to-late summer, stop watering and let the plant dry out.

    In the early fall, remove the bulb from the pot, taking care not to damage the roots. Store the bulb in a cool (48 F to 55F), dark place for about 8 to 10 weeks. It is not necessary to let the plant go dormant.At the end of the 8 to 10 week period the bulb is ready to force into flower gain.Repot the bulb in a pot only slightly larger in circumference than the bulb itself. Place it in a sunny spot and start watering. When the plant begins to grow again, start the feeding program again.

  7. Q. Where can I buy the rare black tulip?
    A. Actually, black tulips are not rare -- black tulips do not exist! What do exist are some very, very deep purple tulips, some of which appear almost black. The search for the fabled black tulip has been an epic quest for centuries.

    In 1850 Alexander Dumasfamed French author of The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Maskcaptured the popular fancy with The Black Tulip (now with Oxford University Press), a romantic tale in which a fictional black tulip figures in a love story laced with murder, torture, greed, dastardly intrigue, and sudden surprises.

    Today, the lure of a black tulip still attracts. Dutch hybridizers have achieved some very, very deep purples. 'Queen of Night,' for example, is officially listed as "deep velvety maroon" and is very, very dark in color. But achieving a true black tulip, say the experts, is not possible (yet still worth the try!). For a near-black experience also try: T. 'Burgundy' (deep purple-violet), T. 'Black Parrot' (violet-black) or T. 'Black Diamond' (deep mahogany).

  8. weQ. Should I apply mulch? How deep?When?
    A. Mulch is not required but it is often beneficial. Three inches is plenty. Wait until the ground cools down. Contrary to popular notions, mulching over bulbs is meant to retain soil moisture nd keep the ground temperatures cool and stable, not to serve as a "warm winter blanket" (except in the very coldest climates). Mulch just before the ground freezes. Applying mulch too early in the season, when the ground is still soft and warm, can invite infestations by field mice and other critters who like to burrow in to establish winter quarters (and no doubt dig up tasty tulip treats!).
  9. Q. Should I fertilize bulbs?
    A. If you're planting bulbs for only one year's bloom, fertilizer is not needed. Bulbs already carry a season's supply of food in the moist tissue surrounding the embryonic flower. For bulbs that you will naturalize or perennialize, you have the following options:
    At fall planting time:
    • for first year's bloom, no fertilizer is needed.
    • for naturalized bulbs after the first season, there are three good options:
      • a good organic compost or well-rotted cow manure worked into the soil when planting, and a mulch of this material,
      • a slow-release bulb food,
      • a combination of bone meal and an 8-8-8 or 10-10-10(NPK), fast-release soluble fertilizer (about one tablespoon per square foot).

    In spring:

    • again, for first year blooms, no fertilizer is needed.
    • for naturalized plantings or perennializing plants, fertilizer considerations are:
    • nothing further is needed if last fall you applied well-rotted cow manure or a slow release bulb food
    • if you used bone meal and a fast-release fertilizer, you will want to apply a nitrogen-rich fast-release NPK fertilizer in the spring just as the shoots first emerge from the soil (which would be about 6 weeks prior to bloom).
  10. Q. How do I grow spring-flowering bulbs in warm climates?
    A. It's possible to grow spring-flowering bulbs in climates as warm as Zone 9 and Zone 10. However the blooming season in these zones is much earlier than in cooler zones. Some spring-flowering bulbs recommended for Zone 9 can be planted with no pre-cooling. Others will need a special cold treatment before planting.

    No pre-chilling needed:Amaryllis, Allium neapolitanum, Allium rosenbachianum, Anemone de Caen and Anemone St. Brigid, Brodiaea laxa, Crocus chrysanthus (snow crocus), Dutch iris, Freesia, Ixias, lilies, all narcissi/daffodils, Ornithogalum umbellatum, Ranunculus, Scilla campanulata (wood hyacinth), Sparaxis, Triteleia uniflora and Tritoni.

    Pre-chilling needed: tulips, hyacinths, crocus and the other spring-flowering bulb favorites.

    Here are some warm winter gardening tips:
    First, choose cultivars which have proved to do well in warmer climates. Cold-hardy bulbs that need pre-cooling in warm winter regions must be treated as annuals and new bulbs must be planted the following fall. Pre-chill the bulbs for a minimum of six to eight weeks in a refrigerator at a temperature of around 40F to 45F (the temperature of most home refrigerators). If you use a refrigerator, be sure not to store any apples or other fruits alongside your bulbs. Ripening fruit naturally gives off ethylene gas which will kill the flower inside the bulbs.

    Don't worry if you bought the bulbs early in the season and need to store them for several months before planting. Keep them chilling -- even up to 16 weeks if necessary, until it is time to plant. Optimally, the bulbs should be put in the ground in December or early January. Plant tulips about six to eight inches deep, water well and protect with a layer of mulch to retain moisture and protect from heat. When bulbs do not receive sufficient weeks of cold treatment, they bloom too close to the ground, on too-short stems.

  11. Q. What should I do after tulips fade in spring? What about daffodils?
    A. After tulip flowers have faded, "dead-head" them by clipping off the faded blooms so that they won't go to seed. Narcissi (daffodils) do not require dead-heading,just leave as is. The main requirement for bulb flowers in the post-bloom period is to leave the leaves alone so the plant can put its energy into "recharging" its bulb for next spring's performance. This "energy charge" is gained through photosynthesis as the plant uses the sun's energy to turn basic elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium into food. This food is stored in the bulb's "scales," the white fleshy part of the bulb, for use next spring.

    It is necessary to leave the green foliage exposed to the sun until it turns brown or six weeks have elapsed since blooming. Fight the urge to trim back or constrain the leaves during their die-back phase after looming. Don't bunch, tie, braid or cut bulb plant leaves during this period. Dealing with the fading foliage is basically one of those things that lovers of spring bulbs must deal with. The only management tip is camouflage.

    Try interplanting bulbs with annuals or perennials, or planting them strategically nearby so that the latter mask the declining bulb foliage as best as possible. As a planting strategy, plant clumps of bulbs instead of full beds. This way you will have a lovely spring show, and plenty of room to plant camouflaging companions.

    Avoid fertilizing the annuals planted in the same bed until the bulbs have died back. Bulbs in spring, if they're fertilized at all, should only get a dose of fast-release nitrogen about six weeks before flowering (normally bulbs want a low nitrogen mix, but in spring it is the green-encouraging nitrogen that is called for). Fertilizing bulbs too close to flowering time, when the bulbs can't metabolize the food, only encourages fusarium and other nasty things.

  12. Q. I have seen the same variety of bulb priced very differently, some very cheap and others quite expensive. What's the difference?
    A. In the auctions in Holland, bulbs are gauged by their caliber, or the measurement of the bulb's circumference. For each particular variety: more mature bulbs are larger and yield bigger flowers. These demand a higher price. For high-profile bed plantings, it's worth the higher price for the more mature, showier bulbs. But younger (smaller caliber) bulbs, which are often sold at lower prices, can offer a great way of adding color to large areas or marginal areas of the yard where they can be left in place to naturalize and mature, thus gaining in size over time.

    A note: for quality control reasons, the Dutch do not export bulbs below certain established calibers. For instance, tulips must be 10 cm or larger or the Dutch will not export them. This means that if you see tulip bulbs for sale that are smaller than 10 cm, they are notfrom Holland. In inches, that's about 4 inches around. No exceptions are allowed... except for species tulips, which are naturally sized smaller.

  13. Q. How soon should I plant my bulbs after I buy them?
    A. Sometimes you will buy bulbs before you are ready to plant in order to get the best selection. While it's always best to plant your bulbs as soon after you receive them as possible, when you have to wait, be sure to store the bulbs in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Some people keep their bulbs in the refrigerator crisper drawer, taking care to avoid storing them with ripening fruit. They should be fine for several weeks even months if properly handled. But don't wait too long. Ideally, you should plant six weeks or so prior to hard ground frosts in your area to allow ample time for fall root development.

    A tip: the proper time to plant is when ground temperature is below 60F at planting depth (while this is not easy for most of us to gauge, it gives you some notion of what's appropriate). If you don't have six weeks lead-time, plant anywayeven if you have to hack your way through hard, chilled surface soil. (As always, be sure to water.) The key: you must plant in fall to have blooms in spring. Even if planted late, bulbs will spring into action and try to start root growth. They are pre-programmed to grow and will do their best no matter how late you plant them.

The Bigger the Bulb
The Bigger the Flower

  1. Make a shopping list. Use pictures from catalogues or magazines to get ideas. Note your preferences for color, blooming period and height. If your supplier doesn't have the exact variety you want, this information can help you find another variety with characteristics that closely match it.
  2. Read the labels. You don't need to be an expert to have success with bulbs. All the facts you need to choose (and plant) bulbs are easy to find. Pre-packaged Dutch bulbs provide planting instructions and other information on their labels. Bulbs bought in bulk from a garden center usually come with information slips. Mail-order firms list the necessary information in their catalogues and include instructions with the bulbs when shipped.
  3. Consider your climate. There are bulbs suited to most any climate condition. However, not every bulb performs at its peak in every zone. Your bulb supplier is your best source of information on which bulb varieties are best suited to your area.
  4. Check the merchandise. Remember:
    • Bigger is better: Bigger bulbs produce bigger blossoms.
    • Avoid soft, mushy or moldy bulbs and those that are heavily bruised.
    • Bulbs have an outer papery skin or "tunic" (just like the onion's) which may become loose or torn. This condition does not damage the bulbs and may actually promote faster rooting after the bulb is planted.
  5. Consider "bargains" carefully. Less expensive bulbs often are smaller in size than the main selections and will produce smaller flowers. They may not be appropriate for high profile plantings. HOWEVER, buying smaller bulbs can be an inexpensive means of bringing color to large expanses of the yard, say, along a backyard fence or bordering a driveway.
  6. Indulge yourself with an impetuous treat. After fulfilling your garden plan, treat yourself to one spontaneous selection just for fun. Experiment with a whim perhaps a half-dozen narcissus bulbs in a luscious shade of pink you've never seen before or an early-blooming species tulip. Experts suggest trying something new each year as a means of updating the garden plan and helping to keep your imagination fresh.
  7. Try different sources. Bulbs are sold in many places nationwide: garden centers and nurseries, mail-order catalogues, supermarkets, home centers, mass merchandisers, hardware stores, and other specialty stores and now, even on the Internet!

When to Plant Where You Live

The United States Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) has established Plant Hardiness Zones for the USA, Canada and Mexico based on analysis of the range of average annual minimum temperatures experienced in each area as recorded during the period 1974 through 1986. According to the U.S.D.A. temperature data book issued by Meteorological Evaluation Services Co. Inc. of Amityville, NY, "the purpose of this data listing is to enable one to determine the hardiness zone of any given city, town or location used in the map analysis as well as to provide the annual minimum temperatures over the 10-plus years for comparison with future weather."

When planning a garden, consider your local climate and the established "hardiness rating" of various plants you have in mind. Some plants cannot handle severe winters; others wither in heat; still others, such as many spring-flowering bulbs, need a cold period to stimulate growth cycles. Look at plant labels, bulb packaging, catalogues and reference books for the hardiness ratings of individual plants.

Plant spring-flowering bulbs in your area 6 weeks before the ground freezes.

Hardiness Zones Map of the Unites States of America
Temperature Key for Hardiness Zones

Average annual minimum
temperatures for each zone
Average appropriate fall planting time
for flower bulbs in each zone
Zone 1: below -50F by early September
Zone 2: -50F to -40F by early September
Zone 3: -40F to -30F by September
Zone 4: -30F to -20F by late September to early October
Zone 5: -20F to -10F by late September to early October
Zone 6: -10F to 0F by mid-October
Zone 7: 0F to 10F by early November
Zone 8: 10F to 20F by early November
Zone 9: 20F to 30F by early December
(some chilling required)
Zone 10: 30F to 40F by mid-December
(some chilling required)
Zone 11: above 40F by late December
(some chilling required)


Bill Richardson

The best pots to use are black plastic pots which can be bought in different sizes, according to your needs. The size of the pot used is most important when sowing seed or repotting a seedling depending on the species being planted, taking into consideration the needs of the plant and how it grows.

    4 inch pots are best used for small seed which will stay in the pots for two seasons in your growing house.

    5 inch pots are used for larger seed and for some gladiolus which may also stay in the pots for two years.

    Larger pots are used when potting on after the second year or, if the plants have outgrown the pots that they are in

It is best not to use too large a pot for a small plant, rather, repot it on as it needs it. This gives you the chance to monitor growth, change the old potting mix as needed, add nutrients and split the plant if necessary. For plants that do not like being disturbed too much, use an appropriate size pot and let it grow on.

Black pots tend to heat up quickly and hold in the heat. For this reason it is best to use pots no smaller than 5 inch outside in the sunlight as any size smaller will heat up too quickly and dry out, possibly killing the plants and burning the roots. You could line the inside of the pots with silver foil or something that will reflect the heat but this is a big job if you have a lot of pots. On hot days, make sure that you keep the watering up to your pots. Also keep in mind that the water saturation level of the pots is the same no matter what the pot size is.

Do not use crocks in the bottom of your plastic pots as it is not necessary today, with the advent of plastic pots which have excellent drainage; and soil-less, free-draining seed and potting mixes available. This method was used in the olden days when terracotta pots only, were available. Crocking can also cause trouble in pots by raising the water table level of the soil in the pot.

Be cautious of using coloured pots such as blue or green as the plastic in them tends to break down in the sunlight and the ultra violet rays of the sun. There is nothing more frustrating or damaging than picking up a pot and having it crack and fall apart in your hand. I tend not to use other colours, unless 1 have to, for this reason.

Pottery or Terracotta pots are also difficult to use because they are porous and dry out quickly in the garden. Unless you have them on a patio or inside near a window, where you can properly control watering, it is best to be cautious when using them. Keep in mind that it is better to have your pots slightly off the ground on bricks or wood so that they don't get waterlogged. This will also help prevent slugs and snails getting in. However, I often sink my pots into the ground. This helps keep the pots moist and controls sudden and unwanted changes in temperature. Mulch the top of the pot to stop dirt from splashing onto the plants when watering , which might bring disease. It also helps keep weeds from getting into the pots. I use a snail killer around my pots to keep these pests at bay, but you need to be careful if you have children or animals around.

I have seen "pots" made from newspaper, filled with potting mix and held together with string or rubber bands but I have not tried this myself. It stands to reason that if you are enterprising enough and it works, you can use your ingenuity and make your own pots.

Good potting to you.

Bill Richardson
P.O. Box 201
Drouin 3818 Victoria, Australia
email .au


Bill Richardson

A successful way of bulb multiplication is by twin scaling. This is particularly successful with Liliums. The bulbs you use must have a basal plate and must have super-imposed scales similar to an onion.

The best procedure to follow is :

Start about three months before planting time with the particular species you are using.

Sterilize the bulbs in a bleach solution (1% bleach to 1 litre of water for 5 minutes).Then wash bulbs in clean water.Cut off the third top of the bulb.Cut the bulb vertically down the centre, top to bottom, four times until you have four quarters.Gently separate two outer scales per section from the inner scales, without breaking them off the basal plate.Using a sharp knife or scalpel, sever two scales with a proportion of the basal plate still attached.Repeat this process until you have many separated sections.Place the portions in a bleach solution (as described earlier) for thirty minutes, stirring gently at intervals.Drain and dry off on paper or other material.Sterilise Vermiculite in the oven at 240 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes and allow to cool.Add one volume of water to 10 volumes of cold Vermiculite to a plastic bag and enclose the bulb pieces.Expel most of the air from the bag .Place the bag in a cool, dark, place and keep temperature at about 20 degrees Celsius.After a period of time, bulbils and roots will have formed.Plant them and wait for them to grow.

Bulbs that can be twin-scaled are : Lilium, Lachenalia, Veltheimia, Narcissus and others.

This method has been successfully used by many growers.

This is not too technical and your satisfaction can be achieved by this method. What a perfect way to increase your plant stock!

Good growing..

Bill Richardson
P.O. Box 201
Drouin 3818
Victoria, Australia.
Email :


Bill Richardson

Another interesting subject is HYBRIDIZATION. By this I mean that you can cross-pollinate different members of the same species and get wonderful new plants, colours, etc., even sizes. In most cases, it is an easy process and can be done by hand or with a small brush or even a toothpick. You can do this by carefully brushing the pollen from the style in the flower onto the instrument you are using. Then, carefully transfer it to the stigma of the flower you wish to be the seedbearer. A good plant to start with is the Lilium as they are large enough to work with easily.

Here it is, step by step:

    1. Collect pollen from anthers of an unopened bud from a plant of your choice. If it is not to be used immediately, you can store pollen in a sealed container, in the freezer for a year or longer.
    2. Find the parent plant - with the bud just ready to open. Peel back the petals and remove the anthers from this bud.
    3. Using a pipe cleaner, cotton bud or tooth pick, put the pollen onto the stigma of the parent plant.
    4. Then the pollinated stigma should be covered so that it will be protected from being pollinated accidentally by insects, etc.
    5. Label the parent plant for future reference and record the information in a book. The information listed should contain the species of mother and father plants used, Label the seed with this information when it is harvested. Dried Lilium seed can be frozen and will remain viable for years.

Many of the hybrid Liliums are very beautiful. You may become famous if you discover a hybrid that is a winning plant. You can hybridize many other species; just think about the new world of plants you could create yourself.

A hybrid is caused by the cross between two plants of different species, varieties or cultivars, or on occasions a different genera. Hybrids today, are often more disease resistant than the parents. Often, the blooms are better, bigger and more colourful. Most hybrids are sterile, some fertile. They can produce new plants, which are different from the parents.

If you see a plant with a name including an x, e.g. Gladiolus x...... it is a hybrid plant. The rose has been hybridized for centuries and look at all the successes that have been achieved. However, you may have to produce hundreds of plants before you discover that winner you have been looking for, so have plenty of patience.

Bill Richardson
P.O. Box 201
Drouin 3818
Victoria, Australia

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