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Digging Your Flowering Bulbs
by John Harmon
August 3, 2003

There are signs of fall and an early one at that all around us. First of all it's hunting season again already. Another sure sign of fall is the Klondyke Harvest Fair coming up next weekend. Come on down and check out all the new stuff as well as the old favorite events.

I've received a couple of requests for information about fall planting of flowering bulbs. It's not something I recommend this far north. I've never had much luck planting them in the fall. It's just too cold over the fall for bulbs to develop much before the ground freezes. I think it's better to keep bulbs over the winter and wait until spring to plant them. Most of Whitehorse is pretty much zone one most years so there aren't many flowering bulbs listed as hardy for us. If you want to try it out check out:
http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_column/oct_02/2.htm.

For most flowering bulbs this far north the only way to ensure they will grow next spring is to lift them this fall for winter storage. Sort out any bulbs that are damaged or show any signs of bugs. Once all the dirt is shaken off the roots lay them out one layer deep to dry. Bulbs can also be hung in bunches to dry before storage. When the outside of the bulb is dry and all the dirt shaken off they are ready to store for the winter. Bulbs with long roots should have the roots trimmed off to within a quarter inch of the base being careful not to damage the body of the bulb itself.

When you're digging out your bulbs be on the lookout for offsets. They are called bulblets and are the very small miniature bulbs attached to the original bulb. These are used to grow new bulbs. After your bulbs are dry and ready for storage carefully peal off the bulblets. Any of the bulblets will grow but I only keep the biggest ones. The tiny ones take three or four years to produce instead of two for the bigger ones.

In the spring pick a nursery plot for your new bulblets. Choose a spot that is very well drained or put down a layer of sand to in the bottom of your planting trench to ensure good drainage and the layer of sand makes it easier to lift the bulbs in the fall. You will be planting at different depths for each size of bulblet. The very small ones, like Crocus, (Crocus is technically a Crom and the offsets called Cromels) about an inch deep. Larger ones twice as deep as they are tall. The bulblets and cromels are treated just like the parents and will grow at the same time in the spring but will only produce foliage the first year as they grow.

The second fall they will have increased their size and can be lifted and stored like your mature bulbs. The very small one's will need another season to increase to a size large enough to flower. The next spring they can be planted along with your other bulbs to flower. The exception of course is when you have a short cold summer where bulbs may not increase very much in size.

Don't forget to set aside some nice large bulbs for indoor planting over the winter. Forcing bulbs in the winter can provide fresh flowers in February. To prepare bulbs for forcing lift and dry them along with your other bulbs and store them for 10 to 13 weeks at four degrees Celsius or less but above freezing. I like to use the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator.

After cold storage they can be potted up indoors to grow and flower in the winter. The most popular bulbs for indoors include crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, narcissi, and irises. Follow the regular procedure for potting up bulbs indoors and give them supplementary light in this part of the world. Six hours of light a day in the middle of winter will not be enough to get your bulbs to grow and bloom.

Bulbs that have been forced indoors can not be forced a second time but you can take them out of the pots after they are finished flowering and the foliage has died back and dry them to plant outdoors in the spring. They will most likely not flower outdoors the first year but will grow larger and be ready to flower with your regular bulbs the following year. For more information about bulbs that will do well in the Yukon give the Agriculture branch a call at: 667-5838 or check out some of the great books in their library. For more information on forcing flowering bulbs go to:
http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/1994/11-11-1994/force.html.

Flowering bulbs make a great addition to any landscape indoors or out and a few bulbs can be turned into many with the proper care. Plan on giving indoor forcing a try this winter when you select bulbs from outdoors for storage.

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