Flowering bulbs can add a burst of color to any landscape. Learn all about what makes bulbs special in spring and summer with Master Gardener Volunteer Jean Thomas . Then join Tim Kennelty (Good Plant/Bad Plant) talk about Native Willows and Bush Honeysuckle. This episode concludes with Devon Russ explaining why there are so many garden myths (Hits and Myths).There is something for everyone. Listen in!
Hosts: Tim Kennelty and Jean Thomas
Guest: Jean Thomas
Photo by: Tim Kennelty
Production Support from: Linda Aydlett, Teresa Golden,
How to Grow Bulbs: Bulbs.pub (cceoneida.com) ;
The Culture of Spring Flowering Bulbs: Microsoft Word - Fsprgblb.doc (cornell.edu) ;
Summer Flowering Bulbs: Microsoft Word - Fssmrblb.doc (cornell.edu) ;
Good Plant/Bad Plant (Tim Kennelty):
Asian Bush Honeysuckle:
Garden Myths (Deven Russ in Hits and Myths): Linda Chalker-Scott | Washington State University (wsu.edu)
Welcome to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. Our team's goal is to present science based information about gardening and all things nature in New York's Hudson Valley. Hosts Jean and Tim, along with team members, Teresa: and Linda, are Master Gardener Volunteers for New York's Columbia and Greene counties. So if you're interested in gardening or nature or nuggets of information about what's happening outside your door, settle in, enjoy the conversation. Whatever the season, we have something to say.
Tim: Hi, I'm Tim Kennelty.
Jean: And I'm Jean Thomas.
Tim: And d welcome to another episode of Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. Who we talking to today, Jean, hmm, who would that be?
Jean: That would be moi.
Tim: Yeah, you and we are going to talk about bulbs today. Spring bulbs, very cool.
Tim: And summer bulbs.
Jean: And summer bulbs.
Jean: Yes, we're going to do the whole year.
Tim: Yeah, bulbs are beautiful. And I think they're easier than a lot of people think in terms of planting and managing them, yes?
Jean: They are. The problem is timing them and you'll find out how to master that.
Tim: Yeah. You're the bulb expert, I'd say.
Tim: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So I can't wait to hear because I don't know that much about bulbs. I have a lot of narcissis, but not a lot of other different bulbs. So I can't wait to hear this.
Jean: You're gonna enjoy it.
Tim: So what else is on the show today, Jean?
Jean: Oh, Tim, you're so excited, I know.
Tim: I'm excited when I'm the one who's talking Good Plant, Bad Plant, my favorite, yeah? Today I'm talking about native willows as the good plant and they really are good. You have willows, right?
Jean: I have willows all over the place.
Tim: Native willows are great for bees. They're great as a host plant. They're just an excellent, excellent good plant. And then I'm also talking about Asian bush honeysuckle, one of the worst plants.
Jean: They're everywhere.
Tim: They are everywhere. And we'll talk a little bit about how they came here, what to do to manage them and all the destruction they're doing in terms of pushing out native plants. Also, in this episode is another edition of Hits and Myths.
Jean: Devon Russ.
Tim: Yeah, she's here with another episode of Hits and Myths.
Jean: She finds out some interesting stuff. Like, why are there so many myths anyway?
Tim: Yeah, that's really interesting, because it's such an age old art does have a lot of myths.
Jean: Well, then people always want to have a reason for things. And that's human nature.
Tim: They do they do and so this is gonna be an interesting episode.
Jean: I'm looking forward to it.
Tim: Welcome to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. I'm Tim Kennelty. Today we're digging into the subject of flowering bulbs. Everybody's seeing them in gardens and garden centers. We've seen massive displays of them in public parks like Albany's Tulip Fest, or regional flower shows, and we've seen clusters of them scattered around our neighbor's yards. Jean is here to talk to us about them today. Jean, why do you think spring bulbs are so popular?
Jean: Well, there's many reasons as there are gardeners but I'll give you a few of what I think are the commonest. Springtime brings us things like tulips daffodils, hyacinths, crocus, plus all the minor bulbs, meaning the small flowers like all those little blue stars and white snowdrops. The summer flowering bulbs include cannas, callas, gladiolas, lilies and dahlias. Some of the biggest reasons for the popularity of bulbs, they're predictable. That is the entire plant is tucked into that package. The flat part at the bottom is a modified root and the bulb part encloses fully developed leaves and flower and we know exactly what it will do. The size, color and proportions are always something you can plan on. A particular tulip will always be a certain height and circumference and will almost always be going to bloom at a specific time. The spring flowering bulbs almost all have this in common.
Tim: And if planned correctly, the colors usually come just when we need them right?
Jean: Need is the thing. We are hungry for flowers and color in the spring. And the summer flowering bulbs are also predictable but to a lesser degree. Now here I must separate bulbs from corms, rhizomes, tubers. Technically a corm is an enlarged underground stem - glads and crokus. A rhizome is a fleshy underground stem - bearded iris, cannas and callas. A tuber is a storage unit formed from a stem or a root, like dahlias. They're all planned a little differently. So read the instructions. We will be including all the above in our conversation because they're available at the same times, and they're very similar in many ways.
Tim: And I'm always baffled because when I'm seeing them in bloom and they look so beautiful, why can't I buy the bulbs then? Or when I see dahlias in the summer, how come I can't buy them and plant them then?
Jean: Well, Tim, there's a good news bad news answer to that.
Jean: The bad news is that bulbs that flower in the spring need a cold period in the ground to develop, so they have to be planted in the fall. And the bulb or corm or rhizomes set of summer flowering plants need to be planted in the soil when it's warm enough to start developing. And they need a minimum amount of time to develop. If you planted either at the wrong time they'd fail. In fact, most summer flowering bulbs or corms are not winter hardy,
Tim: There always is.
Tim: But I'm impatient. What's the good news?
Jean: Everything is available somewhere in containers. You can buy a pot of tulips or daffodils already flowering in the spring, and plant it later into the ground to come again next year on schedule. Also, the retailers will have almost any summer flowering bulb available potted up and starting its growth cycle, ready for you to plant into the soil or keep as a container planting.
Tim: So it's the fall and I've been smart and I thought and I bought some tulip bulbs, and daffodil bulbs, so I need to stay smart and follow rules?
Jean: Exactly. I'll give you a set of three rules of thumb. Plant a bulb, a triple its height and depth. So if you have a bulb that's two inches high plant it six inches deep, unless you're planning a very, very, very formal garden, don't plant in rows. If you're someone who really needs to plant in neat lines, stagger the rows like a zigzag for the best of both worlds. And know before planting if you have a deer population. If so don't plant tulips unless they're fenced in.
Tim: So I have a deer population but I also have really bad clay soil. Do I need soil amendments? Do I need fertilizer?
Jean: Oh, this is another magical feature of bulbs. You can get away without coddling bulbs with special treatment. A bulb planted in the fall into good soil will produce beautiful flowers the following spring. It's the future you want to protect by feeding and encouraging bulbs. It's not really a big chore to plant your bulbs with a little bone meal or a specialized bulb fertilizer. You can sift the fertilizer into the planting hole or scratch it into the soil after you've covered the bulbs. The real trick to happy bulbs is simply to make sure you provide rich soil, preferably with compost worked in, a dusting of bone meal or triple 10 fertilizer around the plants when the flowers finish will be plenty.
Tim: Okay, so I planted my bulbs, they've come up, they flowered and now the flowers have died. And as I said, I'm really impatient. So can I just mow them down now?
Jean: Well not if you want them to repeat in future years. It's the foliage that remains that builds the flower in the bulb for the next year. So we have to consider a couple of things here. First, a warning. I'm fond of tulips but I only grow the so called botanical types. The flower we think of when we hear the word tulip is what a child draws for Easter. These are gorgeous, they're also short lived. The tulips I grow are those miniature flowering types that mix so well with crocus and other minor bulbs. They last for years and the deer don't eat them. All right back to foliage. It needs to die back naturally, which means there might be raggedy looking leaves until June. What to do. My experience with daffodils taught me a few tricks. So here are a few more rules of thumb. I have thousands of daffodils on my almost three acres. Most of them are in bed scattered through an acre of woodland and meadows. These are allowed to do their own housekeeping. I apply a topdressing of compost once the leaves die back and sometimes divide a bed if it's decreased the number of flowers but that's it. There's another acre of lawns and formal beds to deal with though that can be a challenge. Daffs are in every flower bed. I admit I'm greedy. Did you know there are 13 botanical divisions of daffodils? Lucky number 13 is the only one with all the wild daffodils and the other dozen are all crosses and hybrids. I have lots and lots of divisions because the season of flower can go from March in some years, to mid June. As I don't quite know understand moderation they're in large groupings, spreading out the season helps. As each type of flowering finishes, I gather the leafs up into clumps and tie them with string. After they finish their cycle, I cut them down and add them to the compost.
Tim: Yeah, I have lots of daffodil bulbs too out there and they're still pretty ugly. I don't know what to do. What do you have any suggestions?
Jean: Yeah, they are. So after I've got them tied up in their little clumps, like little tiny teepees, I interplant perennials. Depending on whether the bed spends its summer in sun or shade. I choose neighbors to sprout and leaf out as the daffodil leaves are finishing. Sometimes I'm clever enough to plant these screen plants in front of the daffs, but they work as well beside them. And after the leaves are cut back, I often tuck in some annuals right on top. Everything wants to grow so I just stand back and let them have at it.
Tim: Okay, so you're giving me some really good ideas here, Jeen, does this work with all flowering bulbs or just daffodils?
Jean: Well, yeah, for the larger ones, like tulips, hyacinth, fritillaria. As they progress through the season, take a look at the seedpods tulips make by the way, they're beautiful. The ones they call minor bulbs, or the small ones like crocus and snowdrops and snowflakes and all the different blue bells. They'll die back modestly without really showing up ugly. The only time it matters is if you've encouraged a population in a lawn. Then you should wait to mow until you've seen the seedpods develop.
Tim: Okay, this is great for people who really are novice gardeners. It sounds like spring flowering bulbs are completely foolproof, is that correct?
Jean: Almost Tim, the main mistakes are usually in planning. Putting tulips where deer can snack on them, or forgetting that squirrels can be pretty rude and dig up the bulbs to either eat or relocate them, are frequent mistakes. And the other one is what happens when the soil isn't prepared correctly. Areas that flooded in the spring or have heavy clay soil can be disastrous. Plan accordingly, try to think ahead.
Tim: Hmm, heavy clay soil that sounds like me. How about summer flowering bulbs Jean, I'm seeing those in all the garden centers tell us about flowering bulbs for the summer.
Jean: Okay, let's generalize with the the observation that most are tropical in origin so that means they're not winter hardy. They also need a fairly long time from planting to flowering. With these if you want to start with bulbs or tubers or rhizomes or corms, start early. The labels are very helpful but don't hesitate to call the Master Gardener helpline when in doubt.
Tim: Okay, so you're making me nervous here. I guess I better get started if I want to plant something like cannabis, right?
Jean: Yeah, cannas are a bold statement and look spectacular, both for their foliage in their flowers. There are cannas available in different sizes now too. So you have a plethora of choices for screening or showcasing. Many retailers start their plants and containers so you can let them do the early work for you. Just take the plant home, wait for it to be warm enough outside and plant into either the ground or a bigger pot. Same goes for calladiums and colocasia, which are elephant ears.
Tim: I love calladiums and colocasia they're great. Tell me, are there any of these that I can plant directly in the ground and not in a pot or a barrel or something like that?
Jean: Sure. Gladiolas are a classic and so are dahlias. Neither makes an especially appealing plant and often they're grown in a separate area and the flowers are cut to bring inside. With a little creativity they can be combined into perennial gardens as well. Soil temperature should be 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tim: But there are some bulbs that you can only plant in pots, correct?
Jean: Yeah, and some just don't make any sense otherwise. Tuberous begonias are wonderful draping from a hanging basket but don't look their best planted into most ground beds. Calla lilies and Pineapple Lilies will do well in beds, but in order to appreciate their unusual flowering, I prefer them in pots or window boxes where I can get close to admire them. If you must plant them into the ground, put them where you pass frequently or you'll miss them.
Tim: Okay, so now I'm thinking about my basement and I'm dreading the end of the summer. What do I do with these? Do I throw them away? Can I overwinter them? What can I do?
Jean: Well, Tim, were it another good news, bad news juncture.
Tim: Of course we are.
Jean: Of course we are. I'll start with the bad news. Like I said at the beginning. These are mostly tropical and not winter hardy here. You have two choices. Let the frost kill them and make them compost or try to winter them over inside. The good news isn't good news for everybody. Wintering over requires an investment in time and space and extra work. Glads and dahlias, cannas and elephant ears can be dug up and cleaned and stored in a cool, dry, dark place. They can be wrapped in newspaper or buried in peat moss or sawdust in a container in a cool basement or a garage around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Many of the smaller bulbs might be a little bit easier can be wintered over as house plants.
Tim: Can I just leave some of these in the container that I grew them in? Or do I actually have to pull them out and dry them?
Jean: You can winter them over there are certain ones, some of the bigger ones with a really solid root base. If you can bring them inside that the key there is to let them go dormant. And don't let them freeze and thaw.
Tim: I think I've been lazy with cannas and just tuck the pot in and let it sit there and they come back in the spring.
Tim: The will to live is a wonderful thing.
Tim: It is. So is that just about everything and we covered everything Jean?
Jean: Well, we've certainly covered a lot of the most common bulbs and corms and tubers and rhizomes. I did leave one out sort of on purpose.
Tim: What's that?
Jean: Lilies, lilies. wonderfully easy to grow. Now, I mean true lilies, not day lilies, which are an herbaceous perennial. These are a little different because they're mostly winter hardy. They don't require cold weather to prosper, but they don't seem to mind either. I have to warn our listeners about lilies, they can break your heart because humans are not their only admirers. They're authentic deer candy. The deer wait for the bugs to be just about to open before they chomp on them. And there's a particularly nasty beetle that's been rampaging around. It's the lily leaf beetle, a little bright red critter that chews on the leaves. So consider fencing and watching for beetles. But the scents and the lavish colors of these beautiful plants make the extra attention worthwhile.
Tim: I think you're giving your deer too much credit there, Jean. So have we covered everything now?
Jean: I'm not eating the lilies. No, this is the starter set. And we can go on for days and the adventure of growing bulbs. It can be as easy or as difficult as you choose. That's my definition of the ideal hobby.
Tim: Okay, Jean, thanks so much for sharing all of your wealth of information I've learned a lot about bulbs. Thanks so much for joining us today.
You're listening to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. Stay tuned for Good Plant/Bad Plant.
Tim: Hi, and welcome back to Good Plant/Bad Plant, where we focus on two plants per episode, one that's ecologically valuable and often beautiful. And one on the other end of the spectrum that's invasive or noxious weed. Thus, Good Plant/Bad Plant. I'm your host Tim Kennelty.
Tim: In this episode, we explore a tale of two shrubberies - one very good and one very bad. The good shrub is an easy to grow native that plays a critical role in the ecosystem supporting pollinators, butterflies and birds. And the bad plant, the other, an Asian import, which invades fields and open areas crowding out beneficial native plants and even adversely impacting migrating birds. And in our area, you could even find these two shrubs growing right next to each other. It happens on my property. Big reveal the good plant or plant group is native willows, and the evil invader is Asian bush honeysuckle.
Tim: Let's start with the unsung heroes, the native willows. Forget about common weeping willows from Europe. That's what most people think of as willows. I'm talking about Native policy willows, black willows, beaked willow, peach leaf willow, and many others. Native willows are all in the genus salix. They vary in size and could grow anywhere from a small shrub to a midsize tree. They thrive in medium to wet soil and full sun to part shade, and they do well along streams, ponds and other water areas. I know I have pussy willows along my pond and they just thrive there. Willows generally have long, narrow leaves and distinctive flowers in early spring called catkins. This is a dioecious species, meaning each plant produces either male or female catkins. One of the great things about willows is how easy they are to propagate and make new plants. Many willows can be easy be rooted in water or you may even be able to just stick a stem in the soil and have a new plant. I love free plants, so willows are great. So why am I making such a big deal about native willows? Because first of all, they're amazing pollinator and bird plants. Take the pussy willows, for example. It's one of the first plants to bloom in March or April in our area, and it's pollen and nectar is eaten by many early emerging native bee species and early butterflies like the mourning cloak. In my backyard, all the action in April is around the pussy willows. Willows are the host plant for more than 450 species of butterflies and moths, including Viceroys, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, and Red Spotted Purples. And all those caterpillars mean you're feeding the baby birds when they hatch. So if you have a moist area in your yard, and you have a neighbor with a pussy willow shrub, run right over now and ask for a cutting to root this spring. The birds and butterflies will thank you.
Tim: And now to our bad shrub, the dreaded bush honeysuckle in the Northeast. When we're talking about Bush honey cycles, we're generally referring to three different species - Morrow's, Tartarian, and the Amur honeysuckle. All three are natives to Asia, and were brought here as ornamental plants in the late 1700s, or the early 1800s. They're all perennial shrubs, six to 15 feet tall with egg shaped leaves, hollow stems and tubular yellow, white or pink flowers. Like many invasive plants that are the first to leaf out in the spring and the last to drop their leaves in the fall. The seeds are often dispersed by birds and the shrubs can invade and I mean really invade open sunny areas, crowding out and shading out beneficial native vegetation. Because they were imported and didn't co evolve with other species. They don't support insects eaten by birds or deer or other herbivores. Moreover, they can have a negative impact on birds preparing for winter who eat their fruit. Unlike berries from native shrubs, which can be high in fat content, Asian honeysuckle berries are composed mostly of sugar and don't provide adequate nutrition when birds are eating to overwinter or migrate. Control of these shrubs usually involves hand polling of small plants, repeated cutting and maybe even application of herbicides. As always, as I say it's best to know your foe. So I'm including with the transcript some great links with details on identification and management of these highly invasive shrubs. So that's it for another edition of good plant bad plant and remember if you want to support wildlife in your yard ,plant natives.
You're listening to Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. Stay tuned for Hits and Myths.
Devon: Hello, this is Devon Russ. I'm a Master Gardener volunteer with Columbia and Greene counties. And I'm here with another episode of Hits and Myths. Today's topic is why are there so many myths about gardening? It's interesting to think about whether popular rules about gardening are myths. Should you plant by the phases of the moon? Does companion planting work? Do you have to use mulch? Till your garden every year? Stake your tomatoes? Plant in straight lines? There are so many rules that some gardeners think are very important, but others ignore. Why? Humans have been gardening since dirt was invented. Don't we know already which ways work? One answer to this is that sometimes all the ways work. Just think what you want in your garden is to have your tomato plants grow and produce tomatoes. Well, that's what they, the tomato plants, want to. And you want your lettuces to make lots of lettuce leaves. Well that's what lettuce seeds are programmed to do. So as long as you have the basics -soil, sunshine, water, the right temperature - plants will grow. You have to work to stop them. That's what weeding is. That means that gardeners can have different habits about things that have a small or no effect on plants and everybody ends up growing a good garden. So one gardener swears by planting potatoes at the dark of the Moon. They have a good garden site with full sun and rich soil and the garden is very productive. It produces lots of potatoes. And lots of other vegetables. Another gardener always edges her beds with marigolds. She has a good garden site with full sun and rich soil. Her garden is also very productive. What they have in common, full sun and rich soil, is enough to explain their success. Their attentiveness to moon signs or companion planting is just tweaking at the edges. It doesn't hurt. It may not help either. But that's okay. People like garden rituals. It can be hard when you really want to have a good garden, especially if you are just beginning, to ignore anything you hear that promises to make a good garden happen. Your budget might keep you from buying too much fertilizer or too many fancy tools. But you can always follow garden traditions, right? You can feel a bit of pressure if you hear that some tradition is what you need to have good crops. And it does no harm to do the things the old timers have been doing. Just remember, don't get stressed out if you can't find the time for all of the traditional practices. Keep track of what is most important in your own garden. Save your stress for when it matters. For instance, do get stressed if the last rain was 10 days ago when you haven't been out to water. If you hear but the old timers say you have to plant by the phases of the moon, mulch with leaves, put up a scarecrow or what have you, and they always have productive gardens, it's good to remember that it may also be true that those who never did that thing also had productive gardens. That's why the scientific method requires controls. What's the control in that sense, it means that you can't just try one thing and then say see it works. You have to try the other ways too, and compare them. To make a fair comparison, you have to keep everything the same except for the one factor that you want to test. So if you edge your tomato beds with marigold, you don't just harvest tomatoes and say see it works. You go to the next bed over, care for those tomatoes in the same way but with no edging, and maybe a couple of other tomato beds cared for in the same way but edge with parsley or nasturtiums. At the end of the season, you see if there are any differences in the amount or quality of tomatoes from the different beds. If you're marigold edged bed clearly produce more and better tomatoes than any of the other beds, great. You have evidence for the value of marigold edging. But maybe there are no big differences. Or the results might be confusing, more tomatoes here but nicer looking ones there, and more slugs over there. In that case, your experimental controls have demonstrated that even though edging with marigold works to produce tomatoes, the marigolds are not why it works.
Devon: One thing you might notice about that example is that using scientific controls means planting a whole lot of tomatoes, probably more than home gardener wants. One reason why there is often no scientific proof or disproof of a garden myth or tradition is the planting and caring for all those test beds to provide scientific controls for each experiment is very expensive. If there is money available to pay for garden research, it often comes from a company that expects to be paid back by selling a product. So fertilizer companies will experiment to demonstrate how to best use their fertilizer. Seed companies will experiment so that they can make good recommendations on how to space out their new seeds. But no one expects to be paid back after growing test plots to demonstrate whether certain companion planting pairings work or whether a certain crop responds to the phases of the moon. Universities will do some garden research. But some new ideas, like no till gardening, might get scientific testing at the universities. But academic scientists don't want to risk their reputations by working on a project that sounds like superstition. So there may be no one who will set up and test lots and lots of test plots to experimentally prove whether an old garden tradition is myth or reality.
Devon: This was another episode of Hits and Myths. Thank you for listening.
That concludes another episode of Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. We'd like to thank Sandra Linnell and Devin Connolly from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene counties for production support. And a special thank you to our listeners for joining us on this episode of Nature Calls: Conversations from the Hudson Valley. You can find links to any of the topics mentioned in this episode at our website at CCEcolumbiagreene.org. Comments and suggestions for future topics may be directed to us at ColumbiagreeneMGV@cornell.edu or on the CCE Master Gardener Volunteers of Columbia and Greene County's Facebook page. For more information about Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene counties, visit our website at CCE Columbia green.org or visit us in Hudson or in Acra. Cornell Cooperative Extension provides equal programming and employment opportunities.
Last updated June 9, 2022