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Time to plant summer-blooming bulbs

Eastside Journal, Saturday, April 12, 1997 — Marianne Binetti

The second week of April starts the weeding wars in Western Washington.

Those cute little seedlings of early March have grown into gangly adolescent weeds and some have already flowered and gone to seed themselves. Time to take a hard stance and have zero tolerance now for fewer weeds this summer.

There are many options for weed control but nothing beats the just pull it philosophy that takes away all your procrastination excuses. Among the more creative ways to rid the garden of weeds is the capitalistic approach taken by the Shemeta family of Clyde Hill. The mom had been using an old tent stake as a weeding/planting tool for years and now son Paul, a mechanical engineer, has perfected the tool and applied for a patent.

It looks like a dull dagger with a bright red handle. Daughter Mary is marketing the new tool and already has it for sale at City People’s Mercantile and The Complete Gardener store in Seattle.

I happen to enjoy a good dig in the dirt removing weeds and this new tool named Diggit should satisfy that urge to purge that all gardeners get when spring arrives with a flock of weeds at the same time those long-awaited buds begin to unfurl.

If you tire of weeding and want to plant something this week, check out the selection of summer-blooming bulbs at the garden center. Dahlias, lilies, glads and other colorful blooms will be around this summer if you purchase and plant bulbs now. Calla lilies, tuberous begonias, crocosmia and montbretia are other summer bloomers that will enchant you with their lovely blooms even if you can’t pronounce their names.

The basic advice for most bulbs is simply this: Dig a hole, drop in the bulb, cover with soil and wait. These bulbs can be planted near the bottom of containers with annuals or bedding plants added to the top. You’ll forget you planted the bulbs of course, but around August your memory will be stirred when leaves, stems and blooms poke up through a pot of geraniums or rise bravely from a sea of creeping junipers.


Flowerful confessions

Q: Last year, I was disappointed with the pony packs of Verbena and Cosmos that I purchased and planted outdoors for summer blooms. I tried direct sowing also by spreading seeds of Godetia onto the soil but didn’t see the payoff until August when the seeded plants were finally large enough to bloom. This spring, I would like to try more flowers, including basil, by growing them from seed myself. Any suggestions? E.S., Bellevue

A: First, do you have any confessions to make about your poor flower power last summer? Did you remember to feed and water? Did you realize the flowers you chose need full sun? Did you keep the weeds, kids and cats out of the bed?

Verbena and Cosmos do not like to have their roots crowded, and you may have purchased plants already root-bound and overcrowded in their plastic pony packs. (Pony packs are the six-section plastic containers that most started annual flowers come in).

The Godetia just needed more time to grow to blooming stage and so starting these seeds indoors may be the way to go. Read each seed pack before you plant and calculate the time to plant and calculate the time to plant by counting back from the frost-free date in our area, usually around May 8. Some seeds like to be started 6 weeks, some 4 weeks. You just have to read the label.

Next tip: Warm their bottoms. Set the freshly seeded trays or flats on top of a warm dryer or the top of the refrigerator to provide gentle bottom heat and speed root growth. Never let the soil dry out, use a potting mix made especially for seed starting and fertilize at half strength when you see the first true set of leaves or when the seed package says to do it.

Most important: Give lots of light. A fluorescent or shop light works fine but a grow-light is best. Hardware and garden centers sell grow lights. Keep the lights as close to the plants as possible. You will have to adjust the light by lowering the plants (set them on cartons for risers) or raising the light source (hang it from a chain) as the plants grow taller. Most homes in our cloudy climate do not have enough natural daylight to raise husky transplants from seeds. A greenhouse window or supplemental light is needed.

Graduation day: Moving your pampered seedlings to the cold cruel world should be done gradually. This is called hardening off, when the seedlings are gradually left outdoors longer and longer until finally they spend the night outside and are then transplanted into the soil.

The easy way: Use dependable annual flowers such as marigolds, pansies, impatiens and geraniums for summer color, supplementing them with potted perennials you buy at the nursery and transplant to the garden. Great performers that return each year with more summer color are daylilies, dianthus and summer bulbs (see above).

Grow any of these in containers and you’ll avoid the problems of poor drainage, poor soil, wandering pets, or clumsy lawn mowers. You’ll also have less weeding, but find yourself watering and fertilizing more often.

The lazy-gardening rude: Try something new each year. Plant more of whatever grows well for you. If something gives you trouble, whines, pouts or attracts bugs, just dig it up and throw it away. There is no room for guilt in the flower garden.

Marianne Binetti’s column appears Saturdays in the Home & Garden section. She also offers gardening tips three Thursdays a month on “7Live,” from 7-9am on KIRO TV and one Sunday a month on Ed Hume’s “Gardening in America” at 8:30 am on KOMO TV. Send gardening questions to Marianne at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022.