Saturday, October 13, 2012

When Will I Learn?

Every fall I say never again, and a year later I'm right back in the same place. Every spring I swear I won't put myself through the heartbreak, and seven months later I've convinced myself it will never happen again. I'm talking about spring bulbs, notably tulips, which I've fallen hopelessly and stupidly in love with over the last few years.

But planting bulbs six inches down in rocky clay is absolute hell. Or, more accurately, digging to plant those bulbs is hell. And while the flowers thrive admirably in the terrible soil (part of why I keep putting myself through the misery), they are all too often cut down just as they're about to burst into bloom, thanks to the abundance of rabbits and other rodents around here.

And then there's the forced bulbs. Potted hyacinths are intoxicating, in both form and fragrance. Beloved tulips, the finicky Triumph varieties that are drool-inducing in catalogs but really just high-effort annuals in the garden, are ideal for potting and forcing, which is by its nature a one-time deal, an excuse for palette-defying colors and experimentation that is only justifiable in the depths of winter.

But the fungus gnats! Every year they grow in intensity! I have no choice but to let the pots overwinter in the musty garage...there is no greenhouse, cold frame, basement, or cool closet where they could possibly go. And in that same vein of helplessness, I cannot banish the fungus gnats from the garage, even when I leave the potted bulbs almost completely dry throughout the winter, as I did last year.

So what is to be done? Well, in terms of the potted bulbs, it's to re-focus and go small. I potted only five 'Brown Sugar' and five 'Gavota' tulips and am taking a year off from hyacinths (having to throw them in the compost after the house became infested was so painful anyway that a break is good to heal that wound).

I developed the above contraption so that the pots can dry out on the patio, not in the garage where the fungus infestation would surely begin. And the wire mesh (held down unattractively but effectively by a hose and doormat) will hopefully keep out the rodent life until the soil dries up. At that point, the plan is to move the pots to the garage so they don't get destroyed by the cold temperatures, spray the top of the soil with chamomile tea (recommended by many gardeners for keeping fungus gnats at bay), and then displaying these pots outdoors in April, so even if they are infested with the damn gnats, the chilly spring air can take care of it.

As for toiling in the clay, I did it again but on a smaller scale than the last three years. I planted only 10 more 'Dordogne' and 10 'Cum Laude'. The former are so beautiful that I couldn't resist adding more, and the latter are a seductive purple that will offset the yellow-pinkish-ness of the 'Dordognes' at the end of the tulip season. It was hard work, but I've accepted the risks involved and plan to arm myself with hideous-smelling Liquid Fence again and hope for the best. I guess it's that "try again next year" attitude that is inherent to gardeners!


Rose said...

I certainly understand your frustration, Rose. I had the bright idea last year to plant a large swath of tulips and daffodils in front of a large spruce tree where nothing else grows. What I didn't realize was that the soil in this area is rock-hard clay. Besides the clay, tree roots stretch out everywhere, so digging in this area was no fun--I could only plant a few before my knees and wrists were sore. The flowers did look good last spring, but I decided I needed even more. So here I am again this fall, battling the clay and tree roots.

I hope your ideas for keeping the fungus gnats at bay work--I've battled that problem, too. We gardeners are a stubborn bunch or maybe we're just eternal optimists:)

Diane said...

That reminds me, I still have 100 daffodils that need to go into the ground!
Thanks for your comment on my blog... I didn't know you went to CSU! It's great here but living up the canyon instead of in the midst of Chicago is a BIG adjustment!

garden girl said...

I've given up on tulips years ago. As much as I love them, they always end up as rabbit food.

I think potting soil often comes fully-equipped with fungus gnat eggs just waiting for some moisture to hatch.

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I can relate to your frustration with tulips. I also love them, and with sandy soil they are a breeze to put in. BUT I never see them flower, we have so many deer that they always get them first. This year I didn't plant any, trying alliums instead.

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