It is easy to forget that bulbs need fertilizer if they are to perform well. When the leaves first appear they need a low nitrogen supplement and then again when starting to flower.
Bulbs have to replenish their strength during the growing season before going to rest so they will have enough stored energy to do well in the following year.
As the tulips die down they need digging up and storing until the next planting season in the fall. This also applies to daffodils, which finish before the tulips, unless they have been naturalized -- i.e. planted in the garden or woodland in a place where they will remain undisturbed. In that case, they can be fertilized in situ.
Crocuses are usually the first bulbs to flower in the year and they are often left undisturbed forever.
Naturalized bulbs usually produce flowers of inferior quality in subsequent years, but giving them fertilizers should help produce good blooms every year. When purchasing fertilizers for bulbs, check that the first digit of the three on the container is lower than the other two numbers. This is the nitrogen. The second and third numbers are phosphorus and potassium respectively. To make it easier, just buy a supplement labeled "suitable for bulbs."
Still on the subject of bulbs, they are susceptible to infestations of mealy bugs. So, check over the plants and even the bulbs in storage.
New gardening products
Gardeners love new things, especially innovative products to help plants grow better. New for 2006 is a pot with a patented system to prevent root circling and spiraling. How many times have you de-potted a plant and found the roots have grown robustly and spiraled around the inside of the pot? Then it can be hard for some plants to break out from the spiraling pattern and produce new roots.
This problem can be overcome by cutting through the outer layer of roots with a knife, if the roots are reluctant to be untangled.
The new 2006 pot, called Accelerator, and is made by Nursery Supplies, Inc. It is available in various sizes to 45 gallons and will probably be sold in large quantities only to nurseries and growers at first, but you may find you are buying your new plants in some of these containers, and wonder where they came from. If you are growing large and vigorous plants like agaves in containers you may like to visit www.mcconkeyco.com to learn more about these new pots.
Roses and succulents
Roses are in full swing now. They need fertilizer every two to three weeks. And remember to remove the spent blooms soon after they have withered. This is known as "dead-heading." This will encourage more flowers to be produced. Your newly-planted summer flowering annuals will need watering almost every day at first until established, but then you can probably get away with once a week in summer unless it is extra hot.
A few brightly colored flowers near your home are acceptable and worth a reasonable amount of water, but beyond that I have decided my yard will have to be xeriscaped from now on. Even drought-tolerant plants need water to become established, but after their initial requirements they will have to manage on the rainfall we get.
I am increasing the numbers of succulent plants in my hilly yard with some hardy agaves and cacti. Chollas can be delightful. Many of you may groan at that statement, but when you get a large patch of chollas in bloom they look like a rose garden with flowers of many hues. Yes, you may get "stuck" by some spines which will hurt more when you pull them out than when they went in, but they are not poisonous, and the show of flowers makes up for that slight inconvenience.
Additional uses for both agaves and chollas are as a defense to your property.
Anyone jumping over a fence onto your property is likely to get an unexpected surprise. I remember a friend of mine whose home was burgled one night, and the intruder leaped out of the window and landed on top of a load of agaves in containers. Agaves and chollas can be chewed by four-legged visitors when times are tough because of the drought, but generally they survive and the following year's growth hides prior damage.
Yet another advantage of succulent plants is that they contain more water than non-succulent plants and, therefore, are more fire resistant. They can burn but don't flare up like many plants do. Check out the masses of prickly pears surviving previous fires along the Beeline Highway. Some are quite dead, but mostly they are just singed and are doing their best to regenerate for the coming seasons. A few miles south on the Beeline some of the saguaros also show signs of fire damage but most of them will survive, with some scarring.
To do this month
If you are planning to plant some new irises this year, now would be a good time to prepare the bed for them. Make sure the soil contains at least 30 percent of humus material mixed in with the local dirt. Add a starter fertilizer and some bone meal. All new beds need a few weeks to settle before being planted. Go choose your new rhizomes as soon as you find them in the garden shops. Some of the new hybrids are spectacular. Irises are not often eaten by the elk.
Keeping the yard clean and tidy is a never-ending task.
Usually fun, but even this can become difficult if or when you have your own physical limitations. Last summer I was on crutches and this summer again for a short while, which has proved most frustrating seeing all the jobs which need doing, but one can only do one's best and do a little at a time, building up strength slowly.
Gardening has the reputation of keeping the body fit. So, keep at it and make yours the best looking yard on the street.
-- To reach Carol Clapp e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.