Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bulbs - Project 25

This week I had an awesome co-worker offer up Dahlia bulbs. I emailed her back (within seconds) saying I would take whatever she wanted to give away which turned out to be the Dahlia's and Elephant Ears! Now, the issue is finding a place to plant there where I can dig them out each fall. I will also have to learn how to care for bulbs. To reference my grandma again, she was an expert on caring for bulbs. She had a box in the garage where she carefully stored all of her flower bulbs, remembering where each one was in the fall to extract safely. This could be my downfall. In the spring I couldn't remember where I transplanted Hostas from last fall!

I'm hoping to add a small raised bed in my flower garden to plant the Dahlia's. This way they are all in one spot to dig out in the fall. I won't need to go on a scavenger hunt to find all of my bulbs, or risk losing some to the Minnesota winter.  The Elephant Ears could be planted in the same spot, as long as I don't over shade my flowers... so I guess we'll try it and see how it works.

The Dahlia Barn has a great page (with a lot of detail) on how to care for Dahlia's. The biggest thing is understanding that these are going to take a little bit of extra time and care. Careful watering, and careful fall 'harvest' of the bulbs will ensure I have healthy tubers from year to year. I don't know what colors my Dahlia's will turn out to be but I do know they will be a beautiful addition to my garden!

Elephant Ears:
Elephant Ears are a great addition to a garden. Again, my problem is finding a spot for these larger plants!  The tips I got from a wiki-type site sound easy enough. I don't always trust the wiki-how or wikipedia sites just because anyone can add or change the information. These directions seemed very similar to other flower gardening sites.

1. Before planting the elephant ear tuber, wait until the danger of frost is over and the temperature averages 45ºF (7ºC) or more.

2. The adult elephant ear plant will need at least 3 feet (1 meter) of space, at a bare minimum, for proper growth and show in a relatively shady area. A really healthy plant may need as much as 5 feet (1-2 meters) of space.

3. Dig a hole, and if possible, in rich, organic soil about 3-4 times the size of the tuber.
Refill the hole as necessary with loose soil enough so that the tuber will be about 1-2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm.) below ground level when planted.

4. Lay (plant) the tuber with its top up - if in doubt, plant the tuber sideways and let nature figure it out!

5. Cover the tuber with soil and water deeply. After watering, about 1" to 2" (2.5 cm - 5 cm) of soil should cover the tuber.

6. Mark the spot where the tuber is planted.

7. Wait 1 to 3 weeks - maybe more (depending upon air and ground temperature) for first growth to show.

8. Elephant ear plants perform reasonably well in average soil. Periodic fertilization (every 2 to 4 weeks) with a common plant fertilizer will help them do their best.

9. Good drainage is a big plus, but the plant should not be left to go dry for any length of time. When this happens, the droopy leaves will give early enough warning for the plant to recover nicely if watered within a day.

10. At the peak of the warm season, large, beautifully lush foliage can grow to heights of 3 to 5 feet (1-1.6 meters). If any leaves turn brown at the edges, just cut away and new ones will certainly grow.
The plant will start having difficulties when the temperature falls below 50ºF (9-10ºC) or so for more than a few days. Before freezing temperatures take over, the tuber (root system) will have to be dug up. 

11. A healthy plant will have developed multiple new tubers during the growing season. It's best to leave these intact during storage. Separation will not do significant damage though.

12. Trim most of the green vegetation (top growth) off the top of the tubers: leave no more than half to 1 inch of leafy growth on the tuber. Let the freshly trimmed tubers sit in open air so they can visibly dry out before final storage - maybe a couple of days at most will do. Drying out will minimize the potential for mold, and bacteria to develop.

13. Store the tuber during the colder, winter months in a cool, dry place (45-55ºF is desirable). Don't store in a plastic bag: a plain paper bag with plenty of holes for ventilation will do nicely, as will storage in sphagnum peat moss or garden vermiculite.

14. When the warm season comes around again, separate the tubers as necessary, plant anew and enjoy!
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