Tulips, Iris and Hydrangeas

Q. My tulips and daffodils were removed from the ground and stored after the foliage turned brown. When should I replant them and should they be chilled first?

A. Spring or summer flowering bulbs stored from the previous year are replanted during their typical planting season. So you’d replant daffodils, narcissus, tulips, etc., in the fall, while dahlias, gladiolus and others would go back into the ground in the late winter or early spring. Yes, tulips should be chilled for six weeks before planting, but not the daffodils as the ground doesn’t get cold enough. When chilling tulips in a refrigerator, be sure you remove all apples, bananas, tomatoes and other fruits. The Ethylene gas from the maturing fruit can damage the immature flower(s). That being said, the real question is whether it’s worth the effort. Tulip flowers vary so don’t expect last year’s tulips to be as showy this year, as they won’t. They require another growing season before they reach their peak again. You improve the color show by mixing in new bulbs with the older ones. Personally, I’d plant new bulbs each year. This is not the case with daffodils and narcissus, as they’re planted anytime before the rainy season begins. Also, it is common to leave them in the ground year after year. The clumps are dug up and divided when the groupings become so crowded that the flower size is reduced. Also, the overcrowding is the major reason why daffodils and narcissus stop blooming altogether. Typically, they’re divided every three to four years. As with new planting, you should add Bulb Food or Bone Meal. Depending on the size of the bulb, add a teaspoon or tablespoon under each bulb so that nutrients are immediately available to the new roots.

Q. How do I go about planting and caring for Bearded Iris? Is now a good time to plant?

A. Fall is an excellent time to plant Bearded Iris. They like a sunny, well-drained soil so incorporate generous amounts of soil amendments or homemade compost and a starter fertilizer. Next, you will need to level the area and plant the new Irises so three-quarter of the rhizome is above the soil surface. If they’re planted too deep they will rot. Also, be sure the fan of leaves is facing the sun. Bearded Irises are water-wise so be careful not to over-water them during the summer and fall. Remove the spent flowers on a dry day so the soft tissue will callous over quickly. With established plants, do not trim the foliage off except to remove the areas with leaf spots. Only when the leaves turn brown in the fall should they be cut back or pulled off and the clumps can be divided as early as August.  You feed them twice a year—spring and fall—with an organic fertilizer. And finally, keep litter and grass away from the Iris plants because clean cultivation is the best precaution against future troubles.

Q. I read that to keep Hydrangeas a pink color you should feed them an acid fertilizer and then to turn them blue, use something alkaline. Each spring, I fertilize my pink Hydrangea with an acid fertilizer but the blooms turn out to be a dirty white color. What am I doing wrong?

A. The flower color on Hydrangeas is determined by the acidity or alkalinity of the soil and it’s measured by the soil pH. A pH scale runs from one to fourteen with seven being neutral. Any reading below seven is acid while any reading above eight is alkaline. A simple pH kit is available at your favorite garden center to measure your soil. Unfortunately, your blue/pink formula is backward. Hydrangeas turn pink in alkaline soils while we get blue tones in acid conditions. You keep Hydrangeas pink or red by fertilizing with Superphosphate or 0-10-10. For blue and/or lavender Hydrangeas feed them Aluminum Sulphate, EB Stone True Blue or similar acidifer. Begin in the fall and continue monthly, February through May. These additives are a supplement to your usual plant fertilizers, not a replacement.