How and When to Harvest Bulbs

A couple of weekends ago several of my friends from A&M met me at my “bulb honey hole” for a little “bulb rustling”.  I have written about my bulb “honey hole” before.  It is an abandoned home site that was tended by an incredible gardener for 80 plus years.  For a long time I was reluctant to share.  However, I have now harvested so many bulbs for my own gardens that I felt it would be great to let a few of my buddies in on my secret.

The Bulb Hunters. From left: Mengmeng Gu, Cynthia Mueller, Sally White, Me, Michal Hall, Charlie Hall, Karin Wallace, Russ Wallace

Karin and Russ Wallace, Mengmeng Gu, Charlie and MiChal Hall, and Cynthia Mueller joined Sally and I for a very fun filled morning of digging in the dirt.  Like I mentioned before, this homestead was tended by an incredible gardener for some 80 plus years.  Because of her work, the soil in the yard is the most perfect organic, rich, sandy loam I have ever seen.  This rich, sandy loam has allowed the bulbs that were planted many years ago to thrive and divide with abandon.  Because of this, there are now enough Italicus narcissus (Narcissus tazetta, “Italicus”), Red Oxbloods (Rhodophialia bifida)and Bulbispermum crinums (Crinum bulbispermum) to stock several nurseries.

When harvesting bulbs, it is fairly important to be aware of when they bloom.  Almost all bulbs flower at a certain time and then send up their foliage after the flowers fade.  This foliage is very important as it is what is gathering the sunlight that the bulbs need to make the carbohydrate storage that the flowers will need during bloom season.  Due to this, the foliage needs to stay in place until it browns. 

Me, Mengmeng and Russ harvesting Oxbloods

Each of the bulbs we were harvesting bloom at different times.  If we were completely reliant on the calendar, our weekend of March 31 was really only the “optimal time” to harvest the Oxbloods.  Since they bloomed in early fall, their foliage has been “bulking up” their bulbs for the past six months.  Because of this, the oxbloods can be dug and have their tops removed immediately.  You can then dry them a little in the sun and store them in a cool dark place for later planting.

Charlie Hall and Karin Wallace harvesting Italicus narcissus

Since the narcissus just bloomed in January, they need to have about half of their tops removed and then be replanted as soon as possible.  The remaining “tops” will allow them to continue the photosynthesis required for their January bloom.  If the bulbs do not get enough carbs stored up, they may not bloom the first year after transplanting.  That is ok.  Just keep watering them and wait until the following season.

Karin and Russ Wallace show off a massive crinum bulb

Crinums (especially bulbispermum) are kind of a different animal.  Bulbispermum can bloom at anytime.  The varieties here usually bloom for me about three times a year.  My good friend Dr. Bill Welch likes to say that as far as he knows, no crinum has ever died.  This is a very appropriate statement when it comes to this very durable bulb.  Because of their durability, they can be harvested about anytime.  Just cut their foliage in half and replant within a week or so and they will be fine.  Crinum bulbispermum is native to southern Africa.  They like wet, marshy areas but they can also withstand drought.  Like all bulbs, they prefer a loose, well drained soil but they grow very well in clay.  Basically, they will grow anywhere.  If you are looking for a bullet proof plant, then this is it.  There are several colorations of this family of crinum.  The ones on this homestead are either almost pure white or red and white stripped.  The stripped variety is often called “milk and wine” crinums.

A "milk and wine" crinum from my "honey hole"

All and all, it was a perfect day.  The weather was great, the soil was loose and the mood was bright.  All of my friends got a whole bunch of wonderful bulbs and Sally and got a great memory of horticultural fun shared with people we love.  Thanks to all of my friends for a wonderful day!

The Fall and Winter Potager

Lately, several people have been visiting my site from and “pinning” shots of my garden on their pinboards.  I am very flattered when this happens.  If you are not yet familiar with Pintrest you should check it out.  It is a collaborative site where you create “pin boards” of your favorite topics and then post images that you find on the web in them.  Then, everyone on the internet can come to your site and see the things that you have found.  It is really cool and you can quickly burn several hours if you are not careful. 

Right now, my little garden has never been prettier.  The folks from the Central Texas Gardener television program came to film it back in December.  It was pretty then, but it is a lot prettier now.  The veggies are doing great, but the flowers have really matured and look beautiful.  Eventhough the potager is mostly about the vegetables, it is the flowers that make it interesting.  So, for all of you Pinterest users that are fans of small, raised bed kitchen gardens, and my regular readers, here are a few pics of what is currently blooming in my little potager.

Panseys are always a great choice for Texans in the fall.  I planted these around the first of Decemeber.  If you look closely you will notice carrot foliage in the back.  I do companion plantings in all of my beds.  I have a mix of pink and purple panseys that share the center bed with a mix of carrots and vilolas (Johnny Jump Ups).  They are all thriving and look very good mixed together.

My purple panseys.

Violas are one of my favorite winter flowers.  The work great in pots where their pretty little flowers grow rapidly and spill over the side.

Calendula is often called pot marigolds.  Not only is it pretty and a prolific bloomer, the petals are edible.

I love dianthus.  They bloom well into the summer.  Their common name is “pinks”.  People think this is because they are mostly pink, but it is really because their petals look like they were cut with pinking shears.  They come in all colors and all sizes now but I still prefer this old fashioned variety.

This year’s winner in the vegetable department is Comet Broccoli.  This variety is incredible at putting on side shoots.  I have two dozen of these scattered throughout the potager.  Last Sunday, my wife and I harvested 8 produce bags full of side shoots.

Here is a picture of me with a lettuce harvest.  Our lettuce has been outstanding this year. 

One of my favorite things in the potager is not a plant at all.  It is our bottle tree.  While not technically in the potager (it is in the outside border), I still think of it as one of the main things that adds interest and charm to my little garden.

In addition to the flowers pictured above,  I have byzantine gladiolous, crinums, daylilies, two varities of roses, lots of salvia, red poppies, holley hocks, crysanthimums, zinnias and larkspur.  This ever changing pallette of colors and textures is what keeps me excited and watchful throughout the year.


Something I haven't seen in a long time; 3.5" of rain in the gauge!

Well, it finally happened.  After previous rain storms passed us by, we finally got one of our own.  In the past 24 hours it has rained about 3 1/2 inches at my house.  That is very exciting on its own.  However, this rain came in with a storm that spun confirmed tornadoes in Brenham and the Lake Sommerville area.  This storm was also accompanied by lots of thunder and lightening.  If you believe old wives tales, thunder in January means a freeze in March.  We will see.  This year has been so strange I would not be surprised at all if a late freeze comes as soon as the spring plantings are up.

Something else that I haven't see in a long time; a puddle of standing water in my yard.

Speaking of weird things that have happened this year, here are a few that I have noticed on my own little piece of heaven.  First, my peach trees are in bloom!  And the funny thing is, this is the second time they have bloomed.  Not sure what this will mean for our summer peaches but I can’t imagine it is good.  Also, my Cherokee rose has bloomed twice.  This rose doesn’t usually bloom until March.  I also have a “found” crinum that is about to bloom.  This variety usually blooms in May.

The "found" crinum that is blooming about four months too early

In spite of the bad storms that that brought it, I am so thankful for the rain.  The tornadoes were a little scarey but at least no one was hurt.  This rain was substantial enough that most people’s stock tanks caught water.  This is very good news for all of the people that are trying to keep their livestock.  Plus, with just a couple of more rains in the next few weeks, they should be assured of a pretty good early hay crop.

Mushrooms that have popped up in all of my freshly mulched beds

Yes, this is a very strange year so far.  Everyone seems to have a theory as to why; climate change, La Ninya, the Mayans.  I am not sure what is going on, but I am certain I will be able to find some things that will grow for me in spite of it all.

Ellen Bosanquet and the CobraHead Hoe

Yesterday, while returning from lunch, I found what I believe to be an Ellen Bosanquet crinum bulb laying on top of the ground.  Now I am not certain it is an Ellen Bosanquet but it was laying in a place where a large clump of them had once stood. 

Ellen Bosanquet from

I found this bulb while walking through a garden that I go through quite regularly.  While strolling through it, I discovered that a large bed had been dug up and all of the plant material had been removed.  While surveying this, I noticed the bulb.  It was laying on top of the soil and had just a few roots still in the ground.  I decided that it had been left there to die so I rescued it.

I love crinums and I have several varieties in my beds.  Since Ellen Bosanquet is one I do not have, I was very glad to find this bulb.  In my opinion, Ellen Bosanquet is one of the prettiest.  It rosey pink flowers and slightly rippled foliage makes it an attractive plant whether it is blooming or not.

What I hope is a healthy Ellen Bosanquet bulb

Since I didn’t know how long the bulb had been out of the soil, I planted it as quickly as possible.  This gave me the opportunity to try out a new garden gadget that my wife gave me for Christmas.  The CobraHead Hand Hoe is a marvelous little garden tool that is produced right here in the USA by a small family owned business.  My wife ordered it for me from another family owned business that we often shop with; Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

  I am not a big buyer of garden gadgets.  However, when I saw the CobraHead in the Baker Creek magazine I knew it was something worth having.  The CobraHead is a 13″ long, curved weeder, cultivator, planter, etc.  It has a thin, curved, football shaped head that allows it to work in even the heaviest clays.  In my own garden, the tools I most often use are an old 12′ long Craftsman screwdriver and the claws of an old 20 ounce framing hammer.  The thin and gracefully curving shape of this tool, combined with the overall length and large handle made me realize that I could finally put my hammer and screwdriver back in the tool box.

After using it to plant my new crinum in a fairly heavy clay, I give the tool two big green thumbs up!  The tool performed just as advertised.  I was able to quickly dig a hole with out wearing myself out.  I was very pleased.  (I make this next statement in a very light hearted manner)  Thanks to my new CobraHead, I am actually looking forward to all of those weeds that will soon be popping up in my beds!

A Monday Holiday

Surprise Easter Lilies

We have been so busy with the holidays and the remodel that our beds have suffered.  All of them need weeding and trimming.  This past Monday was so lovely that my wife and I decided to do some of that much need yard work. We started the morning by cutting back the Lantana that grows by our back deck.  While we were pruning I got one of those little surprises that I just love in the garden.  Tucked under the leaves and the bare branches of last year’s lantana was this year’s Easter Lilies!  Truth be told, I had forgotten they were there.  I won a single stem at our church picnic last summer and I just stuck it in the ground.  Well, that was a good decision.  That one plant has now divided and given me five new plants for the price of one.  I have never grown Easter Lilies before so I am not sure if this much division is common, but I am excited about it.

The Milk and Wine Crinums that I moved

After we cleaned up our mess I decided to do my absolute favorite garden chore – move things!  Fall is the best time for this, but, with a little care, you can move plants anytime of the year.  My friend and garden mentor Cynthia Mueller says that if you move a plant correctly, it won’t even know its been moved.  I have fully embraced her advice.  The first thing that I moved was a bunch of milk and wine crinums (Crinum x herbertii).  I got my crinums from a friend.  I think that is how most people get them.  I had several small clumps scattered around the yard so I decided to dig them up and make two masses on either side of my propane tank.  I am hoping that their lush spring and summer foliage will help camouflage my ugly propane tank.  Next, I moved a few clumps of daffodils and narcissus that were left by the previous homeowner.  He had planted them willy nilly all over the place.  I am slowly trying to sort them out and plant them in masses.

The "Don Juan" climbing rose that I hope is about to swallow my arbor

Once I ran out of things to move, I did a little planting.  Since I have recently finished the arbor in the picket fence, I planted a Don Juan climbing red rose at the base of it.  Don Juan is a fairly aggressive climbing rose that can grow to 15’.  It has very beautiful deep red velvety double petals and it smells terrific.  I have high hopes that it will be stunning on my white arbor. 

Next, I got to plant some Primrose Jasmine (Jasminum mesnyi) that I have been nursing for the past nine month.  I planted these on the east side of my house.  My house is on a slope and it sits up on blocks, so I have a lot of space between the ground and the bottom of the windows.  Since primrose jasmine makes mounds up to 10’ feet high, I figure this is the perfect plant.  Primrose jasmine is an old-fashioned plant that is often called “Fountains of Gold”.  You can see them growing at old home sites all over Texas.  These plants make a huge mound of arching branches that are covered in double yellow flowers in the spring.  I got mine by pulling up shoots from an existing plant and then potting them.  I have kept them alive now since last spring and I am very glad to finally have them in the ground.

The shrimp plant that I divided and planted in the flower bed

To finish things up, I divided some shrimp plant that I had in a pot.  This one pot made four lovely clumps that I put by the steps to my deck.  I also planted some Society Garlic and day lilies that I had in pots.  I also planted a whole flat of dwarf mondo around the “stump” stepping stones that lead to my faucet.  All in all it was another relaxing and rewarding holiday at the nest.