How Might This Winter’s Weather Affect Your Bulbs?

Warmer, colder, wetter, drier – weird weather seems to have been the norm this winter. Of course heirloom plants have survived by taking strange weather in stride, but here’s how it may affect your plants this spring.

WARMER? Mild winters allow the eggs of iris borers and spores of fungal diseases to over-winter more successfully, so it’s especially important to remove all of last year’s peony foliage and clean up around your iris before temperatures warm any further. If you mulched your peonies with straw or leaves last fall, loosen the mulch now and make sure it’s not starting to mold.

NO SNOW? Like a down comforter, snow traps air which makes it a great insulator. If your winter was short on snow, your bulbs and newly planted perennials such as peonies may have gotten a lot colder than usual, which could result in dead or weakened plants this spring.

Snow also protects the soil from the freeze-thaw cycle that occurs when sunny days are followed by much colder nights. Freezing and thawing can break bulb roots and heave newly planted perennials out of the ground. Check now and re-set any plant that’s been heaved, putting a brick or rock on either side to anchor it. In colder zones you might even want to add a light straw mulch now to protect your plants through the last weeks of winter when the freeze-thaw cycle is often at its worst.

When snow melts, it recharges soil moisture which is especially important to the mad rush of spring growth. If snowfall was skimpy in your area, water your bulbs and perennials as soon as they emerge this spring instead of waiting till later on.

MORE RAIN? If your winter – or fall – was wetter than usual, that may lead to better bloom on your daffodils this spring, but it could be hard on other bulbs. The freeze-thaw cycle is most damaging in water-logged soils, and some bulbs such as crocosmia always do best in very well-drained winter soils. Soggy soils are never good for iris or peonies, so if water puddles around yours this spring, drain it away to avoid rot.

DROUGHT? Bulbs are built to conserve moisture during dry periods and often bounce back after a drought better than most plants, although it may take a while for them to recover completely. Some bulbs like tulips and hyacinths actually bloom better after a dry summer, but even they will suffer without good moisture through fall and winter.

No matter how weird your winter was, paying attention to how your plants respond will make you a better gardener. And try not to worry. Most of the time, most plants will be just fine – and on the bright side, dead plants give you more room for new ones!


Dahlia Growing 101: Let’s Talk Heirloom Tubers!

As you may have guessed, we love growing dahlias for their diverse colors and forms and the way they close the gardening season with beauty and abundance, and we want to share some of our experiences and observations with those of you who may be trying them for the first time. Unlike the bulbs you may be used to from tulips or daffodils which have a standard or regular form, dahlia tubers - and especially heirloom dahlia tubers - can come in a wide array of shapes, sizes, and forms. Depending both on what variety they are and on how they were grown, tubers may be like golf balls, compact and rounded, or like enlarged string-beans, long and skinny, sometimes curved, sometimes straight, and anything in between. We examine each tuber and only send ones that we expect will grow and bloom well for you, so don’t be alarmed by their size or shape on arrival.

Some varieties like ‘Lutt Wichen’, ‘Claire de Lune’ and ‘Union Jack’ tend to be “shy” producers of tubers, with fewer or smaller daughter tubers, and these are often the ones that drop out of mainstream commerce. At Old House Gardens we try to keep such historic varieties from disappearing altogether, even if it means that you are more likely to start with a small tuber than when you buy a modern variety. But please don’t worry that it won’t grow well just because it’s small. The tuber only has to provide enough energy and nutrients to enable the plant to put down roots, send up its first leaves, and start to fend for itself, so (like flower seeds) a small tuber can produce a large plant. We (and our customers) have found that tubers with the volume of our little fingers (or a triple-A battery) are big enough to get plants off to a good start.

Other variability comes from how the dahlia was propagated. Large-scale growers in the Netherlands use “pot-culture” which produces scruffy clusters of tubers, sometimes with necks that have been broken as they were washed or handled. You only need one to grow, so many people just cut off the ones that are dangling by a thread or two and only plant the remainder. On the positive side, these are often more affordable since they’re grown in higher volume. Small-scale growers (like ourselves and our American partners) typically dig and divide their dahlia clumps by hand, resulting in neatly trimmed and tidy single tubers instead of a cluster. These too will do well: again, you only need one tuber with an eye to have a full-sized plant come August, and planting a single tuber rather than a clump means that there is no competition for resources that might lead to fewer blossoms.

So don’t be alarmed by the range of shapes and sizes of your dahlia tubers on arrival! Plant and care for them as recommended in the accompanying instructions (or here) and they should thrive for you. Let us know if you have any concerns during the growing season so we can trouble-shoot what might be happening. We’re here to answer your questions and help ensure your success.


Pantone Color Institute Chooses “Peach Fuzz” for 2024’s Color of the Year

‘Gypsy Queen’
‘Apricot Beauty’

We always enjoy seeing what color is predicted to be trending each year and think this year’s color is especially lovely. Executive Director Leatrice Eiseman explains, “In seeking a hue that echoes our innate yearning for closeness and connection, we chose a color radiant with warmth and modern elegance. A shade that resonates with compassion [and] offers a tactile embrace.” There’s no need to redo your wardrobe or repaint your walls to enjoy it, though, since gardeners of the past have already handed down varieties that will fill your garden and vases with storied histories along with this year’s color. You may already have them growing, if you chose fragrant ‘Gypsy Queen’ hyacinths, delightful ‘Romance’ daffodils, or glowing ‘Apricot Beauty’ tulips. Or add them to your summer garden palette with customer-favorite ‘Preference’ dahlias or refreshing ‘Melonee’ daylilies. And we’re thinking about sipping peach margaritas as we relax in our garden oases – 2024’s going to be a great year!


And Be Sure to Check Out These Two Fall-Blooming Crocus!

C. speciosus, ‘Conqueror’ crocus
C. sativus, ‘Saffron’ crocus

We’re excited to have these unusual crocus varieties to offer for the first time. They need to be planted early in the fall for first-year bloom, so it’s best to order early. Crocus speciosus ‘Conqueror’ has glowing violet-blue blossoms with bright orange centers that brighten autumn beds just as most plants are going dormant, often sending up flowers before their leaves emerge fully. And Crocus sativus, the saffron crocus, has been cultivated for millenia around the Mediterranean for their red-orange pistils which are used as a prized seasoning. The flowers are shades of lilac to purple flowers, and while it can take over 4000 blossoms to produce an ounce of saffron, it’s fun to grow some of your very own!


Spring Shipping Begins Soon

We’ve had surprisingly mild weather here in Michigan the past couple of weeks and expect to begin shipping by Monday April 1. Of course, Mother Nature’s in charge since we don’t want freezing temperatures to harm the bulbs on their way to you! We’ll send you an email with tracking information when your order leaves here, so you’ll have an idea of when it will arrive.

But don’t fear: you still have time to order our fabulous heirlooms for spring planting, so whether you’re just anticipating or in the midst of spring where you are, take a virtual stroll through our rare and beautiful spring-blooming heirlooms and find the ones that most delight you. Please have any changes or additions to existing orders to us as soon as possible since once shipping begins it is usually too late to make adjustments to them.