Halloween curses

In typical Halloween fashion, my fall bulb order didn’t arrive until the weather had taken a turn for the worse. I found myself cursing my optimism back in August when I apparently thought that planting 155 bulbs was a reasonable exercise for the pouring rain and cold weather in late October. Dumb.

Fall bulb order arrives in the mail
What awaits inside?

Maybe my memory is faulty, but it seems to me that bulb orders used to arrive earlier in the season, like in late September or early October when the weather is more mild and dry, instead of later in the year when everything is cold, wet, or frozen. To be fair though, those memories are from Wisconsin where it got colder a heck of a lot earlier in the year than here in western Oregon. Bulb companies do ship earlier to colder zones. I remember hacking my way through six inches of snow and a frozen crust of soil on one fine Wisconsin October day when winter arrived early, so I won’t complain about the wet weather here (even though I kinda sorta just did).

Speaking of bad memory, I am always thinking in Spring that I will remember where all those empty garden spots are where I will want to plant bulbs come Fall. I never do. Instead, Fall comes and I rush around like a mad man, trying to recall where all of those empty spots were. More often than not, I end up accidentally slicing through bulbs that already occupy that perfect-looking “empty” space because by then, there is no above-ground evidence that there is something already there. Double dumb. I’ve come up with a couple strategies to minimize that issue, which I will post about next time.

Ambitious Fall bulb order for 155 bulbs
155 bulbs! What was I thinking?!

Even though there were two decent rains just prior to planting these bulbs, the soil was still very, very dry. Especially underneath the Douglas-fir and grand fir trees. My hands ached that night after stabbing the trowel repeatedly into hard-packed clay for several hours in a desperate attempt to make a decent sized hole at the appropriate depth. I’ll be honest here. Most of the bulbs are lucky, just plain lucky, to be even be planted two inches below the “soil” surface.

Fortunately, it never really seems to matter. They all seem to come up just fine in Spring – a true testimony to how hardy many of these bulb species are.

Hard, dry clay is hard to dig
Five minutes of hacking with a trowel = 4 inch dent

I don’t know…, isn’t it about time that bulb companies step up their game and move away from these plastic mesh bags and tags? Especially in light of the recent revelations about how the plastic industry has lied for decades about the recyclability of their plastic products. Turns out plastic isn’t nearly as recyclable as we thought and most of it ends up inย  landfills, roadsides, or in the ocean… Of course, the sustainability issue is more complicated than that, but I can’t help feeling guilty when I see all of this plastic.

Fall bulbs in plastic mesh bags with plastic labels.
A recycler's nightmare?

The QR codes, incidentally, were completely useless as they just pulled up unrelated content about spacer bolts, Honda jet towbar heads, and residential wood playsets. Nice concept, but I wish they had actually worked as intended… to remind me how large Narcissus ‘Classic Garden’ gets before planting it in front of a shorter plant, for example.

More Fall bulbs in plastic bags with plastic labels
Plastic everywhere
Lots of plastic packaging used for Fall bulbs
Useless QR codes

I purchased some bulbs from Illahe Rare Plants at the Salem Hardy Plant Society Fall Plant Sale hosted by Sebright Gardens back in September when the air was all smoky. Their bulbs were packaged in reusable, recyclable, decomposable paper bags. This is the way most bulbs used to be packaged.

Narcissus bulb in a brown paper bag
Narcissus bulb in a brown paper bag

Maybe it’s time for the larger bulb companies to do this again? I am guessing there is some reasonable explanation for why they switched to plastic. Probably most of it has to do with cost as plastic tends to be cheaper than paper. Paper is also less breathable, while mesh bags allow lots of air movement and let you more easily see whether the bulbs are moldy or not. Still, it seems so wasteful. It’s not like these items are even remotely recyclable. I don’t have a use for plastic mesh bags so they will go in the trash, although I guess I could try to reuse the backs of those ugly plastic labels (Note: nope, pencils don’t work on that glossy plastic). I certainly won’t be sticking them into the ground as ugly, little, white plastic gravestones to mark where I’ve buried the bodies (bulbs!)… although that would prevent me from slicing through them again next year…

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Congratulations on getting those into the ground. It’s been less than fun planting conditions lately and yes, the ground is still hard to dig. I totally agree with you about the plastic issue – hopefully the larger bulb companies will come up with something else. Those mesh bags I keep to reuse for storing garlic after the harvest as well as onions, so there’s that silver lining? I’d much rather see cardboard that can be composted! And how fun to see all your new bulbs next spring.

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      I love spring bulbs so much, so you are right. It’s definitely worth what I went through to get them in the ground. I can’t wait to see them. Glad to hear that you have a good use for the mesh bags with the garlic.

  2. Kris P

    I’m glad to know I’m in good company! Thus far, I’ve got 301 bulbs planted. I have 6 more Hippeastrum to pot up (some are gifts!) and I just received my order of 60 Anemone corms. Assuming my one outstanding bulb is eventually delivered, my total will be 368 bulbs, which may be my most excessive bulb order yet. I too forget where I’ve previously planted bulbs, especially when I’m trying to cram a new plant in somewhere, and end up shoveling right through some of my older bulbs. Plastic is a constant issue with just about every kind of purchase.

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      That is a lot of bulbs! I think the most I have ever done was around 225. It’s going to look amazing. And, the good part is that so many bulb-producing species are drought adapted.

  3. Anna K

    I couldn’t agree more about the plastic. Funny that that societal scourge too, is a product pushed by the the fossil fuel industry. And it’s so hard to escape using it. We really do need to make some dramatic changes in how we package things. One easy change we did was starting to buy laundry sheets from EarthBreeze. They work like a charm, and arrive packaged in a flat paper envelope. No more big yellow un-recyclable detergent containers – hooray!!

    I too seem to remember mailorder bulbs arriving earlier than late October. Wonder why it changed…?

    1. Anna, that’s right! I love those laundry sheets – there is zero waste once the cardboard container is recycled. Hooray!! I LOOOOVE that! A win/win.

    2. Garden Curmudgeon

      Plastic is everywhere. I started my morning by unwrapping the plastic off of an English cucumber that I was using to prepare lunch. We use balls made of wool for our dryer – we add a little bit of lanolin oil occasionally and it seems to work for keeping soft. Adding up those little changes hopefully helps!

  4. Tracy

    Gulf tees are good for marking future planting sites. In hard to plant spots (I have heavy clay) I use a spade. Step on it to drive into the ground as far as you want. Rock it forward and back a few times, with spade still in place, drop in bulb. Take out spade, stomp on ground to resettle it.

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      Good tip on the golf tees. I like that those are fairly small and unobtrusive so they wouldn’t be very distractive in the garden throughout the summer. I also use the spade, which helps in the areas where I have the space to use it. It’s those tight spots where I have to use the trowel – oh and then there’s the adventure of trying to move the mulch aside far enough so that you don’t accidentally get soil and weed seeds on top of it while digging the hole.

  5. hb

    I agree about the plastic problem. I think most of my trash nowadays is non-recyclable plastic bags–everything seems to come in a plastic bag. The oil companies consider plastic to be their replacement when vehicles stop using gasoline. One problem goes away, another one appears. ๐Ÿ™

    Sternbergia–that is one I want to try. Missed the chance this year–will try again next summer. They are supposed to go dry/dormant in summer, just right for my climate.

    I used to live on a hill that was solid granite. If you wanted to plant something, you needed a pick and a lot of time. You ended up with a small hole in the rock to plant in. OTOH, no weeds!

    1. Garden Curmudgeon

      So much plastic. Now there is a PR campaign to say they have come up with new technology to make most plastic recyclable, but I haven’t seen the evidence yet.
      Love my Sternbergia. Fell in love with them a couple years ago when I saw them at Dancing Oaks Nursery. Perfect for dry summer climates.
      The granite hillside sounds sort of awesome for a potential rock garden site, but as you noted, it comes with a lot of planting challenges. I imagine that keeping things watered enough would also be a major challenge on a site like that.

Leave a Reply