Cleaning bulbs, plants and horticultural care in general.

James Waddick
Wed, 08 Jul 2009 17:03:14 PDT
>I'm repotting part of my bulb collection now and, as usual, wondering
>about cleaning them. Just how much of the dead tissue should be
>removed from various kinds of bulbs?

Dear Jane,	I don't have anything practical or authoritative to 
add to this, but it is a fascinating topic. Instead diversions.

	I think the responses are confusing 2 topics here:

	1.	Bulbs in the ground or pots - of course we don't 
clean the bulb itself, but we removed dead leaves/leaf bases and 
clean up debris.

	2.	Bulbs in the hand -  I groom them of all or most dead 
materials even if that includes scraping off excess tunics and stuff. 
The the dead stuff is dead stuff. You can clearly see there is no 
connection to live parts of the plants such as the "old tissue at the 
bases of some irid corms".

	Either of these takes some common sense.  I think old dead 
tissue can alter the growing environment, but we are talking about 
plants in horticulture not in the wild. Maybe old accumulated tunics 
do add some organic material to the soil or even minor nutrients, but 
we add organic materials to our potted plants and fertilize them as 
well. Some old dead foliage and tunics may even insulate bulbs, but 
this is in the ground and in the wild, not under our care.

	This dichotomy between natural and artificial handing of 
plants is somewhat insidious. We can give our plants TLC or let them 
'just grow'.
One example -
	I was recently visiting a friend with an extensive cactus and 
succulent collection. He grew things very 'hard'. I asked about the 
age of some small Adenium seedlings growing in 2 inch pots and he 
said they were mostly 2 years or older.They were in tiny pots and 
kept very dry.  I have some 4 month old seedlings that are  4 times 
the size, but I have given them bottom heat after germination, 
continued up-potting and regular watering and fertilization.  My 
plants may be 'soft' and the others 'hard'. So ?

	If a plant hasn't been up potted or soil changed for years, 
all these excess tunics, dead roots etc will accumulate, but whenever 
I up-pot or provide new soil, I remove dead roots, dead parts of the 
bulb, old dead materials including tunic and coverings. Isn't that 
what horticulture is all about?

	Another reflection of this care or not,  is shown on how 
people send each other plants. I trade or give away plants by mail as 
much or more than most.  A commercial nursery HAS TO clean off soil 
and scrub rhizomes to an inch of their life and maybe cut back roots 
and top growth: partly for sanitation and partly for mailing weight. 
Most people trading plants don't have to go to these extremes. I 
usually shake off the big chunks of soil and rock, then wrap the root 
ball in a paper towel in a plastic bag. I generally don't cut things 
back unless I need to fit it in a box.  Yet some people think that 
all the cleaning and cutting are REQUIRED to share plants to others.

	There are times when absolute cleanliness and trimming back 
are needed, but if you are just giving away a start it is over kill.

	Same with bulbs. Maybe it all boils down to the KISS 
principle ("Keep It Simple, Stupid" - or, for the delicate "Keep It 
Simple, Sweetie"). Just keep it simple and use common sense.

	It sounds like Jane has enough common sense and experience 
she is doing things right.

	Sorry for the rant.		Jim W.

Dr. James W. Waddick
8871 NW Brostrom Rd.
Kansas City Missouri 64152-2711
Ph.    816-746-1949
Zone 5 Record low -23F
	Summer 100F +

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