Newbie questions

Uli via pbs
Wed, 28 Apr 2021 17:08:55 PDT
Hello Paul,

Welcome to the PBS! Your questions are absolutely appropriate and I will 
try to answer them as good as I can. But let me first say that the way 
you ask and what you ask shows that you are a good observer and I am 
sure you will end up with a successful collection of bulbs. We all make 
mistakes! You live in one of the best climates to grow winter growing 
bulbs (and much more)

For the labels I recommed the old fashioned lead pencil on thick plastic 
labels or aluminium if you can get it. Fading labels are a pain, if you 
use them longer you will find that brittle labels are a pain, too.

Your pictures show plants in the process of going dormant but most are 
not yet dormant so I recommend watering them until the foliage has died 
down completely. For sure they are not dead! The longer you can keep the 
remaining green leaves green the better for the young bulb. Once they 
have really dried up you should stop watering. I noticed that there is a 
Lilium with the other bulbs, this needs a different treatment as it is 
summer growing. It happened to me that I did not notice an evergreen or 
summer growing pot in the trays of winter growing seedlings and I killed 
it with the standard winter grower's regime. Never force a plant into 
dormancy if it does not "obey" . It may be wrongly named and thus be 
something else or, more likely many first year seedlings skip the first 
dormancy and remain green especially in a mild summer climate like 
yours. Each pot needs an individual treatment at this time of the year.

My recommendation for your climate is to sow winter growing bulbs 
outside, in the open, exposed to the weather, the rain and fluctuating 
temperatures. You seem to be in a frost free location, so no problem. 
Why did you put your seedlings into a cold frame? I use an old hotbed 
window above some of the pots which I consider too fragile for the open 
air treatment but even that produces so much warmth that I remove it 
during dry spells. Warmth or even heat always signals the onset of 
dormancy. That is why I think you live in a great climate, you should be 
able to keep your bulbs green well into May or even June because it will 
not be hot. The Dutch bulb fields are in a similar climate, not for 
nothing. Just a few days of warm weather will not matter if you keep 
your plants shaded (removable shade cloth) and well watered. Full sun 
during the winter months is fine but as soon as the sun gets stronger 
partial shade/shade cloth or diffuse bright light like on the north side 
of a wall is better.

Re-potting seedlings: I absolutely agree with Jane in all what she 
wrote, never prick out bulb seedlings in growth. But turning a crowded 
seedling pot upside down and have the entire root ball on the other hand 
is fine, then repot into a larger pot, the bulbs will use the available 
space, as Jane said, you can gently loosen the root ball without taking 
it apart. I often do that in the second season when I realize that a 
seedling pot is too full, immediate watering, shade for a few days, I 
never had any losses this way. If you use a soft plastic pot the pot may 
bulge which is always a sign of overcrowding, if there is no bulging 
there is still enough space underground. All the pots I see on your 
pictures are not overcrowded.

Fertilizer: Why do you say that slow release fertilizer is a bad idea? 
Personally I do not use it for seed but did you have problems with it? 
Fertilizing seedlings is very important, especially at the end of the 
growing season before dormancy sets in. It is this period where the 
bulbs increase most in size and fertilizing with a high potash and 
phosphorus and low nitrogen product is very beneficial, type tomato 
fertilizer. Slow release fertilizer release the nutrients temperature 
dependent and I had a disaster once in my greenhouse. It became very hot 
and all those plants fertilized with SL fertilzer had burnt roots 
because of a sudden release. I now use a water soluble balanced one.

First dormancy is the most critical time. once you are sure the leaves 
have fully died down stop watering and move the pots to a place where 
they do not get wet uncontrolled. As your summers are not as hot as mine 
in Portugal, I would think that once every four weeks a small amount of 
water is enough. Most young bulbs do not want to remain brutally dry for 
months on end, I have lost seedling bulbs this way. And for heavens 
sake, keep the bulbs in their compost in their pots! Too much water is 
not good either. This sounds more complicated than it really is and you 
will soon get the experience. Most bulbs are forgiving but the odd one 
may teach you a lesson..... You mention pot size. The bigger the 
seedling pot is the more stable the conditions are in it. I use square 8 
x 8 x 8,5cm pots as standard but for some seeds I use up to 6 liter 
pots. The big pots are good for Ranunculaceae and those which resent 

Transplanting: I do not recommend transplanting bulb seedlings during 
their first dormancy. As Jane said, there may be many seeds left which 
will still germinate in the second season (or even later) which you 
would lose and I would also worry about missing very small bulbs in the 
process. You will have to find your compost which remains stable and 
well draining/moisture retentive for more than one season. I find 
especially South African Gladiolus species are better kept in their 
initial pots for at least two seasons. Obviously big seedling bulbs like 
Freesia can of course be transplanted once dormant. In case of doubt, if 
I toss out a pot and find only very tiny bulbs I put everything back 
into the pot. Potting needs some discipline and organisation in order 
not to mix up things, personally I do not reuse compost.

You ask about Amaryllid seedling. They very often skip the first 
dormancy so watch them and keep watering and fertilizing them as long as 
they remain green.

The length of the dormancy is depending on the individual plant species. 
Many will show new shoots even without watering, this always is a sign 
that dormancy is over for this particular bulb. This is triggered by 
soil temperature in some plants, so dormancy will be much shorter in a 
mild climate compared to a hot one. Some have an internal clock and will 
sprout whatever the conditions are and some will be started by the first 
watering. This should not be later than the beginning of October. Those 
which show no sign of growth by then should be watered once and then 
left alone. One drench in October supplies enough moisture to wake up a 
dormant bulb and the moisture remains for quite a time. If such a late 
riser is overwatered it may rot because it cannot handle so much water 
at this moment.

I have looked again at your pictures: Your bulbs are in good condition. 
I noticed that you have sown them very early in the season, which is 
absolutely fine, they will germinate when the time has come, probably 
much earlier with your climate than with mine. This means you are on the 
winning side time wise, even if you stopped them by frying them 
accidentally this spring. You are using different sizes and types of 
pots. I think the ideal model is the tall square one. Most bulbs have 
deep roots and/or bulbs. Bulging would be visible as most pots are soft, 
I don't see any. The size of your seedlings is VERY good!

I will send you my contribution the the Bulb Garden about growing seeds 

Here is a picture of my seed pots in the open garden, some are under the 
mentioned old hotbed window.

Bye for now,


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