Thursday, August 11, 2011

Growing Lily bulb “babies” in recycled mulch. (updated 8.23.11)**

Discard pile outside packing room
Peat moss and shavings from stored bulbs is piled outside the packing rooms, ready to use as summer time mulch to reduce weed germination and to help increase the “organics” in a new flower or vegetable bed.  Scales and broken bulbs, dirt from the packing room floor, discarded paper labels and just about anything else save for plastic and large pieces of wood is in the mixture.  In April, after most of our shipping is finished, this dry "mulch" is spread over top flattened cardboard boxes on areas that Dianna wants to plant that fall or the next spring.

Occasionally (as in the picture here) not all bulbs are removed from a case before dumping them onto the pile - perhaps the bulbs were deemed too small to sell, were mechanically damaged or too few in number to plant back.  When we lived in town, our neighbor would come over to poke through the discards to see what goodies he could find to nurse back to health - and he had a marvelous garden from our leftovers, which made a good photography subject.  

The lilies growing in this "peat" pile appear to be quite happy; the bulbs are down over a foot (much deeper than recommended) in the soft material and yes, will be moved to a safe location this fall.

Cardboard is used as a barrier under the mulch because it will simply break down within a few months leaving soft and crumbly (friable) soil, but also will stop any perennial weeds and grasses from poking up under the fluffy peat/shaving mixture.  If this recycled material is spread without a barrier, those pesky dandelions and thistles will soon make their appearance.  Dianna is not a fan of weed barrier cloth in the garden because of its permanence; should you change your mind, it is a mess to remove and persistent weeds that germinate on top and miss being pulled out will still find a way to poke their taproots through the fabric.
The image on the left shows tiny offshoots that were probably incubated in the peat moss discard pile over winter.  Now given space in the four inch deep mulch, they have sent up a tiny leaf or stem to seek light. The circled area shows smaller bulbs that are just beginning to send up a shoot; not all lilies reproduce at a common rate.  Some are eager to grow while others need more time, but these are all Asiatic lilies - the fastest bulbs to multiply on their own and the easiest for the beginning gardener to grow. Instructions for incubating scales to make new bulbs commercially is more precise, but the results are similar.

The right side photo's circled area shows younger bulbs that are still attached to their used up scale; all the nutrients went to make the tiny bulbs. At the end of the season, all these new clones of the original mother lily bulb only require one more summer of growth before flowering the following year.  They can be safely moved to a more permanent location or potted up.  New lily bulbs grown from the underground stem of an established lily bulb (stem bulblets) can be left in place to grow to flowering size.  When potting tiny offshoots, protect them over winter from rapid freeze-thaw and saturated soil.

(**update 8.23.11) Thought everyone would like to know that the lilies growing in the peat pile are the tried and true 'Star Gazer'.  The machinery next to the packing barn is one of our old converted potato diggers that we use to gently lift lily bulbs from the rows in fall.

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