Saturday, April 11, 2015

Killing the Tulips and Other Calamities

Sometimes life just doesn't go as planned. I shouldn't waste my time being surprised by this but it still occasionally catches me off guard. Last fall I planted a lot of tulips. How many exactly? Over a 100 stuffed into every empty space in every empty pot on my patio. So how many tulips do I have blooming? 

Two. 

Don't ask how much I spent on all the rotten tulips whose lumpy, bulbous bodies fill my wheelbarrow because I've already brain dumped that info into the same file that records how many calories are in a brownie. Apparently, all those empty pots didn't drain quite as efficiently as I needed them to and the tulips slowly began to rot. The snowdrops that I was counting on to cheer me up on early winter mornings before  heading to work also rotted, a double horticultural homicide committed with the most innocent of intentions.



Stay strong, little buddy!


My second blooming tulip is hiding in this pot. Once the tulips bloom, this pot is being relegated to my stack of Ugly But Functional Pots I Feel Guilty About Throwing Away.

So why did my bulbs rot this year but not last year? Who the heck even knows.... They could have been planted too deep in moisture retaining soil in pots with small drainage holes. Or they could have been sabotaged by space weasels, those poop brown rodents with poor taste in beer. 


Beer chugging space weasels are to blame for every garden disaster.

Along with the tulips, the gaura also rotted but that's become such an annual event I'm tempted to hold a parade and sell snacks. Instead of pulling a groundhog out of a hole, I yanked yet another mushy blob from yet another gravel filled pocket and threw it into the compost pile. But has this cured from growing gaura? Oh, please. Don't be silly. Of course not... I think I'm going to stick it in a pot this time. 

Gaura 'Crimson Butterflies' from Santa Rosa Gardens has been ordered to replace the rotten 'Sweet Emotions', which should have been named 'Tammy, I Hate You'. 

Even my Lazarus plant, the 'Cherry Joy' penstemon that survived the winter in a pot, was so shocked at being alive it promptly died. But all is not lost. It rarely is. When my newly-planted-last-fall 'Wine Spritzer' callicarpas died back to the roots, I ripped them out and quickly replaced them with the significantly more sober 'Sem' Sorbaria sorbifolia.



I've had my eye on this beauty for a few years. It's new spring foliage is pink and green.

While I could have settled for a mass of jumbled sprouts shooting out of the root ball, I preferred to just start over and tossed them in next to the rest of the garden casualties. Dead plants tell no tales.


88 comments:

  1. I feel your pain. While I don't grow tulips I have killed more Gaura than ....

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    1. I have one gaura still hanging on by a thread and I've moved it to a much drier spot, although I thought the spot I had picked was dry enough. But I have successfully grown them in a pot with large drainage holes so I need to try that again.

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  2. Every few years I feel compelled to prove that I can, too, grow tulips in an unfavorable climate.In 2013 I planted tulips because I WON 150 bulbs online. More than half bloomed. A dozen returned this year, all in one clump.

    I know more about tulip theory than most and less about why they actually do the things they do than anybody. The only bigger mystery is what goes on underground among Lily bulbs.

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    1. What a fabulous prize! I had no idea anything called tulip theory existed, which might explain why they rotted. My lilies, however, are very happy campers.

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  3. Oh No, Tammy! What a bummer about your tulips. I seldom grow them because when fall comes I am usually sick of digging holes. Hope your new plants thrive. That Ugly But Functional Pot is not ugly, it's beautiful. I would place it front and center.

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    1. The Functional Pot would be front and center if I could figure out how to cover the foam so it doesn't show. Outdoor spray paint has a rather short life span before it starts peeling. But I'll use it for winter sowing next year or as a holding zone for plants I'm not ready to stick in the ground. It's too useful to get rid of.

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  4. I am so sorry that happened to you! So frustrating! Poor drainage will kill tulips, but did you plant the tulips in the same containers last fall that you used the prior year? I can't imagine that your winter wasn't cold or long enough. Well, you can still look forward to many wonderful blooms in your garden. In the meantime, could I add a few things to that file with the brownie calories?

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    1. Of the 120 I planted, over 2 dozen completely rotted, another 2 doz are trying to grow but putting out weird foliage, the 2 dozen in the ground are doing great and I might get blooms from the remaining 20 or so but no guarantee. Frustrating is the best word for it but live and learn. I used all the same containers and same brand of soil. :(

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  5. Lucky for most of us that planticide is not a hanging offense.

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  6. I'd go with the weasel theory.

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  7. I like the space weasel theory. I think it's in all gardeners to try and grow those finicky, oh-so-difficult plants. I remember when I lived in Sydney (which isn't much colder than California in winter) I just *had* to grow tulips, so I spent 6 weeks each autumn with a fridge full of bulbs desperately trying to give them the chill they needed....for the last two years, I've lived in a climate cold enough to just put them in the ground and forget about them yet I've never planted them....go figure! :-) Matt

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    1. Tulips + Australia seem like a difficult combination. :o) I did throw some extra bulbs into the ground and those are actually doing really well. But I had ordered a bunch of fragrant peony tulips and created a design that would be the first thing I saw when I looked out the window in the morning before work. Those are the ones that have rotted. Live and learn!

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  8. I have given up growing bulbs. Decided. Definitely. Too many mice. And tulips are their favourite.
    But last autumn I got given a free packet of tulip bulbs at some garden centre or other. They weren't classy but hey, what's to lose? Guess what. They've come up. Every one of them.

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    1. That's awesome! Maybe the mice only like the expensive ones. :o)

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  9. Must have been those bad weasels. Killing plants goes with the territory although the tulips are a fairly massive scale. Deer are like rodents here and they love Guara so it's not one I plant.

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    1. This is my last shot with gaura. It's going in a smallish pot with gritty soil so time will tell if that works or not.

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  10. Yep, gaura is an annual. I buy new every year. And tulips are annuals too, except you buy them already blooming in a pot at the supermarket. Of all the tulip bulbs I have planted over the years outside all but one are long gone. But a single bulb of Queen of the Night tulip comes back year after year reliably. Just that one out of all the dozens (maybe hundreds?) I planted. Here's hoping you don't have any other plants too shocked at being alive this spring that they croak!

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    1. I treat tulips as annuals, too, but I should have treated them a gag gift instead. The moisture retentive soil that keeps my plants happy in the summer is a killer to my bulbs. Argh!!

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  11. Tulips seem to be one of those niche plants that grow only under very specific circumstances. However, your space weasels spend their summers designing flashy advertisements and catalogs to sucker gardeners in areas inhospitable to their culture into believing that if they just let the bulbs take up space in their refrigerators for 6-8 weeks, locate a wind-protected area to plant them, add just the right bulb boosters, and dance on the head of a pin, voila, they shall have flowering tulips. I wouldn't even try to tally what I've spent over the years trying to grow tulips, including those "specially selected" to grow in California. Sadly, I seem to have to relearn my lesson every 5 years ago. I think the space weasels must use subliminal messaging - or maybe hypnosis.

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    1. Space weasels are excellent at human manipulation. I must be on guard at all times. I don't think I ever saw a single tulip in anyone's garden in the 17 years I lived in CA. Tulips in CA? That's crazy talk! But we keep trying, don't we?

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  12. I haven't had a chance to see what has lived or died as we are just starting to bloom...tulips rarely survive more than a year here and that with the fact that the deer eat them relentlessly has prompted me to give up on them...well maybe not totally. Gaura don't like my garden either...sad as I did give up on them for now.

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    1. My casualty list for the winter is pretty low, minus the tulips. I was pretty bummed about the callicarpas but am excited to have the sorbaria. :o)

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  13. What a bummer. On the plus side, you now have a Sem, which is a gorgeous plant, n'est-ce pas?

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    1. Mais oui!! C'est fabuloso! I was worried it would take over my garden but Grace from Gardening With Grace has one that's very well behaved so I took a chance. Excited!

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  14. Oh yes! A failing plant that you rip out makes space for more! Damned spring bulbs anyway! Try again with better drainage because, like lightening, space weasels seldom strike the same place twice.

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    1. The operative word here is 'seldom'. My space weasels are masters of trickery. But since the ones I put in the ground are ok, I may just try that next year. How novel - a tulip in the ground instead of a pot. Who woulda thunk it?

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  15. Funny thing, I went looking through a bag of plant tags the other day looking for a name, and realized, half the tags in there belonged to dead plants. True story. Chin up, you have a supportive group of plant killers to talk you through this and you'll soon be growing Gaura again in no time.

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    1. Oh yeah, I do that once a year, too. It's very humbling when I see how many tags end up in the trash. I even have a separate bag of tags for plants I've killed but am determined to try again. I must be a secret sadist.

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  16. Well, that does suck, if you don't mind that I say something so ungracious. If it makes you feel better, I can't grow either gaura or tulips--and gaura are native to my-neck-of-the-woods, so what does that say???

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    1. It does suck, with loud slurping suck noises. When I lived in SC and had a sand pit for a garden, gaura grew like a weed. Yet I keep trying to grow it in clay. I am insane.

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  17. What a magnificent woman you are, laughing bravely in the face of adversity.

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    1. Ya gotta laugh because crying isn't going to change anything.

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  18. The pox on those beer drinking space weasels!! ( I'm shaking my fist at the heavens) they are so ill bred!! I feel bad for you man. A lot of my plants that I find annoying and too bossy and domineering survived our wimpy winter only to grow stronger while the nice ones perished. Maybe it was too dry and too warm and they got flattened by a few cold spells. Seriously, the things we have to put up with! Well it's only money and hard work and a sore back to replace plants. Maybe the space weasels secretly own the nurseries?!?! Da da dahhh....

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    1. They're slippery little devils, I tell ya! Just when I think they're gone for good, they sucker punch me. Bastards!

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  19. Heart -breaking having your dreams shattered by beer- swilling, space weasels. I am so sorry. I love tulips and however many I plant I never have enough. They have to be treated like annuals here but at least they come up the first year. Unless the squirrels get them. They are in league with your weasels.

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    1. Squirrels rummaged through some pots I had seedlings in and dislodged the whole lot. You'd think they'd have a little gratitude for all the nuts and seeds I left them all winter. They're probably having a drink to celebrate their mayhem right now.

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  20. I had a similar situation the first year I started gardening - I planted 1000 snowdrops one autumn, each one individually by hand - it's the very first post on my blog. How many came up the following winter/spring? about 10. It was the space weasels - definitely the space weasels. I'm not very reluctant to try snowdrops again, even in this new garden. Perhaps "in the green" is the way to go - shame you can't do that for tulips?

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    1. I think I remember that post. That's insane! If I had planted 1,000 tulips I would have gone crazy. Space weasels are quite international. Feel free to blame them for absolutely everything.

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  21. Damn. I am familiar with that little beer swilling space weasel. He must have family out west-:) This has happened to me too, although not on the scale you describe. You sound pretty danged calm about the whole thing ( or does our pretty lady have space weasels in a bag in her trunk when she is stopped by the police officer....? Ummm?) Tulips can be tricky. Plus they can be vibrant for one year, maybe two and then just lose all vitality and bite the dust. I mixed mine up with hearty daffs this year, so I wouldn't see the empty spots! One year, hubby shipped me 300 tulips direct from Holland (from a business trip), planted them IN A FREAKIN CAGE, and we still only got one year out of them. It's a plot...you are doing your part in exposing it-:)

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    1. I am fairly calm but am pleading the Fifth about the small, shallow grave in the back corner. ;o)

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  22. I gave up on gaura after the third try. I gave up on tulips, too. Sorbaria? I haven't tried. Yours is beautiful!

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    1. If I kill the gaura again, I'm done! Sorbaria is also known as False Spirea. It's really pretty!

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  23. Even your garden disasters make me laugh!!! Now....why oh why do all the tulips perish and yet that healthy one thrives???? It makes no sense! And no snowdrops either.....awwww..... I feel your pain! But....know that we all have the ...lol...space weasel! Mine is munching on every seedling that pops it head above the soil....
    I plant lots of tulips, they flower for a year then come up blind the second year!
    Here's to all future plantings surpassing your wildest dreams!xxx

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    1. I was going for dark, absurd humor with this post. :o) Space weasels love seedlings. Furry little jerks. The purple tulip is in a pot that has gravel mixed in with the soil, which is the big clue in this mystery. Geez, I love learning everything the hard way!

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  24. Oh my, that is so many tulips to lose and so much work! Although, I must say if I planted Tulips they would be promptly chewed to the ground by the resident rabbits, so ... I never plant Tulips anymore. Oh, and they'll also eat Crocuses surrounded by Daffodils. ;-) I love your honesty, Tammy. It's so refreshing and entertaining!

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    1. I think absolute honesty is the best way to go. I find blogs of any type are more relatable when people keep it real. I've seen our rabbits out and about but not in the garden, thankfully!

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  25. I hear you and I'm sending a hug your way...or a beer! Sometimes I wonder how much money I have spent on plants that have just died and the number I think I'm at makes me shutter. It is when the others emerge that makes that feeling go away and everything is right once again.......Here is to beauty knocking at your door this week my friend! Nicole.....how many days until summer break??!??!!? :))))

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    1. I actually don't like beer but will never turn down a hug. :o) I've already moved on from this and am looking forward to planting my seedlings. :o). Gardens can be money pits but what beautiful pits they are!

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  26. Sorry to hear of your calamities, Tammy!

    I don't quite understand how our botanic garden manages to grow ~100,000 tulips every year. (Could they just be planting the bulbs in spring right before they emerge? Does that even work or do tulip bulbs need to overwinter in the ground? Or maybe their soil is so heavily amended after years and years of gardening that the tulips are OK?)

    I've given up on gaura myself, but I understand your willingness to grow it as an annual. When you get a good one growing strong, the summer blooms are lovely.

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    1. Yeah, I'm a little suspicious of that, too. They must have perfect drainage. But I have a few tulips that I stuck directly in the garden that look great and are about to bloom while the rest are rotting. I saw gaura today at the garden center in with the annuals. That says it all!

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  27. Tammy girl I went through this last year ... I had visions of delightful tulips, crocus, and all sorts waving at me when the warmer weather would eventually stomp in (it is never graceful ... a WWF in a tootoo ?) .. I think drainage was my sin or the pots sin ... or who ever I could pin the sin on.
    Such disappointment .. so many dollar signs flew out the proverbial door ... we just pick ourselves up and move on to something new eh ?
    Love the sem sorbaria sorbifolia ... tried one a few years ago and it went postal with root roaming so I had to put a stop to that but maybe the new cultivars are more polite ? Must look into that!
    Love your posts .. need a hardy laugh on a Monday morning girl and you fill the bill !
    Joy : )

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    1. I've read mixed reviews on the sorbaria. I'm taking my chances and will deal with suckers as they appear. I have a biggish spot to fill and really want to block the view of my neighbors house. I have zero privacy. :(

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  28. First of all your ugly But Functional Pots is very attractive. It is worn and old but a keeper (I feel a bit like that pot myself - that is why I am partial to it). As for Gaura. I know exactly what you mean. Mine also died. When I planted it last summer I remember I used to have some - what I should have remembered is that they don't survive the winter. Presumably there are some places where they do but not in the East I expect. Presumably, you have had much of your annual garden bad luck already. The rest of the year should to much better!

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    1. Aauugghhh!! Visions of your gaura were at the front of my mind when I purchased mine. It was so pretty! Oh well. I'm trying one more time and then I'm done. That pot and I have been through a lot together. It's not going far. :o)

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  29. I made a comment hope it works:-)

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  30. Well, it did not post-grrr..well, my comment was-I can relate to your stealing little 4 legged critters! I have been sifting through my beds to see what is left from this cold winter...I never can have tulips in my front yard for the little 4 legged thieves steal all my bulbs! HOWEVER-in my backyard they don't even try for my dog- "Chance"makes them think twice about "taking a chance"-lol

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    1. I just filled a bunch of holes my dogs spent all winter digging. They're pretty good about leaving my garden alone, although the two small ones do go on safari and leave me little piles of poop where they think I won't find it. Squirrels ransacked some of my winter sowing. Furry little jerks.

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  31. Why aren't these beer chugging space weasels getting more talk in the garden books? They caused a lot of my tulips not to bloom this year too. Fuckers.

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    1. I laughed out loud at this comment!! Space weasels are to blame for everything and have many authors on the payroll. They turn on their "Look at me, I'm so cute" charm and people across the planet are suckered into thinking they're sweet and friendly. Fuckers.

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  32. Space weasels! I knew it wasn't me!! I am afraid my Japanese irises - I should say my "beloved" Japanese irises have fallen victim to the damned space weasels. Or the equally maligned and damned voles. Rodents should not exist.

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    1. Iris are well loved in the space weasel communities and are known for their aphrodisiac qualities. Thanks to you, they got their groove on and had some Naked Weasel Fun Time.

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  33. Lol Tammy....damn those tulips for failing you. Embrace the 2 you have, hold them close, barb-wire them from harm and let the other 98 go. 😂

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    1. I'm setting up a laser security system. Woe to anyone who screws with them.

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  34. Root chugging voles are responsible for most garden disasters here. Ugh. I'm sorry to hear about your tulips.

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  35. Soggy bulbs isn't a problem around here..But hey, maybe they are just sleeping...yes sleeping, that's what they are doing.

    Go and wake them up.

    Jen

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    1. If they're asleep, then they're hibernating! Hello! Wake up!

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  36. I love gaura and like you I tried it over and over, but had no luck whatsoever with it until I put one in a pot of well-drained potting mix on my roof deck where it got full blazing sun all day long. In fact it turned out to be one of my best rooftop plants, taking heat, sun, wind, and sporadic watering, and came back for several years, each year better than the one before, until January 2014 gave us our coldest winter in 20 years. Turns out there's a limit to its fortitude.

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    1. That's it! I'm officially annexing my garden to the roof! I'm going to mix pea gravel into their soil, put them in a smallish pot and try again. I may occasionally hit them with a blow torch to make them feel at home.

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  37. Woah - you've had all the bad luck. That's it. NO MORE. Not too sure about blow-torching Gaura, but if it's anything like Creme Brulee, it'll work a treat. Ahem. Trust the tulips in the ugly but functional pot to make it through. They will, of course, have chosen to survive in that pot just to spite you.

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    1. It should all be up hill from here! The tulips in the ugly pot are blooming in odd colors but that's ok. I think it's kind of funny. :o)

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  38. I would try Praestens Fusiliers if you would like a tulip that will come back every year. Not big but intensely reliable.

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    1. Are those species tulips? I need to give them a try! :o)

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  39. If I put bulbs in my garden, they get mowed down by the critters. I hate it!!! I have to pot all my bulbs if they are going to grow. And being in the desert makes it especially tricky. Feb and march are the times to attempt them.....and I do mean attempt:)

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    1. Bulbs are a dicey bet, that's for sure. But they're so pretty we get sucked right in.

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  40. I don't know what's worse, having the tulips not come up, or having them come up only to have the flower snatched by a squirrel...

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    1. I think having them snatched by squirrels is so much worse!

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  41. Sorry you've had such bad pot luck. I have never grown gaura. Most of the tulips I have planted seemed to come back year after year. None have opened in my garden yet, but the buds are there.

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  42. I don't have many that rot ( what's "well-drained soil" anyway), but I am very good at growing tulip leaves every year.
    Ray

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  43. Our climate would not allow me to grow tulips here, but I love seeing them in garden photos.
    Don't worry, you will find just the right kind of tulip suitable to your garden that will be resistant to beer slugging space weasels.
    "What muffled screams officer?"....Tammy you crack me up!

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  44. I only have a few tulips and they have back now for many years. I really think they do it just to mock me for saying tulips are a poor choice in southern gardens.

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  45. Tammy, only you would manage to use a horticultural disaster as material for an entertaining and funny post!

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  48. I had the same thing happen to me last spring. I think you may have done the same thing that I did wrong. A friend told me I should have kept my bulbs dry over winter ( ie in a cold garage or covered area).
    I had a disaster of my own this spring. I placed two of the saucer sections of my birdbath planters on the ground. One I covered with some landscape cloth and the other I left exposed- an experiment of sorts. Voles or mice loved the covered birdbath. They went right to town, dug tunnels and ate all my precious succulents. The uncovered birdbath made it through the winter untouched, although the succulents suffered a bit as a result of the extreme cold we had. There must be some sort of a moral to this story, although I am not sure exactly what I learned. Both birdbaths suffered...just in different ways.

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