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Blooming bulbs and compost teas

It has now been a long time since your tulips bloomed, and except for some drying foliage you have probably forgotten about them. The tulips should have been dead headed so that they do not produce seed. Perennial tulips should not produce seed, but rather all the energy from the stem and leaves should be allowed to go back into the bulb to use to produce a good blossom next spring. The reason perennials should not be allowed to make seed is because they are very poor at reproducing from that seed. It takes a lot of time and effort to make that seed survive. Tulips and other bulb producing perennials also produce small new bulbs around the original bulb and these will grow easily.

After all the foliage has dried down, tulips can be lifted and stored until fall planting. It is important to let all the foliage dry away so that the bulb will receive all the energy it can from it. About the middle of July is when the foliage is at this point, and you can still identify where the tulip is planted. Lift the bulbs carefully, and if dirt is stuck to them, let it dry and than gently try to remove it. You will notice that the bulb has divided and there are now two or three good size bulbs. These can be left together and planted. It is important not to remove or damage the skin of the tulip because it will kill the bulb. Store them in a cool dry place for the summer.

If you choose not to lift your tulips, you are probably still going to get a good display of color next spring. One rule with bulbs is the larger the bulb, the shorter the life of that bulb. An average of five years is a good life span for a tulip. If left in the ground there will be a decline of some bulbs each year. Tulip bulbs have a tendency to dig themselves farther into the ground each year, until at some point they are so deep that they do not come up. So if you have not lifted your tulips, and they have bloomed for you for many years, be grateful for this cheerful reward.

About compost teas

One theory for making your garden healthier is to brew compost tea. Jeff Gillman, author of "The Truth about Garden Remedies" and associate professor of horticulture at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, has done research into compost teas.

There are a variety of ways to brew compost teas, but the basic idea is that compost is placed into a sack and steeped in a bucket of water (usually with a small amount of molasses or other sugary substance added to promote bacterial and fungal growth) for an hour or two to a few days. Air may or may not be bubbled through the water depending on who is doing the brewing. The result is a bucket of water that is chock-full of bacteria and/or fungi that will benefit plants if you apply it to the soil where they grow. However, you do not know exactly what you are getting when you brew these teas. Many different bacteria and fungi will grow in the bucket where you brew the tea, and not just good ones. One claim is that these teas may help control diseases that form on plant leaves such as powdery mildew. However, after testing compost tea against black spot and powdery mildew on roses, Gillman has found it wanting on both counts.

Compost teas are largely untested and potentially risky because of the possibility of the transmission of pathogens. The irony is that, even if good bacteria and fungi do grow in them, these microbes won't live long if they're applied to poor soil. Poor soils don't have the ability to support enough good microbes, and good soils are already full of them, so the point of compost tea is lost. Gillman has never recommended compost tea, and without more research, is not likely that he ever will.

Gillman has heard a number of success stories from people who have used compost tea, but without exception, they can all be attributed to the little shot of nutrition that this tea offers. You can get the same nutrition by adding fertilizer or, even better, by adding compost, which would also add organic matter to the soil. Gillman states that it is less trouble for you and better for your soil and plants to add compost to your soil and forget about the fancy tea.

Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal.