Take a leap of faith and plant bulbs in October

Nancy Szerlag

For Michigan gardeners, planting spring bulbs is a big leap of faith because they have to plant lifeless-looking bulbs in fall. Garden center owners will tell you this act is not easy for those who dig in the dirt. When it comes to customers buying flowering plants, they lament, “If it ain’t blooming, it ain’t selling.”

More than a decade ago, my late partner Jeff Ball and I planted a few hundred daffodils, and over the years, they have multiplied and flowered every spring, making a stunning display. Daffs are hardy devils that are shunned by deer and other animals, so they thrive in my wildflower meadow.

I treat tulips as annuals, and last year I got them into the ground several weeks before the big ice storm arrived and all heck broke loose. Every fall, I tuck them into the perennial bed that takes up much of my front yard. Sure enough, in spite of the bitter cold and record deep snow, in spring they rose to the occasion and burst into bloom. It was a glorious sight to behold after months of looking at an endless sea of white. So you bet I will take that leap of faith again and plant more tulip bulbs around the middle of October.

But I’ve got another reason to plant tulips this fall. I read several years ago that unlike daffodils, which are poisonous, tulip flowers are edible. The other day I had another light bulb moment. Next spring, I’m going to give a luncheon, and besides bouquets, I’ll use tulips to add dazzling color to the menu. I’ll cut out the center parts of tulips — the stamens and pistils, and spread out the petals for use as colorful holders for butter, strawberry mousse and dip for vegetables. Tulip petals cut into fine ribbons, chiffonade style, will add whimsical color to the salad.

I could buy tulips in flower, but there are no guarantees commercially grown bulbs will not have been sprayed with chemicals, and my homegrown flowers will be pesticide-free.

Tulips grown for cutting can be planted anywhere in the landscape there is bit of space that gets sun, such as a vegetable garden or in containers to be stored in a garage over winter.

When buying tulips, I always check the labels for approximate bloom times as there are early, mid- and late season varieties, and I want to be sure they all bloom at the same time.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. Email her at Szerlag @earthlink.net. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.