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posted: 11/2/2013 5:00 AM

Year-round care needed to ensure unique bulb display in spring

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  • If you have planted tulips in your container, as shown above, you should cover it with netting when you move it outside.

    If you have planted tulips in your container, as shown above, you should cover it with netting when you move it outside.

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden

For a unique bulb display in spring, plant bulbs in containers. It is possible to layer bulbs of different types in a single container for extra drama.

Because the soil in a container is exposed to winter cold, it must be protected during the winter, so it does not freeze solid. An attached, unheated garage is the best place to store the container.

Water the bulbs well at planting and provide supplemental water as needed during the fall, while the bulbs are forming roots. You may need to water the containers again in late winter as temperatures begin to warm up.

Move the pots outside as the weather warms in spring, and the bulbs will grow and flower. Be prepared to move them back into the garage if a hard freeze is predicted. If you have planted tulips, which are attractive to deer, you should cover the container with netting when you move it outside.

It is a good idea to disconnect garden hoses from outdoor spigots and faucets as night temperatures drop. If you leave a hose attached, a small amount of water can stay lodged in the pipe by the spigot and quickly freeze. This ice can expand and damage your faucet and pipe. During warm spells in winter, reconnect the hoses to water new plants or plants in containers.

It is important to keep water out of the pipes leading to outdoor faucets that will not be used during the winter, because trapped water can freeze and expand, causing cracks and breaks and even bursting pipes. Once you have finished watering for the season, turn off the water supply at the valve inside your house and disconnect the hoses. Open all faucets to drain them and then close them tightly.

You may have frost-free faucets on the side of your house. A frost-free faucet is essentially standard hose spigot with a long pipe on the back end that extends through the side of the house. The connection and valve that control the water supply are inside, where it is warmer, and protected from freezing.

A properly installed frost-free faucet will have a slight downward pitch toward the spigot, so water drains out of the pipe when the water is turned off, leaving no water to freeze in the pipe. If you are unsure if your faucets are indeed frost-free and installed properly, it is a good idea to have your plumber inspect them to avoid a broken water line and big mess in the house.

Wind up your lawn care for the year with a last application of slow-release fertilizer in late October or early November. Use 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of grass. To calculate the amount of fertilizer you will need, find the percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer you plan to buy; this will be the first of three numbers in a ratio on the bag. Add a decimal point to make the percentage a decimal fraction. Divide the desired rate by the percentage on the bag. Multiply this answer by the square footage of lawn and divide by 1,000 to learn how much fertilizer you should apply.

Here is an example for a bag of fertilizer with a 24-5-10 ratio of major nutrients and a 5,000-square-foot lawn: The rate, 1 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square-feet, divided by .24 equals 4.17. That result, 4.17, multiplied by 5,000 square-feet of lawn equals 20,850. That number, 20,850, divided by 1,000 equals 20.85. You will need 21 pounds of 24-5-10 fertilizer to cover the entire lawn.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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