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Garden Help Desk: Moving dormant bulbs and growing an indoor salad garden

By USU Extension - Special to the Daily Herald | Dec 16, 2023
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Spring-blooming bulbs are one of the most popular early season flowers. With careful handling, they can be moved even when conditions aren't ideal.
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If you have bright light, a shallow container, potting soil and small varieties, you can grow an indoor salad garden during the winter.

I just learned that any plants we have near our secondary irrigation valve will need to be removed so that a water meter can be installed, which brings me to the subject of me sleeping bulbs. I have all sorts — tulips muscari, day lilies, iris and more. Some I brought with me from my gran’s garden in Scotland and don’t want to lose them. This late in the year, can I still dig them up and either replant them when they are done or store them, and, if so, how?

The best time to move spring-blooming bulbs, corms and other bulb-like annuals is in early summer through fall after the tops have died back, but occasionally circumstances make it necessary to move them when the conditions aren’t ideal. The fact that your bulbs and other plants are dormant right now will help reduce the stress for the plants.

You can try to lift them in clumps with a shovel, keeping as much soil around them as possible. Keep the soil around the bulbs and roots intact, if you can, to protect the roots. If you’re replanting back in the same location, tuck the clumps into wide containers, boxes, etc., and put them in a sheltered place, loosely covered with several layers of newspaper, clean and dry potting soil, brown paper bags or something similar. If relocating the bulbs, just plant them in the new location now, keeping the soil around the roots as intact as possible to reduce the number of broken roots.

Don’t discard the bulbs if the soil breaks away from some of them. You’ll lose some roots, but you can still replant those bulbs, tuberous roots and rhizomes. They may not be as robust next spring, and some of them may not bloom, but they’ll use next year for green growth that will “recharge” them, and you should see normal growth and flowering the following year and beyond.

Growing an indoor salad garden

If you’re looking for a winter gardening project, how about trying an indoor salad crop of baby greens? With a little bit of work up front, you could be enjoying a home-grown salad about six to eight weeks after you start.

What you’ll need:

A sturdy nursery tray or other wide container. Your container should be wide enough to accommodate several plants, but it doesn’t need to be more than about 2 to 3 inches deep. Good drainage is important because soil that is chronically wet can lead to root rot.

Potting mix. Choose one with a medium texture that will drain well. Avoid using a finely textured seed-starting mix, as it will stay too wet in your container.

Seeds. Choose salad green varieties that will do well in cool to moderate temperatures. Look for mini or compact varieties of lettuce, arugula, beets, chard, spinach or kale. Read about the expected “baby greens” size in the descriptions of your choices to learn if enough of your chosen varieties will fit your container. Mini lettuce varieties were the choice for my first indoor salad garden.

Fertilizer. A slow-release fertilizer is an easy way to give your plants the nutrients they need after they’ve developed true leaves, but liquid fertilizer at one-quarter strength when you water will do just as well.

A source of bright light. Your little garden will need at least six to eight hours of bright light each day for best growth. If you don’t have a grow light, you can use an LED or fluorescent shop light or something similar. In a pinch, you can keep your container at a very bright south-facing window. Remember to rotate your container about a quarter turn every day, though, so that your plants don’t lean toward the window.

Getting started

It may be easier to start your greens in a small germination tray and then transplant the seedlings into your sturdy container after a few weeks, but you can also plant the seeds directly into your container. A seedling heat mat is nice for helping the seeds germinate, but it’s optional. These cool-season greens will should germinate at room temperature in the average home but may take a day or two longer than seeds on a heat mat.

If you choose to direct seed your greens, space them about twice as close as recommended on the packet instructions and plan to thin the seedlings later.

Once planted, water your seeds in gently but completely. Drain well, then tuck the container into an open produce bag or cover it loosely with a sheet of plastic wrap. Remove the plastic for a few minutes each day while you wait for your seeds to germinate. Your seeds should germinate in about one to two weeks, depending on the room temperature where you’ve kept them.

Your covered container may not need watering more than once before the young seedlings appear. The soil surface will tell you when it’s time to water: If the surface is dry, it’s time to water. Water gently to avoid disturbing the seeds.

Once you’ve planted your winter crop, it will be a few weeks before you need to do any fertilizing, transplanting or thinning. We’ll cover all that early next month as well as good salad garden care, harvesting methods and encouraging regrowth from some of your plants.


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