Q: When I ordered some grape vines and raspberries back in January, It sure seemed like having them arrive in April would be a good idea. The catalog and websites I ordered from predicted this would be a good time to plant bare-root plants. The plants arrived on time, but we are not only still getting snow; the temperatures predicted for the near future are well below freezing. What do I do with these plants if I can't plant them for several weeks?
A: Most of the maps in the catalogs are based on Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones that map out the average coldest winter temperature. They are a bit worse at predicting spring temperatures. Some years are warmer, and some are colder.
Mail-order plants arrive bare-root or in pots with some soil. The bare-root plants will typically have wet newspaper or other material wrapped around the roots to keep them damp. The most important thing you can do is keep the roots damp — not waterlogged, just damp. Add more water as necessary, and seal the roots in a plastic bag if the water dries out too quickly.
If the plant doesn't have any leaves yet, then you don't need to give it any light. Keep the plant as cool as you can but above freezing. The plants have been refrigerated in the upper 30s to low 40s for the winter, so another couple of weeks won't hurt.
When the weather becomes more springlike, you will be able to plant. Take off the wet newspaper, and spread the roots out in the hole. Plant it so the stem or trunk is at the same level with the soil as it was when it was growing before it was harvested.
If the new plant has leaves or starts to get them, then giving it light will be necessary. If the top is starting to grow and you determine that you won't be able to plant for a couple of weeks, then you can plant it in a temporary pot. You don't even have worry about spreading out the roots; just wrap them in a pot; cover them with soil; and water them. Give the plant as much light as possible. If there isn't enough, the leaves will turn white or light-green, and the stem between the leaves will stretch and become weak.
When the weather allows you to plant, you will need to harden the plant off first. When the temperature is above freezing, place it outdoors in bright, indirect sunshine. Increase the amount of direct sun a little at a time over a week or two. After planting, if the temperature drops too low, the plant may need protection from freezing at night.
Q: I bought some bulbs and rhizomes for several summer blooming perennials at a flower show about a month ago. I left them in the bag because it wasn't time to plant them. I planned on starting them early indoors, but when I went to pull them out of the bag, they were all rotting. I don't have any way of returning them or getting my money back. Do you think I got bad bulbs?
A: Bulbs and other dormant roots and stems are alive, and they respire. The moist conditions in the bag allowed normally occurring fungi to begin growing.
To prevent this problem, we want to store bulbs and other dormant plant parts in paper bags or containers with lots of holes for good air circulation.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.