As a child, my Halloween memories were fueled by the anticipation of our family’s annual ritual of picking out the perfect pumpkin. My father would take us five kids to the local ‘pumpkin patch’—a vacant lot that was transformed overnight with pumpkins and cornstalks.
We’d stretch the elaborate process of choosing until my father finished off our decision-making with “Okay everyone, let’s finish up and get into the car.” As the loaded-up, station wagon arrived home, my mother had the kitchen table covered with newspapers and we’d pretend to be Dr. Frankenstein as we carved and brought our creations to life. Our small fingers were able to pull out the stringy pulp through jaggedly, cut holes and we’d revel in the pumpkin goo while trying to separate the slippery seeds into a bowl. We worked with such single-minded intent—in anticipation of the rewards of baked and salted pumpkin seeds. After finishing our five masterpieces, we lined the pumpkins in a row on the front steps and lit a candle inside each of the hollowed pumpkin. (We actually had permission to play with knives and fire in those days.) I still remember the sense of awe that came from watching our pumpkins come alive in the darkness—all of those jack-o-lantern faces—filled with menace, goofiness and flickering flames—for all of the neighborhood to admire.
It’s incredible to think that those magical, October evenings began with just a few, orange gourds. These memories could be just as easily created with tiny, pie pumpkins, as well as the blood-red, ‘Cinderella’ pumpkins, white ‘ghost’ pumpkins, blue-gray pumpkins with skin like marble tombstones, self-conscious gourds covered with their multi-colored warts or supernaturally-sized, monster pumpkins that could break your father’s back.
Remember to breathe in the fragrance of autumn—with its crunchy, dried leaves, the sweet smell of pumpkin pulp and toasted, pumpkin seeds. These memories last a lifetime. October is also a good month to plant spring-blooming bulbs.
1. Plant spring-blooming bulbs in between your groundcover plants so that the bulb’s drying foliage won’t be as obvious next year.
2. If you have problems with deer or rabbits eating your bulbs, plant bulbs that the critters generally will leave alone. Daffodils, snowflakes and snowdrops are truly deer- and rodent-proof. They have a poisonous substance called lycorine that no mammal will eat. Other bulbs such as blue or white squill (Scilla siberica), camassia, Fritillaria (Orange or Yellow ‘Crown Imperials’ or checkered ‘Guinea Hens’), Allium, crocus, Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) or dwarf iris are smelly or unpleasant to eat. Animals will generally avoid these last ones unless they are starving or bulbs are planted directly in their paths.
3. Unfortunately, tulips are deer candy. If you plant these bulbs (and who doesn’t want to), treat them with a repellent, cover them with chicken wire or place them in bulb baskets when digging them in.
4. Fertilizing bulbs
Both spring and summer bulbs need phosphorous to encourage root development. Keep in mind that phosphorous moves very little once applied to the soil. Some bulbs are planted 6 to 8 inches deep. The phosphorus needs to be mixed into the soil below where the bulbs will be located where it can be utilized by the bulb roots. Mix bonemeal, super-phosphate or bulb fertilizer with the soil in the lower part of the planting bed as it is being prepared. If bulbs are to be maintained in a planting bed for more than one year, it is important to supply additional fertilizer. For spring flowering bulbs, mix five tablespoons per ten-foot area of 10-10-10 soluble fertilizer (or equivalent bulb fertilizer) plus two cups of bonemeal into the soil in the fall. As soon as the shoots break through the ground in the spring, repeat the above soluble fertilizer application. Do not fertilize spring flowering bulbs after they have started flowering. This tends to encourage the development of bulb rot and sometimes shortens the life of the flowers.
—Recommendations from the University of Illinois Extension
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