It's been an incredible autumn for anyone who enjoys outdoor activities. "In 40 years of gardening I've never seen a fall like this one. It's so amazing," said Villager Kathy Long of the Crossings. Long's yard is renowned for its fabulous gardens, which are still in bloom in the middle of October. Usually by this time, frost-blackened annuals and browning perennials ask for the garden to be put to bed for the winter. For those who are still enjoying the seemingly never-ending blooms of this late fall, it's time to think of how to prepare the beds before the winter snows cover them with a comforter of pure white. Most professional gardeners agree on a few rules of thumb for putting the garden to bed. First, cut back the perennials - whose roots will live through our harsh, high-altitude winters - anywhere from 2 to 4 inches from the ground. Then rake out the leaves, deep rake the ground and spread compost. For those who don't have their own compost pile, Back to Earth brand compost is highly recommended and can be bought at local garden stores and nurseries. For those who have sprinkler systems, don't forget to blow them out. Also, disconnect hoses and put them away. "This is a good time to empty pots and store them, and clean and oil tools so they don't rust," said Chonnie Bliss Jacobson of Bliss Gardens. Gracie Oliphant, of Pretty Petals Garden Design & Maintenance, likes to pull out all the annuals and pitch them in the compost or trash. If you have a lot of organic matter, take it to the Pitkin County dump to be composted. "Prune shrubs if they need it and don't forget to weed. It's nice in the spring to have everything ready to go," Oliphant said. "Fall is a good time to divide daylilies and irises," added Jacobson. A task that is not necessary, but can make a huge difference to next year's flower garden, is planting the bulbs that bloom in spring. Usually known as Dutch bulbs, which include crocus, tulips, daffodils, many lilies and other small gems, they can only be purchased in the fall. Burying these bulbs in the ground in autumn results in a riot of color in the spring, when nothing else is blooming. "One plant that is underutilized here is tulips, but the deer do like them," warns landscape architect and designer Robin Riggs of Riggs Design Services Inc. What is great about tulips is that they come in a wide variety of colors, unlike that other spring favorite, the daffodils and their cousins, the narcissus. While deer find tulip flowers tantalizingly tasty, they don't like the daffs, whose colors range from yellow or white with a little orange or pink thrown in to the mix. "Plant tulips in groups of at least five up to 10 of one color. Use one color only to pull the garden together if it has a variety of plants. I prefer white, which should be in every garden. Plant them in three locations in the flower bed, one clump on each end and one in the middle," said Riggs. Of course, if deer visit your yard regularly, planting tulips is not a good idea. It is heartbreaking to go out in the spring and see the blossoms gone. Deer and other critters can also dig up the bulbs to eat during the winter, so Oliphant suggests putting netting over places where they are newly planted. "My favorites are the drop-dead white, double tulips," she said. Tulips and daffodils come in early, middle and late blooming varieties, so judicious use of spring bulbs can extend your gardening season by several months. Long recommends the big-cupped, bright yellow "King Alfred" daffodils and Darwin tulips, which she feels are the longest lasting and do the best in this area. Avid gardeners usually order their bulbs in advance and they are usually delivered in late September to mid-October. A favorite supplier for local gardeners is K. Van Bourgondien & Sons.; you can get wholesale prices if you purchase more than $50 worth. For those who want to shop locally, there are a few places in the upper valley to buy bulbs. Alpine Ace Hardware in Aspen has boxes of assorted bulb ranging in price from $2.99 to $4.49. Planted Earth's Aspen Center has a bigger selection. The prices are higher, but the bulbs are much bigger. Like Riggs, the experts there recommend adding white to the garden, and have the white "Maureen" tulip and "Mount Hood" daffodils in stock. "White flowers make the garden look clean and helps the other colors pop," said manager Tina Meredith. Mountain Greenery in Basalt also has "Mount Hood" and early white tulips called "Christmas Sweet." "We can also special order any bulbs you want," said salesperson Janet Sheldon. The biggest selection of bulbs in the upper valley can be found at Eagle Crest Nursery in El Jebel, both in packages and loose. The loose ones sell for 89 or 99 cents each. They have no white tulips, but do have the "Mount Hood." Salesperson Debbie Arnold recommends the "Dutch Master" daffodils: "Talk about an eye popper. They really say 'Yeah, spring is here,'" she said. Adding bone meal to the soil where the bulbs are is a must. And once the flower beds are prepared for a long winter's rest, don't forget to water until the snow flies or wait until a storm is predicted before planting any bulbs or perennials. Then wait for spring and the miracle of nature to do its job.
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