January 8, 2011

1 - Tulip bulbs received as Christmas gifts should be forced or planted. (Do not try to save for next fall.)

Yard and Garden - January 8, 2011


Can I plant tulips now? I received some tulip bulbs for Christmas and would love to see them bloom.

- Mary N.

Los Lunas


It is getting rather late for planting tulips outside now, but they are better off in the ground rather than sitting on a shelf somewhere. If you plant them now, they may bloom. However, they may just produce leaves and you may have to wait until next year to see them bloom.

Very often tulips (and other bulbs) received as gifts in mid-winter are intended for forcing. That is for planting in pots, or special vases, and grown indoors for late winter flowers. They can often be planted outside after blooming indoors to bloom in the garden in subsequent springs.

2 - Use chipped tree and shrub prunings in the compost or as mulch even though composting may be slow now


I got the chipper I had been wanting for Christmas. Can I prune my trees now and add the trimmings to my compost pile to use in my garden this spring?

- Jackie T.

T or C


Winter, when trees and shrubs are dormant, is a good time for pruning. However, if you add the wood chips to a compost pile now, they may not be completely decomposed by spring. That should not discourage you. Anything that is not completely decomposed can be screened to separate it from the finished compost. The undecomposed portion can be returned to the compost. Wait until the winter is almost over before pruning evergreen trees if you can. They are more likely to suffer winter desiccation if pruned too early.

The smaller the wood chip sizes, the faster they will decompose to form compost, so make the chips as small as feasible. Wood is high in carbon (carbohydrates, lignin, etc.). This is one of the materials needed by the organisms that turn landscape waste into valuable compost. The other necessary food for the decomposer organisms is material high in nitrogen. Green kitchen waste (lettuce leaves, cabbage leaves, carrot tops and scrapings, even potato peels) are all high in nitrogen and will help the wood to decompose. Garden debris can also be added to the compost to speed the decomposition of the wood. However, these materials, once they are dried are no longer a good source of nitrogen. Do not add plants that were diseased and do not add weeds that have gone to seed. Manure and nitrogen fertilizers can add the necessary nutrients to speed decomposition. Never the less, you will probably still have some undecomposed wood chips to return to the compost pile or use as mulch in garden walkways.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!