Dig It! Spring-flowering Bulbs
by Sage & Snow Garden Club
September 3, 2007
There are many types of plants that store food in fleshy underground bulbs, corms, tubers, or rhizomes until conditions are right for growth. These plants are quite diverse in color, size, soil conditions, whether they can be grown indoors or out, and when they bloom. This article will be about the spring-flowering bulbs (crocus, daffodils, narcissus, hyacinths and tulips), with other articles to follow on iris, begonias, amaryllis, lilies, gladiolas, alliums, etc.
You need to plant spring-flowering bulbs before the ground freezes and you can start planting them now. Usually the earlier in the fall you plant the bulb, the earlier it will bloom in spring. Besides, who doesn't need another excuse to get outside and enjoy our wonderful autumn!!
• These perennial plants can be left in the ground from year-to-year unless 1) they get too crowded to bloom properly, 2) do poorly in one location and you want to move them to another or 3) you plant them in isolated containers (such containers cannot be adequately protected in winter for bulbs to over winter, so you will need to replant them each fall). Otherwise, you don't have to worry about plant hardiness zones when planting spring bulbs, so you can even buy them in another part of the country and just put them in the refrigerator until fall arrives.
They are among the easiest plants to grow if you follow a few general guidelines:
• Buy quality bulbs that are firm. Larger bulbs will produce larger flowers.
• Tulip bulbs are eaten by just about every creature around here and also may not reliably bloom again. If you really want tulips, you need to protect them with chicken wire around the hole you plant them in (for voles and gophers) and fencing above ground (for deer). Also, tiny tulip varieties may be better repeat bloomers. For those reasons, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, and snowdrops (which come in an amazing variety of color, size, bloom time, and fragrance) are really good choices.
• Plant at least six of a kind and plant in clumps, rather than a straight line. Both techniques will be more visually appealing.
• Plant in an area with filtered light to full sun. A bulb in the shade may bloom the first year but may not have enough sun to store energy to bloom a second season. Since spring-flowering bulbs bloom before trees leaf out, you might consider planting them under trees. This especially applies to the smaller bulbs, such as crocus, grape hyacinths, and smaller daffodils, since you don't have to dig down so far to plant them.
• Prepare your soil by digging about 12 inches down. Add organic matter (compost or peat moss) as needed. If you can't dig down that far, add surface mulch on top to make up the difference. Remove some of the mulch in spring to prevent yellowing of the foliage and inhibiting smaller bulbs from blooming. Make sure the soil has good drainage. Water well in the spring unless there is adequate rainfall.
• Plant at appropriate depths and distances. Large bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips, should be planted about 8 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Smaller bulbs should be planted 3-4 inches deep and 3 inches apart. A general rule-of-thumb is to plant bulbs down 2 ½ times the width of the bulb; planting deeper may not allow the bulb to come up since our soil may not warm to that depth. You can create fabulous displays by planting your daffodils first, covering them, and planting layers of smaller bulbs on top.
• Place bulbs in the planting hole with the pointed end up. Firm them in place. Water well.
• Mark your bulb bed so you won't dig it up. You can also "naturalize" your bulbs by choosing a site outside a traditional flower bed. In this case, you throw the bulbs and plant them wherever they land. The area needs to be such that you don't mow it until the foliage has completely died back. Don't remove, bundle or braid foliage until it dies back in summer. The plant needs as much energy-gathering leaf area as possible to be exposed to the sun (this is especially true of daffodils). If you want to hide curing foliage, plant annuals in between the bulbs.
• Cut off the flowers as they fade to prevent seed formation, which robs the plant of energy. You can also cut the flowers and enjoy them indoors.
• f you are so inclined, add some bulb booster fertilizer or bone meal when you plant, apply a balanced (5-10-10 or 5-10-5) fertilizer when the shoots emerge and/or apply a slow-release, "bulb booster" fertilizer in the fall.
There are many sources for spring-flowering bulbs, including nurseries and other stores that sell plants. If you buy from such places, you can plant the bulbs on your schedule. Be aware that if you order bulbs, they will be sent when the company thinks the date is appropriate and for us, that is usually well after the bulbs can be planted and may even be after our ground has frozen. This time lag does give you the opportunity to leisurely prepare your planting bed so you can be ready when the bulbs arrive.
The Sage and Snow Garden Club meets at noon on the second Tuesday of each month in the Pinedale Library. Contact the Garden Club at firstname.lastname@example.org or Box 2280, Pinedale, WY 82941 or bring your gardening questions to our meeting.
Submitted by the Sage and Snow Garden Club