Everything You Wanted to Know About Bulbs

Every expert gardener will tell you that if you want a profusion of color, plants that require the minimum of care, and quick returns for your gardening efforts, then you should seriously consider flowering bulbs. The varieties are endless, and with a little thought and planning, you can have a nearly maintenance free garden that shows bloom all summer and into the late fall.

As far back as the Middle Ages, man has spoken of flower bulbs. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics reveal that certain types of flowering bulbs were used as medicine. Ancient records of the Pharaohs reveal that they grew anemones in their gardens, and used lilies and narcissus in funeral wreaths. The Old Testament tells of Solomon's garden containing crocus and lilies. In all mentions of history, flowering bulbs have been nurtured and cared for, used for both decoration and medicinal needs.

Today, many bulb cultivators have produced varieties of lilies, tulips, daffodils, gladiolus, and iris that pleases the eye. Holland, which has cultivated tulips since the 1500's, is a source for almost all tulips worldwide. When the Dutch became established in South Africa, they took tulips with them, and Dutch settlers sent home many African bulbs that are now famous around the world.

Flowering bulbs are usually planted either in the fall of the year, or in early spring. Bulbs planted in the fall are typically hardy, and do not need to be dug up in the fall. Bulbs planted in the spring, such as naked lady, daffodil and hyacinth should be taken up after they have finished blooming for the year and foliage has deadened. Tulips, although capable of wintering over, are often dug up in the fall after the foliage has died, and the tulip is then treated as an annual.

Flowering bulbs do best in a sandy loam soil. Checking the PH of the soil is a good thing to do, and the PH should be between 6.0 and 7.0 for best growth. Soil additives, such as bonemeal and lime, can be used to adjust the PH balance of the soil. Soil that is poor can be replenished through the use of compost and peat moss. It is critical that the soil is well drained to prevent bulb rot. If the soil is sandy, replenish by adding peat or clay soil to improve consistency.

Planting depth is also important. A good rule of thumb is to measure the length of the bulb, and then plant to a depth of 3 times the length. If bulbs are planted too shallow, there will be problems with tall flowering plants, such as gladiolus, falling over or needing staked up. The soil must be well worked up to a depth of at least 18 inches, preferably 24, to insure that good drainage and growth is not hampered. If you work up the soil to the depth of the shovel head, you are preparing the soil properly.

When blooms begin to fade in the summer, it is a good idea to deadhead the flowers. This insures that the food and energy goes into developing the bulb instead of developing seeds. Don't remove the foliage until it turns yellow and dies naturally. Tulips and daffodils can be as late as mid July before being needed to deadhead. When yellow, cut off at ground level, and remove the cuttings to prevent disease.

When it comes time to dig bulbs for winter storage, a few rules apply. Dig the bulbs and allow them to remain in the sun to dry for at least a week. Rinse clumps of dirt from the bulbs, and when thoroughly dry, it is time to prepare for winter storage.

Storing bulbs for the winter is not difficult. They can be packed in peat moss or sawdust, or can be hung in open mesh bags, such as onions come in from the grocery. In a pinch, you can use old pantyhose. Storage temperature should be at least 55 degrees. Large amounts of bulbs can be placed in screened trays for storage. Check the bulbs every week or two to remove any bulbs that may be rotting.

Bulbs are the best bet for gardeners that want a season long show of bloom but need minimal maintenance. Using a little common sense and planning, you can have gorgeous blooms all season long, from early spring to late fall.