Is there anything more beautiful than a mass of red tulips glowing in the sun? If you’ve ever seen Angelique tulips, doubles in frothy pink dancing in a soft spring breeze, you certainly have witnessed enchantment. If within your inward eye you waltz with King Alfred daffodils when the snow is flying, you know what yellow visions they can be. Add to the imagery the sweet perfume of hyacinths, adorable crocus clothed in shades of purple, and the first tiny snowdrop that breaks through its blanket of winter white, and the excitement builds. Plant bulbs in the fall and behold autumn’s promise of a colorful spring show when the world all but erupts into blooming glory.
Begin by designing your spring bulb garden or bed on graph paper. A location that provides good drainage and at least six hours of sunlight each day promotes healthy growth and a good showing of color and flower form. Spring bulbs bloom before leaves appear on trees, so planting beneath a tree can create a very natural look to your yard. If you’re planning a bed or garden next to a fence, wall, or building place taller flowers to the back, giving the bed a graduated cascade effect. Plant the bulbs with smaller, low growing blossoms in the front. If you’re adding bulbs to an already existing garden or flower bed, plant bulbs in threes or fives to produce a look of lushness as if the blooms have been there for a long time.
Grab a garden catalog that gives the variety of bulbs and their blooming times. For show that lasts throughout the season, purchase the same color in different varieties that bloom early season, mid season, and late season. By planting with bloom time in mind, you extend the season and have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of your fall labor longer.
You’ve made your bulb decisions. You’re ready to buy. Garden stores, nurseries, and green houses carry a multitude of bulbs, but they tend to fly off the shelves early. Purchasing fall bulbs too early means storing them in a cool, dry place like a garage until the proper planting time rolls around. It’s not wise to store bulbs longer than two weeks. It doesn’t take long for the bulbs to begin to decay.
A better way to go may be ordering from a company that will send the bulbs at the appropriate time to plant. Besides this very important plus, most mail order companies offer a much wider variety of bulbs to choose from. Once your precious package of fall bulbs arrive, check each bulb for disease or rot. If the bulb is not firm when you press on it, you may want to give the company a call. Small spots of green or blue mold may be apparent on the outside, but as long as the bulb is firm, it’s safe to plant. Plant the bulbs immediately if possible, and if not, open the package to allow air circulation, but plant within a day or two.
The time for planting is at hand. Bulbs or corms should be planted at the proper time. A quick list of planting times for fall bulbs and corms follows: In early September plant the fall blooming crocus and Madonna lilies. By mid September it’s time to get daffodils, large flowering hyacinths, and camassia in the ground. When October rolls around, the rest of the cast can be planted including tulips, crocus, Muscari also known as grape hyacinths, fritillaria, alliums, snowdrops, scillia and squill and last, the spring blooming Iris: Dutch, reticulate, and Danfordiae.
Rather than digging a hole and sticking a bulb in it, work up the entire bed if it’s a new bed. Spades usually dig down 18 inches, which is deep enough to plant the bulbs in. As you spade up the soil, work in a 10-10-10 soluble fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per 10 square feet to give the bulbs a healthy start. An easy way to keep weeds at bay, come the next growing season, is to lay a weed barrier on the prepared soil. Cut a hole into the barrier and plant the bulb or bulbs.
The actual planting begins now. The size of hole depends on the bulb. A hole that is 3 to 4 times the height of the bulb or corm is adequate. Place the bulb, pointed end up and the bottom with tiny roots down. Using a ruler to measure helps assure that the bulb is planted at a depth that gives it ample space to grow. Follow the directions that came with your bulbs or use this general rule of thumb; large bulbs like daffodils and tulips should be planted approximately 8 inches deep. Tiny bulbs like grape hyacinths or snowdrops need a shallower hole dig a hole 3 to 4 inches deep. Do not water the hole and then tuck the bulb in. Water after all bulbs have been planted and the earth tamped lightly over them. The water will snug the soil up to the bulb, but rotting bulbs won’t disappoint you when nothing appears in spring. Toss 2 to 3 inches of mulch like shredded leaves, straw, or shredded bark over your little darlings, whisper good night and let them grow.
You’ve found joy in the wondrous spring season with tulips nodding in the breezes and daffodils gracing your home. Blooming time has come and gone and the only thing left is all that foliage: yellow, dying, and unsightly. Stop! Do not cut the foliage back. After blooming, the bulb needs that foliage to store up food before it goes dormant. The leaves provide nourishment enough to sustain the bulb through dormancy and it’s time of growth. Perennial plantings and ground covers will help hide the dying foliage and keep in mind that a year from now you’ll be once again singing the praises of the gorgeous spring flowers.
Tulips tend to not be long lasting bulbs; on the other hand, daffodils can last for years and years. It’s a good idea to divide daffodil bulbs and crocus corms every five years. Eventually the bulbs become packed together, producing smaller flowers and plants that suffer overall. Mark the plants that you’re going to divide with a stick or wooden marker so when the foliage has withered you can still find them. Wait until the dormancy period has begun and then dig them up, transplanting as you go.
Planting bulbs in the fall is an act of faith. Through the autumn season they establish roots ready to shoot forth enchanting blooms as soon as the earth warms. With very little effort you can extend the spring flowering season from fall planted bulbs. The sheer joy of seeing the first snowdrop peek up from the cold earth rouses the spirit to muster up because spring is finally here. Soon an explosion of color will put on a show all because you planted bulbs in the fall.
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