With fall soon approaching, it’s actually time for gardeners to Think Spring! Why think of spring now, you may ask? Because as summer fades, fall is the time to plant your bulbs.
Let’s start with the very basics. What’s a bulb? A bulb is an underground stem, enclosed with scalelike leaves, containing stored food for the shoots within. The scales are held together by hardened stem tissue. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and lilies are true bulbs. Crocus, usually thought of as a bulb, is actually a corm, which is a mass of fleshy tissue with a bud on top. The tissue disintegrates as the stored food is used and produces roots and shoots. Though initially dormant, bulbs and corms are living plant structures and always require care when handling. For our purposes, we’ll lump them together and call them all bulbs.
Bulbs produce foliage and are among the earliest flowers to bloom in spring. They are dormant over the summer months. To break dormancy requires low temperatures so that growth can resume in fall and early winter. Spring flowering bulbs start blooming in February. Crocus and Snowdrops bloom earliest, followed by Daffodils and Tulips. There are many hybrids that will bloom at different times. Generally speaking and depending on the species, you will plant your bulbs between mid-August until the soil freezes.
Bulbs are usually perennials exhibiting a period of growth and flowering, followed by a period of dormancy during which they die back in late Spring or early Summer, then grow again through the Fall and bloom the following Spring.
Since most bulbs are purchased, you should also be able to get guidelines for planting times. Bulbs are available through mail order, local nurseries, and home and garden centers. Not surprisingly, the better the bulb, the better the bloom. Larger bulbs are likely to bloom better. Your bulbs should be firm, free of rotted spots or other indications of disease. Once obtained, they should be planted as soon as possible. If absolutely necessary, store unplanted bulbs at a cool temperature 50-60 degrees.
Plan to plant in full sun but with some protection for the day’s hottest rays. Filtered shade from nearby deciduous trees is helpful. Plants in full sun will bloom earliest.
Like most plants, bulbs need good soil and good drainage. When planting bulbs, loosen the soil about 12 inches deep for good root development. Some guidelines to use when planting: measure from the bottom of the bulb – plant hyacinths six inches deep; plant tulips six inches or deeper; daffodils at six to eight inches deep. Plant smaller bulbs more shallowly. Space larger bulbs four to six inches apart; smaller bulbs one to two inches apart. For best effect, plant in clumps or irregular masses rather than singly or in single rows.
Once you have placed your bulbs, replace half the depth of soil, then water. Finish covering with soil and water again. You can mulch over newly planted areas once the soil has frozen to a depth of one to two inches.
In the Spring, when bulb foliage has emerged two to three inches and is growing rapidly, you’ll want to hand weed, and replenish mulch, if needed, to a two to three inches. Water is needed especially during bud and foliage expansion. If rainfall is not enough, provide additional water at the soil line or use a soaker hose, rather than overhead sprinkling.
If you want flowers for indoor display, cut them when they bloom just past the tight bud stage. Cut in the morning, put the stems in deep water and store cool and in the dark for several hours or overnight and they may last up to seven days.
When the bulbs finish blooming, remove faded blooms but maintain foliage for six weeks for good bulb growth. Allow foliage to die down naturally. Do not cut or braid foliage. You can remove the foliage once it has yellowed, fallen over, or if it comes loose when tugged lightly.
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