As the color is disappearing from my flowerbeds I am already looking forward to Spring! Amongst the earliest flowers to grace our landscapes are bulbs. Once planted they are a gift that can keep on giving year after year – a spring surprise that requires little upkeep.
Now is the time to plant hardy bulbs for their spring bloom – crocuses, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, snowdrops and scilla. Once established many will increase in number and form clusters of flowers. They are truly the harbinger of Spring!
These hardy bulbs will need exposure to cold in order to bloom, so they need to be in the ground by December – as long as the ground can still be turned over and worked. When selecting a site to plant the bulbs, know that wet, poorly drained soil will cause the bulbs to rot. These flowers will need some light, but remember many of these flowers come out before most of the trees come into leaf, so these are flowers that can be planted next to a tree.
Bulbs can be planted in flower beds or naturalized. Naturalizing means planting the bulbs randomly in your lawn or woods or other areas. One way to create a more natural feel to this kind of planting is to simply toss bulbs and plant them where they land.
Bulbs come in different sizes and shapes, depending on the species. Select the larger bulbs for the species you are planting. Bulbs should be firm and have some weight to them. Light weight bulbs may be dried out and not produce. Very small bulbs may not produce flowers in the spring.
Planting bulbs is fairly easy. Remember, the bigger the bulb, the deeper it goes in the soil. The rule of thumb is two to three times the size of the bulb. Loosen the soil a bit below the depth the bulb will be planted to give the roots room to grow. Bulbs do have a top and a bottom and it is important to plant them top side up. The bottom of the bulb is the wider part and the top of the bulb narrows to almost a point.
Once the bulbs are planted be sure to water them in. These hardy bulbs do not need to be fertilized until they begin to poke their leaves out of the ground in the spring. Bulb roots are active as the green growth begins to show, but will die back soon after the flowers fade. The roots are how the plant absorbs it nutrients, so get the fertilizer on as soon as you see signs of growth.
Once the plants are finished blooming, go ahead and cut the spent flowers off at the base of the flower stalk but leave the green leaves alone until they have completely died back. If you don’t like the look of this, you can fold the yellowing leaves in half and loosely tie them in order to minimize their presence. These leaves are producing nutrients for next year’s flowers.
Cold weather is not much of an issue for hardy bulbs. The earlier they tend to come up, the less they are affected by the cold. Snowdrops will sometimes bloom with snow still on the ground! Bulbs usually do not have a problem with insects either. What can create problems for your bulbs are digging or burrowing rodents, including squirrels and chipmunks. If these are a problem for you, choose daffodils or other narcissus. These bulbs have a nasty taste to the animals, deterring the critters from chewing on them.
Have fun planting your autumn dreams by taking advantage of this opportunity for a splendid spring surprise.