Plant Bulbs In Fall For Spring Color

By The Old House Web

Spring-flowering bulbs are available from garden centers andcatalogs during September and October. "They're easy to plant and live foryears," says Dr. J. Robert Nuss, professor of ornamental horticulture inPenn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. "Best of all, they startbrightening the landscape while it's still late winter."

For a steady procession of blooms from late January to late July, Nuss offersseveral planting suggestions:

Late winter blooms:

Galanthus, or snow drops, bloom the earliest. "If you've wondered whatthose little white, bell-shaped flowers are blooming in people's yards startingin late January, they're probably snowdrops," says Nuss.

Species crocuses start blooming in late January or early February, followedby large-flowered Dutch crocuses in February and March.

Also blooming at this time are winter aconite, which resemble low-growingbuttercups; chionodoxa, which have pink, white or blue star-shaped flowers; andsquill, which have deep-blue flowers.

Early spring blooms:

Anemone blanda bloom in March and April and have purple, pink or whiteflowers that look like asters. Also blooming at this time are grape hyacinths,with grape-like clusters of purple or white flowers, and iris reticulata, whichlooks like other irises but grows only five inches tall.

"Some more familiar flowers also bloom during these months, such ashyacinths; double-early, Kaufmanniana and Fosteriana tulips; and miniature andtrumpet daffodils," says Nuss.

Spring blooms:

Darwin hybrid tulips bloom in April and May, along with Triumph, Gregii,single-late, double-late, lily-flowered, Rembrandt and parrot tulips. They comein an array of heights, colors and markings. "Some interesting smallerbulbs, such as checkered lilies and Spanish bluebells, also bloom in latespring," says Nuss.

Early summer blooms:

For flowers in June, plant Dutch irises, which look like slender beardedirises, and allium, a colorful and sweeter-scented relative of the onion.Alliums vary greatly in size and color -- from four-inch stems with clusters ofyellow flowers, to giant allium, which can reach three feet tall and is toppedwith a sphere of purple flowers five inches in diameter.

"You also can plant German irises in the fall," says Nuss."These are the familiar irises with the fruity scent and large, beardedflowers. They grow from rhizomes planted about three inches deep, and theyextend the blooming season to the end of July."

Bulb planting requirements

Flowering bulbs can be planted in formal or informal beds, rock gardens andin established ground covers. Most prefer partial shade, so avoid planting themwhere they will receive direct midday sun. Heated basement walls can damagebulbs, so plant them at least five feet away from foundations.

"Keep in mind that you can fit a lot of bulbs in one space by plantinglarge bulbs, covering them with two inches of soil and planting small bulbs ontop of them," says Nuss. "You also can plant shallow-rooted annuals ontop of bulbs."

Bulbs need good drainage and a high amount of organic matter, so if your soilis mostly sand or clay, mix in peat moss or compost until organic matter isabout 25 percent of volume.

When planting tulips, daffodils and other large bulbs, dig out the entire bedto a depth of about 8 inches. Arrange the bulbs six inches apart with thepointed ends up. Smaller bulbs such as crocuses and grape hyacinths can beplanted three inches apart and five inches deep.

Before covering the bulbs, add one rounded tablespoon per square foot ofeither a sulfur-coated, slow-release fertilizer, or one handful per square footof bone meal plus one tablespoon per square foot of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10fertilizer.

You then can replace half the soil and water the area thoroughly, add theremaining soil, and water again. "A three-inch layer of wood chips, peatmoss or bark will retain moisture and keep mud from splashing on the flowersnext spring," says Nuss.

Fertilizing and dealing with pests

Squirrels and chipmunks dig up bulbs, especially crocuses. "If youanticipate a problem, spread fine-mesh chicken wire over the soil and then applymulch," says Nuss.

When shoots start breaking through the soil in the spring, sprinkle a secondapplication of fertilizer around them. As flowers fade, cut them off so theydon't go to seed and rob nourishment from the bulbs.

"The foliage gathers nutrients for the next season's growth, so allow itto completely die before removing it," says Nuss. "Other than thesefew steps, spring-flowering bulbs don't need much attention. They'll come backyear after year, just when winter seems as though it never will end."

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