Falling for Bulbs

By: Julie Barnes

Fall is here, an ideal time to plant some new spring flowering bulbs. Showy, colorful, and sometimes fragrant, they are always a welcome sight when spring brings a rebirth to our gardens. Throughout summer, loads of bulb catalogs have filled our mail boxes with countless tempting selections to choose from. Gardens are forever changing. Plants die or just outgrow spaces and may need replaced or divided. So, there is usually somewhere to tuck a number of bulbs whether it is among, within, around, or under other plants to create an amazing spring flower show. For instance: Flowering trees can either be enhanced harmoniously or else vibrantly when the bulb's flowers echo the same color of the tree's flowers, or otherwise contrast against them. Dark leaved shrubs can provide the backdrop needed to make white flowering bulbs planted in front of them truly stand out. Clusters of bulbs can fill in around freshly pruned shrubs or in between emerging perennials. But, once the bulb's beautiful flowers fade, we are left with floppy, then weather beaten and finally yellow foliage. Hopefully, the blooming shrubs and developing perennials will shift attention away from the withering bulb foliage. No matter how unsightly it appears, it must be left alone to capture sunlight. By allowing the foliage to die back naturally, energy will be replenished inside the bulb in order to flower again next year. The sequence goes like this: winter hardy spring bulbs are planted in the fall; they bloom and grow in the spring, produce food, then become dormant in summer, thriving best in dry or well- drained soil. Simple care will determine a bulb's performance in the following year.

I offer pointers to fall for that includes getting started and how to experience bulb success in seasons to come:

a) Start by purchasing top quality bulbs. In general, the bigger the bulb, the better the flower next spring. Those grown for sale in garden centers, or from catalogs have been grown under optimum conditions to deliver a superior display in your garden initially. Whether purchased locally or on-line, raise the bulbs and examine them closely. A healthy bulb should feel heavy. If it feels light, it may be dehydrated from too much heat or being held in storage too long. Avoid it because it cannot be rehydrated. On the surface a few blemishes should be okay. Sometimes a powdery blue mold can be observed. Bulbs contain moisture and when they are kept inside a closed package the mold results from a buildup of humidity. If this mold can be easily wiped off with paper towels the bulb is okay to plant, if it will not rub off, then it should be rejected.

b) The best time to plant spring flowering bulbs is after the first hard frost. Before then, the soil is still too warm and early autumn rains may cause newly planted bulbs to rot. Mail order catalogs ship the bulbs mainly at your proper planting time. In garden centers it is best to buy them as soon as they are available. Since that may be too early for planting them, they should be kept in a cool place such as a basement around 55 to 65 degrees until then.

c) The basic rule of thumb for planting depth is equal to three times the height of the bulb. Possible exceptions: Bulbs may be planted a little shallower in warm winter areas, or where you are working in heavy clay soil. In places that experience extremely cold winters or where soil is light and sandy, bulbs should benefit from being planted an inch or two deeper.

d) Since the roots of spring-flowering bulbs start growing in autumn, water the planting area and add a top dressing of compost, or a slow release granular fertilizer.