Bulbs offer a beautiful, colorful show just when you need it the most…
That time when Winter seems like its going on too long and you still have some time before your garden really starts taking off. But to get this early color, you have to plan ahead. Now is the time to purchase Fall bulbs and start planning your design.
What is a bulb?
A bulb is a rounded underground storage organ consisting of a short stem surrounded by fleshy scale leaves or leaf bases which go dormant over winter. There are other types of storage organs that are not true bulbs such as corms, tubers, tuberous roots, and rhizomes. The botanical term for plants with underground storage organs is geophyte. But to keeps things simple, lets just use the colloquial term for all of these which is bulbs.
Buy bulbs now while they are still fresh, even though you aren’t going to plant them until it cools off a bit. Waiting too long to purchase your bulbs can leave you with only the dregs to choose from at the store. Buy the freshest, biggest, firmest bulbs and avoid any that are dry, withered, spongy or moldy. More is better when it comes to planting bulbs. Planting bulbs in rows or clusters makes for the prettiest show come Spring. Think ahead and get a nice palette of colors. Buy bulbs whose flowers will have different heights and blooming times. This way you can plant shorter ones in front of taller ones, or cluster ones with different blooming times so that you don’t have an colorless spot in one space when there’s a lot of color over in another.
Some bulbs require a pre-chilling period of about 6 weeks. This is needed in warmer climates like ours to try and mimic the colder nights where some of these bulbs grow in abundance. For example, tulips in Holland. To pre-chill you can simply put them in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator. Be sure to keep fruits and vegetables out of the same drawer because the ethylene gas that fresh fruit and vegetables put off can damage the flower inside of the bulb. Make sure the temperature stays between 34 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. You can store bulbs that don’t require a pre-chill in a cool, dark, dry place. Storing them in bins of vermiculite helps to keep them dry.
November is typically a good time to plant bulbs around here. Work the soil before planting and make sure it is well drained. Add compost to your soil to add some organic matter. Plant in a place that will get about 5-6 hours of full sun when in bloom in the Spring. Typically, full sun in the morning and partial shade in the afternoon is a good amount of sun for bulbs. Plant with the growth points up and root scars down. Sometimes its hard to tell which way is up and which way is down. I’ve provided a diagram below that will hopefully help you decipher this. Different bulbs require different planting depths. That is also shown on the diagram below. Read the labels if your bulb isn’t included in this diagram.
Bulbs don’t like what is called “wet feet”, which is when roots stay in water for a long period of time and get soggy. The best way to keep this from happening is to make sure your soil is well drained. If you have clay soil, you can add coarse sand or coarse organic matter to improve drainage. Water regularly for good root growth.
Apply fertilizer to your bulbs when you first plant them and then twice a year afterwards to keep them coming back year after year.
When you are first planting your bulbs, mix compost in the soil and if you like, an additional granular fertilizer with a ratio of 5-10-5. Apply compost or granular fertilizer again once shoots have emerged at the top of the soil, and then again right after they have bloomed.
Enjoy the Blooms
Now is the time to reap the benefits of all your hard work in the Fall. Enjoy your beautiful, colorful show and brag to the neighbors about all of your bulb knowledge. Make cut flower arrangements and bring them inside. Enjoy the Springtime scent of daffodils and snap pictures of your beautiful Iris blooms. This is why you garden, after all.
Leave them alone
Once the foliage starts to yellow and look unsightly, it is tempting to cut it back and leave all of the pretty green foliage. But don’t touch the foliage until it is completely dry and withered. The foliage gets energy from the sunlight which it stores in its underground organ. This is how the bulb stays alive during its dormant period. It used to be popular to braid the foliage, but it is best to just leave it be. You can cut the spent blooms, but leave the rest of the plant.
Now that you know how to properly purchase, plant, and care for bulbs, go out and buy some soon! Have fun planting and send us pictures of your gorgeous bulb gardens in bloom.
Photo Credit: prolawncare.org