GIMME SHELTER- Want better bulbs? Get ahead of the game this fall
Q: Isn't fall the best time to plant spring flowering bulbs? If so, I'd like to get ahead of the game. Any tips on how to plant and care for them?
A: Yes, fall is the prime time for planting hardy spring flowering bulbs. Most bulbs can be planted until the ground is frozen. Properly prepared, well-drained soil is best for bulbs. With our clay soils, it is a good idea to work some organic material such as compost into the topsoil.
Spring bulbs need phosphorous to encourage root development. Get a soil test to see if you need more. It can be mixed in the soil below where the bulbs will be located so the bulb roots can utilize it. Bonemeal or superphosphate can be mixed with the soil in the lower part of the planting bed as it is being prepared. If bulbs are kept in a planting bed more than a year, its a good idea to mix in additional fertilizer. Don't fertilize spring flowering bulbs after they have started flowering. This tends to encourage the development of bulb rot and sometimes shortens the life of the flowers.
Before selecting a location for your bulbs, consider the light requirements of the plant and the amount of light your landscape can provide. Since early spring bulbs bloom before most trees or shrubs leaf out, they can successfully be planted under trees and shrubs.
Spring bulbs planted on a south slope will bloom earlier than the same bulbs planted on a north slope. Spring bulbs planted on a hillside will bloom earlier than bulbs planted in a valley. Cold air is heavier than warm air and behaves like water. It flows down the slope, settling in the low areas.
General rule: plant two to three times as deep as the bulbs are tall. Planting depth is measured from the bottom of the bulb. Tulips, daffodils and hyacinths should be planted with the nose of the bulb upward and the root plate downward. First, dig and loosen the entire bed to the proper depth, then press the bulbs into the soil and cover. Because the soil in a spaded bed is better drained and prepared, the planting will last longer.
Water your bulbs after planting. This will help settle the soil in the planting bed and provide needed moisture for the bulbs to start rooting. Fall planted bulbs must root before cold weather. Avoid over-watering since this can result in bulb rot. Then start watering when the flower buds first appear on the plant if the soil is dry. Frequent, shallow watering will not do the job– bulbs may have been planted 6 to 8 inches deep, and the water needs to soak to that depth. Through the bud, bloom, and early foliage stage, add about one inch of water per week, if not supplied from rainfall. Use a soaker hose to keep water off the bloom.
Summer is the dormant period for spring bulbs. As the foliage dies back, the roots that nourish the bulbs also die back. With fall rains, the bulb comes out of summer dormancy and roots begin to grow again to provide the bulb nutrients and moisture. Once the spring bulbs enter dormancy, the time is right to dig up the bulbs if needed. Some bulbs benefit from digging to divide the bulbs and spread them out over the bed.
If you choose to dig up bulbs, they should be stored in a well ventilated place and replanted in the fall. Every five years daffodils and crocus should be dug and replanted to prevent overcrowding. The first sign of overcrowding will be a decrease in the flower size, uneven bloom and uneven plant height. When this occurs, dig, spread bulbs out, and replant immediately.