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Bulb planting in fall leads to flowers in spring

Posted: November 4, 2012 - 12:09am

Spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses add lots of color and visual enjoyment to early spring flower beds. These flowers are among the first to appear in spring and signal that cold weather is on the way out.

In our area spring flowering bulbs need to be planted in the fall. They can be planted from October through late December, but the best time is the first or second week of November. If temperatures are too high, above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the flower bud can be damaged. Planting later in the winter can prove difficult if the ground is frozen. If you cannot plant your bulbs after purchasing store them in a cool, dry, dark place until planting. The bottom drawer of a refrigerator works well.

Before breaking the soil select high quality bulbs. Choose only bulbs that are firm, unblemished and are medium to large in size. Avoid bulbs that are moldy, soft, discolored or lightweight. If ordering by mail or internet, order from a reputable company to ensure a quality product. Be wary of planting bulbs that have been stored in less than desirable conditions. For example, bulbs purchased last season that have been stored in the garage may not produce flowering plants. In choosing medium/large sized bulbs, remember there is difference in size according to bulb type. For example, tulip bulbs are much larger than crocus bulbs and a large tulip bulb is generally healthier than a small tulip bulb. There is a direct correlation between the quality and size of the bulb and the size of the flower it produces. Large bulbs will produce large flowers or multiple flowers. Medium grade bulbs will produce flowers that are satisfactory.

After bulb selection, plant the bulbs as soon as temperatures are amenable. The first step is to prepare the soil. Till the soil for the entire bed site. Fertilize and lime the soil based on a soil sample. A soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8 is best for most bulbs. In the absence of a soil test, add 1 to 2 pounds of 5-10-10, 10-10-10 or 8-8-8 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. Incorporate lime, fertilizer and any soil amendments thoroughly and deeply, at least 12 inches, to ensure the bulbs receive the nutrients. Most bulbous plants prefer a moist, well-drained, sandy loam that does not remain wet and sticky after heavy rain or dry out too quickly. Good drainage is essential to ensure the bulbs do not rot.

After the soil is prepared, the next challenge is spacing the bulbs in the bed area. Depending on the plant type, bulbs may need to be spaced farther apart to allow for growth. Follow grower instructions for specific spacing recommendations. Remember bulbs can spread over a large area of the bed and dividing them may prove difficult. The closer they are planted the more often they will have to be divided. Also, some types of bulbs need dividing sooner than others. When dividing bulbs, wait until the foliage has died back before digging. When planting, try to avoid spotty or line-out arrangements. Mass plantings will give the best overall look, especially with proper spacing.

Depth is also important when planting bulbs. A general rule of thumb is to plant at a depth two to three times the diameter for bulbs two inches or more in diameter. For bulbs that are smaller than two inches, plant at a depth three to four times the diameter. The bulb grower also supplies a recommended depth for their product on product packaging.

After planting the bulbs, apply a good layer of mulch. Mulch helps protect the plants and reduce weeds in the bed.

Bulbs can produce flowers for years with very little care, but only if they are started out right. Planting bulbs this fall can make for a great surprise of color in early spring.

Tripp Williams, Columbia County’s agriculture and natural resource agent, can be reached at (706) 541-4011, or trippj@uga.edu.

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