Spring flowering bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses, add lots of color to flower beds. These bulbs are among the first flowers to appear in spring and signal that cold weather is on the way out and warmer days are just around the corner.
Spring flowering bulbs can be planted from October through late December, but the best time to plant them is the first or second week of November. If temperatures are too high, above 70 degrees, 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 in winter, store them in a cool, dry, dark place. The bottom drawer of a refrigerator works well.
Select high-quality bulbs. Examine the bulbs closely. 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 and you can’t inspect the bulbs before buying, order from a reputable company to help ensure a quality product. Also, be wary of planting bulbs that have been stored in less than desired conditions; for example, bulbs purchased last season that have been stored in the garage may not produce flowering plants. In choosing medium/large bulbs, remember there is great difference in size between bulb types. For example, tulip bulbs are much larger than crocus bulbs. But a large tulip bulb is generally healthier than a small bulb. There is a direct correlation between the quality and size of the bulb and the size of the flower it produces. Bulbs are graded on size, usually circumference. Large bulbs will produce large flowers or multiple flowers. Medium-grade bulbs will produce flowers that are satisfactory.
After the bulb selection, plant them as soon as temperatures are amenable. The first step is to prepare the soil. Soil preparation is important for bulb growth. 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 in depth, to ensure the bulbs will 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 will not rot.
After the soil is prepared, the next challenge is spacing the bulbs in the bed area. Determine how much space is required. Depending on the plant type, bulbs may need to be spaced further apart to allow for growth. Follow grower instructions for specific spacing recommendations.
Remember, bulbs can spread over a large area of the original bed. 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 other types. 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 very important when planting bulbs. A general rule of thumb is to plant at a depth two to three times the diameter for bulbs 2 inches or more in diameter. For bulbs that are smaller than 2 inches, plant at a depth three to four times the diameter.
The bulb grower also supplies a recommended depth for their product on the company’s 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 this can only be accomplished if they are started out right. Planting bulbs this fall can make for a great surprise of color in early spring.