One of the indicators that spring is around the corner is that certain plants are in flower. Wait a minute; we haven't had any cold weather, and here I am talking about spring flowers.
No, I am not looking forward to the spring. I like cool weather with some cold weather thrown in for good measure. But if we want to have certain types of spring flowers, we need to plant them now.
I am talking about our flowering bulbs. We can grow a wide variety of bulbs in our area. Some of them are considered perennial, and some of them have to be grown as annuals. The bulb that most everyone thinks of first is the tulip. In our area, tulips are annuals. They do not get enough cold to bloom the second year. Some bulbs are cold-hardy, and some bulbs have to be dug up and stored for the winter.
When I use the term bulb, I am referring to true bulbs and other bulb-like structures such as corms, tubers, tuberous roots and rhizomes. The main function of these modified plant parts is food storage. This allows the plant to survive during adverse weather conditions.
It is important to distinguish between the different bulb types, because you handle each differently in regard to culture, propagation and care. True bulbs would be plants such as daffodil and lilies. Examples of corms are crocus and gladiolus. Everyone can think of a tuber. Potatoes and caladiums are good examples.
Now, I am about to throw you a curve. Is the sweet potato a tuber? No - it falls into the next category of bulbs, which is the tuberous roots. Sweet potatoes are just thickened underground roots. Another plant that falls into this category is the dahlia.
The last group is plants that have rhizomes. Iris and canna lilies are two plants that fall into this category.
When you go to the garden center or store that sells bulbs, how do you know which bulbs to buy? You need to examine the bulbs closely. Avoid bulbs that are moldy, soft, discolored and lightweight. The bulbs that you buy should be firm and have unblemished skin.
The adage "you get what you pay for" is true when buying bulbs.
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.
Here in Georgia, you need to plant spring flowering bulbs in the fall. The best time to plant them is when the temperatures begin to fall below 70 degrees, usually the first or second week of November. If temperatures are too high, you can damage the flower bud. If you buy the bulbs early, you can put them in the bottom of the refrigerator until you plant.
Plant summer flowering bulbs in the spring after the chance of frost has passed.
Depth is very important when planting bulbs. A general rule of thumb is two to three times the greatest diameter for bulbs two inches or more in diameter, and three to four times the greatest diameter for smaller bulbs. If all else fails, the company usually puts the planting depth on the bag.
The next challenge comes in spacing the bulbs in the bed area. When spacing the bulbs, you need to determine how often you want to dig the bed up and divide the bulbs. The closer you plant them, the more often you will have to divide them. Also, some types of bulbs need dividing sooner that 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 you the best look.
Soil preparation is important for bulb growth. You need to dig the whole bed where you are going to plant. You will need to fertilize and lime based on a soil sample. When you have prepared the soil and planted the bulbs, you need to apply a good layer of mulch. This will help 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 you start them out right. So, plant some bulbs this fall and watch them bloom in the spring.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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