Tulips, hyacinths and daffodils are some of the flowers that say winter is gone and spring is on the way. But if we want to have these spring flowers, we need to plant them now.
We can grow a variety of bulbs in our area. Some of them are considered perennial, and some have to be grown as annuals. The bulb almost 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 and stored for the winter. These bulbs are summer flowering bulbs.
I have used the word "bulb" a number of times, and when I use the term bulb I will be 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 each has to be handled different in regards to culture, propagation and care.
True bulbs are plants such as daffodils and lilies. Examples of corms are crocus and gladiolus. Potatoes and caladiums are good examples of tubers.
But 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 dahlias.
The last group is plants that have rhizomes, such as iris and canna lilies.
Stores sell bulbs individually as well as in bags that have many bulbs in them. The bulbs need to be examined closely. Avoid bulbs that are moldy, soft, discolored and light-weight. The bulbs should be firm and have unblemished skin.
You get what you pay for 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, spring flowering bulbs should be planted in the fall. The best time to plant them is when the soil temperature is 60 degrees or less. This is usually the first or second week of November.
If the temperatures are too high, the flower bud inside the bulb can be damaged. If bulbs are bought early, they can be put in the bottom of the refrigerator until they can be planted. For summer flowering bulbs, they will be planted in the spring after the chance of frost has passed.
The depth is very important when planting bulbs. A general rule of thumb is two to three times the greatest diameter for bulbs 2 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. Larger bulbs should be spaced 3 to 6 inches apart, while smaller bulbs should be spaced 1 to 2 inches apart. When planting, try to avoid spotty or straight-line arrangements. Mass plantings will usually give you the best look.
The closer bulbs are planted, the more often they will have to be divided. Also, some types of bulbs need dividing sooner that other types.
When dividing bulbs, wait until the foliage has died back before digging.
Soil preparation is important for bulb growth. The bed should be tilled. This will help with root development of the bulbs. Also, bulbs grow best when the soil pH is 6 to 7. A soil sample will give the pH and will make fertilizer recommendations for bulbs.
There are two ways bulbs can be fertilized. The first is to add a slow-release fertilizer when the bulbs are planted. The fertilizer should be a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10. One tablespoon per square foot is recommended. The other way to fertilize is to add bone meal in the rooting area and a teaspoon of 10-10-10 added at planting. Then, when the foliage starts to emerge in the spring, the same fertilizer is used again.
Proper fertilization is the key to getting bulbs to become perennials. When bulbs have plenty of nutrients, they will bloom for many years and the blooms will be larger.
Bulbs can produce flowers for years with very little care. This can be accomplished only if they are started right. So, plant some bulbs this fall and watch them bloom in the spring.
Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.