Plant bulbs now, enjoy flowers later

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Now is the time to select what spring flowering bulbs you want to add to your landscape. It may be hard to think about spring flowering bulbs in the fall, but fall is the time to plant them.

Bulbs are divided into categories. Major bulbs can be planted in the fall amd include tulips, hyacinths and daffodils, which can flower from mid-February to mid-May. Remember that most tulips (excluding the species tulips) are often treated as annuals since they give a grand show the first year but may not flower again.

The height range of these major bulbs is from 6 inches to 3 feet. There are many colors and shapes available. Specialty bulbs like allium, crocus, galanthus, fritillaria and scillas can also be planted in the fall. They flower mid-February to early July. The height range is from 3 inches to 4 feet, and there is a wide selection of colors available.

If you look through bulb catalogs or online sources you will find numerous other choices of fall planted bulbs.

The best purchasing criteria for bulbs is that they are firm and the size of the bulb is large. The number or size of the flowers is directly related to the size of the bulb.

Once you have your bulbs, plant them in well-drained soil. If the soil is mostly clay, mix in an organic amendment such as peat moss, compost, aged bark, etc., up to 50% in volume, or plant in raised beds. If the soil is mostly sand, add an organic amendment to increase water and nutrient holding capacity. The soil pH should be in the 6-7 range. Bulbs do best in areas which do not receive direct sunlight during midday, especially during hot summer months. Some bulb types can be interplanted in the same area based on time of flowering and plant heights, such as crocus, muscari and allium.

The planting depth depends on the bulb. Small sized (1-inch in height) bulbs are planted 5 inches deep. Large sized (2 or more inches in height) bulbs are planted 8 inches deep. These depths of planting will help protect the bulbs against frost, animals and physical damage. Be certain to thoroughly loosen the soil under the bulbs. Place bulbs in bed and space according to size.

Large bulbs should be 3-6 inches apart, small bulbs 1-2 inches. Interplant, if desired. Cover the bulbs with one half of the soil and then water thoroughly. Finish covering the bulbs with the remaining soil. Mulch the bed 2-3 inches deep. If the fall is dry, water the bulb area as needed.

Fertilization improves bulb performance. Newly planted bulbs will have improved quality. In addition, fertilization encourages bulbs to perennialize — that is, to flower for several years without replacing or dividing the bulbs. There are two ways to fertilize spring-flowering bulbs. One way utilizes a single fall application at planting. You can purchase a sulfur-coated, slow-release complete fertilizer. This should be incorporated into the rooting area at planting, at a rate of 1 rounded tablespoon per square foot.

The second way uses bone meal incorporated in the rooting area at planting time with an application of 8-8-8 (1 level tablespoon) or 10-10-10 (1 rounded teaspoon) in the fall, followed by a repeat application of the same fertilizer as soon as you see shoots breaking the ground in the spring. Of course, a soil test is the very best way to determine your soil needs for flowering bulbs.

If you have any questions on bulbs or any gardening topic call the Wilson County Master Gardener Volunteers at 252-237-0113 or email at wilsonemgv@hotmail.com.