Sunday, October 3, 2010

Planting Spring-blooming Bulbs - A Fall Tradition

Tobias and I just love fall! The weather is so welcome after the heat and humidity of summer and the colors, textures and aromas of the season are so fabulous. We know winter is coming so you want to make the most of every minute we can spend outdoors now.

One of our favorite things to do this time of year is plan our spring landscape beds. Tobias doesn’t care too much about which colors or specific plants I select at the garden center as long as he gets to help with the digging and the occasional batting around of a bulb!

A word to the wise about shopping for bulbs: if you’re not exactly sure what you want, take your time and read the bulb labels carefully. They contain all the information you need to determine how many bulbs you’ll need, how to plant the bulbs, what you can expect as far as the size of the plants and blooms and when the specific plants will bloom. Tobias suggests wearing comfortable shoes for walking up and down the aisles at the garden center.

Are you ready to get started? Here we go.

Bulb selection
Purchasing high quality bulbs will help to ensure future numbers and size of blooms. While top quality tulip and hyacinth bulbs are usually desirable, smaller bulbs will usually suffice for snowdrops and daffodils which easily grow and multiply each year. It is important to choose healthy, fresh bulbs.

Site selection
Most bulbs require 6-8 hours of sun per day in order to make enough nutrients to grow, make it through the winter, and flower the following spring. However, if you planning on planting new bulbs each fall, your site options increase. This is because in early spring when the foliage of the bulbs begins to emerge, there are few leaves on trees to provide shade; therefore, any bulbs that are planted under deciduous trees or in shady areas will receive enough sun in order to bloom satisfactorily for the first spring. Snowdrops and winter aconite are the first to show up in the spring, usually in March. These are soon followed by crocus, scilla, and chionodoxa. These are followed by the hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips. Bulbs are usually sold with a label that will give information on bloom time, bloom size, and hardiness.

Soil preparation
Properly preparing the soil for bulb planting is important. Good soil drainage is essential in raising bulbs. If you have a soil with a high clay content, it can be improved by adding compost, peat moss or some other source of organic material. The organic material should be worked in the top twelve inches of soil. A fertilizer specifically formulated for bulbs can be applied according to label instructions at the time of planting. The fertilizer should have a high amount of phosphorous. Bone meal is a great organic source of phosphorous but should be avoided in areas where skunks and rodents may be tempted to dig up the bulbs in their search for the “buried bones”. Having the right amount of nutrients available to the bulbs this time of year is important because the roots of the bulbs will still be growing and absorbing nutrients through November and sometimes even into December.

Again, the bulbs’ label should have all the information you need as far as planting depth, which end faces up, and how tall the plant will be.

Spring care
Any fertilizing should be avoided in the spring while the bulbs are in bloom, as this can shorten the bloom time.

So, are you ready to go dig in the dirt? Don’t forget to get your tools in proper order. A small shovel will work just fine or, you can pick up a handy bulb-planting tool at the garden center. Tobias is a firm believer in stretching before and during bulb planting (and just about any other time as well). You might find yourself in an uncomfortable position while planting so do remember to stretch and protect your back and leg muscles.

Have fun with your bulb planting project. This is a great project that can involve the entire family. Don’t forget to send us a note and let us know how it goes for you. We’d love to see pictures of landscape beds now and again next spring when you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labor.

Happy Planting!
Rachael and Tobias

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