Fall is in full swing and winter is just around the corner, but spring is only five months away, and now is the time to start thinking about planting flower bulbs so you’ll have those beautiful spring flowers to enjoy.
Master gardener Jim Duthie says now is the perfect time to plant those bulbs before colder weather freezes the ground.
It’s almost the midpoint of fall, and the days are getting shorter, and cooler. But the ground isn’t frozen yet, so if you were concerned that it’s too late to plant flower bulbs for next spring, don’t worry. It’s still a good time to get those hyacinths, daffodils and tulips in the ground.
They’re one of the welcome signs of spring… colorful flowers popping up out of the ground, even when there’s still a little layer of snow. These early bloomers give us hope that the gloomy, cold days of winter will soon give way to the sunshine and warmer weather of spring.
Most garden centers, and even some grocery stores have a big selection of flower bulbs right now. Planting them is easy, but with colder weather ahead, don’t put it off too much longer.
Spring-blooming flowers, like daffodils and tulips, have spent all summer storing up food in their bulbs for the next season. Those bulbs need to sleep for a while in a cold place, like the winter soil, before they wake up again and start to grow when the soil warms up in the spring.
When you buy bulbs, look for big, healthy looking ones. Often, the larger the bulb, the larger the flower and the stronger the stems. The flowers are more likely to hold up longer in the changeable spring weather.
If you already have bulbs planted in your yard, now is a good time to dig them up and divide them. That way you get more bulbs without spending more money. I dug these up a few weeks ago to move them to another part of my garden. Some of them have doubled and can be divided.
Some gardeners like the symmetry of straight line planting, but a more natural approach is scattered, or cluster planting. You can even just toss the bulbs around the flower bed, and then plant them where they land.
Bulbs will grow in almost any soil. The main key is how deep you plant them. Some bulbs are bigger than others, so they need to be planted deeper. The rule of thumb is to plant the bulbs twice as deep as the width of the bulb. So if the bulb is two inches wide, plant them in a hole that’s four inches deep.
If the soil is loose, a simple hand trowel works just fine. Or use one of these bulb-planting tools, which makes the job a little easier. It’s marked like a ruler on the side, to help you dig a hole the right size and depth for the bulb. For bigger jobs, use an auger that attaches to your power drill.
Once you’ve dug the hole, plant the bulb with the root facing down, and the stem facing up, sort of like a garlic clove. Then just back-fill with dirt. There’s no need to pack it down.
These bulbs will hibernate in the cold ground until they get the signal to start sending shoots up to the surface of the soil, as we start heading towards spring. Not long after that, you’ll have those beautiful blooms that means spring has finally arrived.
Oh, and by the way, if you’d like a showy indoor flower in time for the holidays, now is a good time to plant amaryllis bulbs.
The amaryllis is one of the showiest flowers around, blooming on a tall stalk from a single bulb. You can buy amaryllis bulbs now, either loose in a box, like this, or already potted and ready to grow. They don’t need the long cold period like spring bulbs do.
Plant them in a pot with the top of the bulb just above the soil. Just put them in a warm place, keep them watered, and by Christmas you could have a real show stopper, in a variety of different colors.
It’s hard to think about spring when we’re just halfway through fall, but a little planning, and planting, now will brighten up your garden after a long cold winter.
Tulips and daffodils are the most popular spring bulb flowers, but there are lots of others that bloom from mid-winter through mid-summer.
JIM’S FAVORITE SPRING FLOWERING BULBS
1. DAFFODILS (NARCISSUS) – Many sizes and colors; easy to grow and maintain; adaptable to all soil types; cold hardy; deer and rodents won’t eat them.
2. TULIPS -- 3000 varieties of color, size and shape; easy to grow and maintain; adaptable to different climates and soils; prefers well-drained soil.
3. HYACINTH -- Variety of colors; very fragrant; easy to grow indoors or out.
4. CROCUS -- Variety of colors; best in large numbers; easy to grow and maintain; naturalize well (return year after year and slowly multiply).
5. DWARF IRIS -- Easy to grow and maintain; large flower; fragrant; multiplies easily.
6. LILY OF THE VALLEY -- Rhizomes (rather than bulbs); easy to grow; thrive in shade; excellent ground cover; extremely fragrant.
7. ANEMONE -- Short and compact daisy-like appearance; long-lasting blooms; tubers (rather than bulbs).
8. SCILLA -- Also known as Spanish Bluebells; easy to grow and maintain; thrives in shade; multiplies easily in any type of soil.
9. SNOWDROP -- Many varieties, but all are white; earliest bloomers, even in snow; small flowers do well in large numbers and in rock gardens.
10. MUSCARI -- Easy to grow and maintain; cold hardy; highly fragrant; do well planted in large masses as a blanket ground cover; good as cut flowers.