DALY: Plant bulbs now to reap rewards in the spring

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

Every spring, beautiful flowering bulbs emerge from the ground coloring the landscape. Many bulbs are grown not only for their flowers but also for their foliage. They are planted in containers, shrub borders, natural areas and in mass displays. The optimal time for planting spring flowering bulbs is during the fall months.

They require a period of cold temperatures to set blooms. During this time the bulbs form flower buds and establish their roots.

The term “bulb” is used to refer to true bulbs and other structures similar to them such as corms, tubers, tuberous roots and stems, and rhizomes. These modified plant parts store food for the plant to survive during the winter. Make sure you purchase bulbs from a reputable dealer. They should be firm and not appear molded or be discolored. Those that are bruised, soft, or have surface cuts may rot once planted.

Most spring-flowering bulbs prefer light shade to full sunshine and moist, well-drained soil. Add soil amendments such as peat moss, topsoil, compost and other suitable materials to soils that have poor drainage or heavy clay. To fertilize, use two cups of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every 10 square feet. Sprinkle it evenly over the soil and work it in when preparing the soil for planting. Apply the same amount and type of fertilizer in the spring when the leaves begin to emerge. Organic fertilizers, such as bone meal, are popular for bulbs. However, they are not any more superior than other fertilizers used at the proper rate.

The bulbs should be planted at the appropriate depth and spaced accordingly.

The appropriate planting depth is roughly two to three times the diameter of the bulb.

The spacing of the bulbs depends upon their size and the desired effect in the landscape.

Small bulbs, such as crocus and grape hyacinth, should be planted three inches apart.

Larger ones, such as certain varieties of daffodils, should be planted up to 12 inches apart. Consider not only how much space each plant needs, but how frequently the bulbs will be dug up and divided. Plant the bulbs with their top parts facing upwards and then cover them with soil. Water the beds thoroughly after planting. Winter rainfall is usually sufficient for the bulbs.

In the spring when the bulbs finish blooming, remove the dead flowers but not the leaves. Let the leaves continue to grow and in time they will turn yellow and die. After flowering, the bulb starts storing food material for flowering the following year.

Removing the leaves too soon can weaken the bulbs and possibly prevent them from flowering the next spring. Some bulbs, like many tulips, only bloom for one year.

Others will continually provide spring beauty for many years to come.

With a little planning and the use of proper planting methods, bulbs can be a real asset to your home landscape. Whether they are planted in small containers or in large beds, they can add beauty to any garden, and if given the proper care, many types of bulbs will come back year after year.