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DALY: Plant bulbs now for spring color

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

One of the most colorful displays in the spring landscape is flowering bulbs. In addition to their flowers, some have attractive foliage. They are versatile and can be grown in containers, shrub borders, natural areas, and in mass displays. Autumn is the optimal time for planting spring flowering bulbs because they require a period of cold temperatures to set blooms as they 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 discolored. Avoid buying ones that are bruised, soft, or have surface cuts.

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 ten 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. The bulbs should be planted with their top parts facing upwards and then cover them with soil. Water the beds thoroughly after planting, and after that winter rainfall usually is sufficient.

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 they finish flowering, the bulbs start 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 species of 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 large beds, they can add beauty to any garden, and if given the proper care, many types of bulbs will bloom year after year.

Gwinnett County Cooperative Extension will have a class on growing flowering bulbs that will be held on Wednesday, from October 23,12:00pm to1:00pm at the Gwinnett County Cooperative Extension Office, 750 South Perry St., Suite 400, Lawrenceville, GA, 30046. There is no charge for registration but preregistration is required. To register, please contact the Extension office at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.