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Fall Bulbs for Spring Color

14 Sep

By Stacie Palmer of Dennis’ 7 Dees

September through November is THE time to plant bulbs for a succession of color next spring. Ideally, you’ll get your bulbs in the ground before it becomes sopping wet, and in time for root set prior to winter arriving. Why do we plant bulbs now? Spring-blooming flowers that come from bulbs need a period of cooling in order to flower; alas, NOW!

When selecting flower bulbs, choose as many as you have the space and energy to plant! When it comes to bulbs, more (versus less) is the key to big color and presence in spring. Inspect each bulb for a solid, healthy appearance, free of mold. Ideally you will get them planted as soon as possible after you make your purchase. Because life happens, plan to store your bulbs in a cool, dark place until you have the opportunity to dig.

Prior to planting, your soil will need to be enriched/amended . . .don’t skip this step! Work compost into the first 12-18 inches of soil—this is the amending part. You’ll also need on hand fish bone meal and/or Dr. Earth Bulb formula. Plan for about 2 cups bone meal for every 10 square feet of bed space. If using Dr. Earth Bulb formula, follow package directions. (In the spring a water soluble fertilizer solution may be used just when shoots emerge, then no more fertilizing).

The general rule of thumb when planting bulbs is to plant them two to three times deeper than the bulb is tall, with the pointed end UP. Regarding method of planting, you can either use a bulb digger or prepare large areas in which bulbs will be placed together. If some bulbs need to be planted deeper than others, no problem! Simply create mounds of soil within the larger hole, so that the more shallow bulbs are raised up to their needed soil depth. Another method is to simply toss your bulbs in the air, and plant them where they land. Not only is that fun, it also results in a more naturalistic look.

Equally important when planting bulbs is to provide them with nutrients, specifically a good source of phosphorous. For proper root and shoot development bulbs need phosphorous. Most commonly used is bone meal. This component is mixed into the soil just below where the bulb is placed. An alternate to bone meal is Dr. Earth Bulb formula (see above).

Whatever method you choose, once bulbs are placed at the appropriate depth, fill in the hole with soil, then water just enough to support root growth. A word of caution: over-watering newly planted bulbs puts them at risk of rotting long before they have the opportunity to bloom. This is also why you must take the time to amend your soil with compost: improve drainage.

The final step is to apply 2”-3” of mulch over the newly planted bed. Not only will the mulch help maintain optimal moisture level within the soil, it also minimizes fluctuation in soil temperature. Exception (there’s usually one, right?!): small, early blooming bulbs (such as Galanthus/snowdrops)—either apply a thin layer of mulch, or skip it entirely.

Go ahead, plan now to take advantage of bare spots in your beds that will be under trees and shrubs once they’ve lost their leaves. That’s prime real estate for bulb planting! Can’t wait until spring to see the blooms? Plant autumn flowering crocus (Crocus sativus ‘Saffron’) NOW! These sweet little lilac purple flowers each produce 3 fancy red stigmas, which is the source of saffron. Plant a couple dozen of them and harvest enough saffron to use in a few delicious meals.

Careful planning will result in bodacious blooms from January to June! Better yet, nearly all of the bulbs we commonly grow in our area are deer resistant! Round up your compost, shovel or bulb digger, bone meal, and fresh spring blooming bulbs. . .it’s planting time!


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