Plant bulbs in October

October 15, 2008 lawanda Newspaper Columns

      You may be ready to hang up your gardening tools for the year, but there is one more task to complete yet this year if you want a beautiful early spring garden.  Mid-October is bulb-planting time. 

      Flowers like tulips, daffodils, crocuses, muscari, hyacinths, alliums and scilla all grow from bulbs.  They can be planted in and around established flower beds or comprise their very own spring flowering bed. 

      As in any flower bed, the taller bulb plants go in the back and the shorter ones in the front.  In the back you might place alliums, daffodils and tulips, while hyacinths fill in the middle and crocuses and snowdrops line the front.  Most of the bulb plants, except allium, bloom early in spring and will be up before any of the other perennials in the flower bed. 

      After bloom, the foliage from bulb plants must be left in place to die down so the leaves can produce food to nourish the bulb for the next year, so plant them in back of another perennial or behind where you plan to plant some annual flowers.  The later growing plants will hide the dying foliage.

      Unless you have an extremely formal landscape, avoid planting the bulbs in straight rows.  They look more natural planted in drifts, or at least in groups of five to seven plants. 

      Crocuses bloom first, followed by daffodils and then tulips.  Each of these plants has early, middle and late blooming varieties.  With a little planning you can have an extended overlapping season of bloom.  Read the package, or the catalog description if you are mail-ordering, for bloom time.

      For a natural effect on your lawn, take a handful of bulbs and toss them gently on the grass.  Plant each bulb where it falls.  Although this works with any of the bulbs, crocuses and muscari are best for this technique as most people begin cutting their lawns long before the foliage of tulips and daffodils dies down.

      When shopping for bulbs, look for firm healthy looking ones.  Don’t buy them if they have soft spots or rot.  It’s okay if the papery outer layer falls off or peels away.  Even though the bulbs are dormant, they are living things, so handle them gently.

      Plant bulbs pointy-side up with the point about 2 ½ times as deep as the bulb is tall.  For example, a 2” tall bulb would be planted so its growing tip is 5” below ground.  There are tools at the garden center for individual bulb planting, but it is easier to dig a large hole and set five or more bulbs firmly around on the bottom.  Toss in a handful of bulb food or bonemeal.  Refill with soil, water well and wait for spring!

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