Spring Bulbs

Robert Bishop 
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

The bulb-planting season has arrived. Visit the local nurseries now while the selection is good. The following information will help your new or existing bulb garden be a success.

Bulb selection - To insure bulbs bloom year after year choose long-lived varieties. Daffodils (Narcissus) are a good choice, as well as the large Darwin hybrid tulips and 'botanical' tulips. Check with your supplier for other long-lived bulbs.

Site selection - Planting bulbs under aggressive ground covers or dense turfgrass is not recommended. Be sure the location will provide enough sunlight, bulbs need at least half a day's exposure. To be sure of the amount of sun that hits a particular spot choose the site after the overhead trees have " leafed out " providing their shade. Low tree limbs can be pruned up to allow more light to flood the site being planted.

Proper Planting - The time to plant bulbs is when the soil temperature is about 60 ? F at a depth of 6 inches. That translates to sometime after October 15 for Frederick County, (plant hardiness zone-7). Bulbs like to start their roots in cool soil. Dig out the area for planting deeper than needed and mix compost with the soil that was removed from the hole. (Compost will improve drainage and supply nutrients for the bulbs.) Add the mixed soil back to achieve the proper depth for the size bulb being planted. Planting depth: 3 x height of bulb. Mix in a small amount of bone meal or super phosphate fertilizer to the bottom of the hole, then place bulbs in and space them accordingly. Spacing: 3 x width of bulb on center. Cover bulbs with remaining soil / compost mix, and mulch if desired.

Fertilizing - Existing bulbs should be fertilized in the fall, October / November. Apply 'Holland Bulb Booster' or 'BulbMate' to the soil surface over the bulbs. The fertilizer will release nutrients that fall until the following spring. This should revitalize bulbs that performed poorly the previous year. Newly planted bulbs do not require any surface fertilizer the first year.

Water - Bulbs need water during growth periods. A dry spring will reduce overall growth and bloom production. Do not depend on natural rainfall that is predicted, water when it is dry and needed, any additional rain will only help.

Maintenance - Pinch or cut off dead flowers so the plants will not waste energy for seed production. Allow the bulb's leaves to turn yellow before removing them. The leaves are producing food that is stored in the bulb for the next growth season. If you want to move your bulbs to another location wait until after the leaves turn yellow, they can be dug up and replanted the same day. Mulch bulb beds with either compost or shredded hardwood in the fall to a depth of 2 - 3 inches.

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