It's Time to Plan Planting Spring Bulbs

Phyllis Heuerman
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

Spring- flowering bulbs have been available in nurseries and home stores for several months, but they should not be planted until cool weather has set in permanently for the winter. The temperatures should be around 60 degrees or lower during the day. In this area this usually means November or later. You can actually plant spring flowering bulbs in mid winter if the ground is not frozen.

Some of the more popular spring-flowering bulbs include crocus, tulips, narcissus and daffodils. All are easy to grow but most are susceptible to damage or destruction by squirrels and chipmunks. Daffodils are a good choice if you have problems with squirrels or chipmunks because they do not like the taste of daffodils. You should also look into tuberose bulbs for sale as they're deer and rodent resistant as well

Selecting spring bulbs for quality is important because the flower bud has already developed before the bulb is offered for sale. Look for plump, firm bulbs that have no bruises, cuts, soft spots or odor of decay. Generally, larger bulbs produce larger flowers. Keep the bulbs cool until planting time - around 60 degrees or cooler. You can store them in a refrigerator if that is your only cool place. You can expect that bulbs purchased from a reliable nursery or catalog source have been stored properly. However, if you are going to purchase you bulbs from a store that has conditions that are too warm, it is better to buy them early and store the bulbs yourself.

The health, vigor and life span of a bulb depend greatly upon where you plant it. Most bulbs need a sunny location and well-drained soil. Drainage is particularly important because bulbs rot under excessively wet conditions. If you need to improve drainage, add compost or peat moss to your soil or create a raised bed for the bulbs.

If you can, it is best to check with a local grower familiar with your soil conditions as to the depth at which bulbs should be planted and how far apart they should be. However, a general rule is to plant bulbs two and one half to three times the diameter of the bulb in depth. They should also be about three times the bulb with apart. If you plant bulbs too shallowly, you may encourage damage from animal pests or frost heaving. Plant the bulb pointed end up. You may put bone meal in the hole when you plant a bulb, although with healthy bulbs is probably not necessary. Other fertilizer is not needed on newly planted bulbs. Mulch your newly planted bed of bulbs for the winter, but remove it from the base of the bulbs as soon as you see shoots forming in the spring. Normally rainfall and snow provide enough moisture for them.

Just a few words on care of your bulbs after they have bloomed in the spring -- When flowers fade, cut them off to prevent seed formation. Development of seed pods takes stored food from the bulbs. Do not remove any foliage, however, until it has turned brown and dried up. After a bulb blooms it needs its foliage to produce new food and a new flower bud stored in the bulb for next year. After your bulbs have bloomed is also the time to fertilize them. Fertilized bulbs continue to produce large flowers each year. Without fertilizer flower size may diminish over time. Use a good 5-10-10 fertilizer (5 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus and 10 percent potassium). Do not use a high nitrogen fertilizer as this may encourage lush foliar grow at the expense of flowers.

I have been speaking about planting bulbs in the ground for spring, but you may also grow them in containers. Any container will do as long as it has drainage holes and is deep enough for the bulbs. It must be large enough to allow the bulbs to form strong roots to anchor the bulbs. You may plant bulbs very close together in a pot. They will require frequent watering once the bulbs begin to sprout and should be watered once a month or so, even in the winter. In our climate, bulbs in pots may freeze if left outdoors over the winter. Although you should plant them in the fall, keep the pot in a protected but unheated spot, like inside your garden shed or garage. Move them outdoors in early spring.

I want to mention one more bulb that is grown indoors for the holidays, because now is the time to plant it. Although timing is not precise, you should plant amaryllis bulbs in pots for indoor growth about 6 weeks before you want them to bloom. If you want your amaryllis to bloom for Christmas, plant it right now. To be on the safe side, you may want to grow 2 or three plants, and start the bulbs at one-week intervals.

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