Planting Flower Bulbs
By Lisa Hagerty, MG Trainee and “The Real Dirt” Editor
When I think of spring, I think of new life and vibrant colors. Everything comes alive when temperatures rise and the snow finally melts. It is springtime when we begin to see our gardens and landscapes filled with beautiful flowers. Some people may not realize that some of those plants with earliest spring blossoms are planted the previous fall.
Now, here we are; temperatures have slowly creeped downward and fall is finally upon us. Although I am less eager to get my hands dirty in the fall, there is still work to do to prepare for the spring.
Of all the things we do in fall, planting bulbs is one of the most rewarding. Early spring blossoms bring a visual pleasure that warms the heart. For that matter, the bulbs we plant in the fall could give us that flowering warmth at springtime and into early summer. If you like to plant bulbs, you can even plant some types in the spring for a late summer bloom. Of course, this depends on the bulbs you choose to plant.
There are a few important things to consider when selecting the right flower bulbs such as bloom time, location, and soil condition. For the earliest blooms, you might choose Crocus, Snowdrops or Winter Aconite. They seem anxious to bust through the soil because as soon as the ground thaws, they begin flowering. If Iris is a flower you enjoy, be sure to select Iris Reticulata for an early spring bloom. Although you could also plant the Dutch Iris for blooms in the late spring if you love to have more Irises. Additional varieties of the Iris can even be planted for early and mid-summer blooms.
Selecting different bulbs for their different bloom seasons allows you to have flowers in your landscape from early spring into late summer. For instance, Daffodils and Tulips both have bulbs that will bloom in early spring and different bulbs that will bloom mid-spring. There is even a Tulip bulb that blooms late spring. Like the Iris, if you love Tulips, you could virtually plant all varieties to achieve staggering blooms, at least through the end of spring.
By late spring, trees are filling in with new leaves that might begin to create shade in your yard and inhibit some flowers from growing, due to lack of sun. You want to keep this in mind, as the early and mid-spring blooms will get different sunlight from late spring and early summer blooms that are in the same location. When selecting the right spot, you should also consider the condition of the soil. Bulbs will rot if planted in soggy soil that does not drain well. They thrive in rich, organic soil.
Now that your bulb selection is made and the location is decided, weeds should be removed and the soil should be loosened. According to Farmers Almanac, “when you are ready to plant, the general rule of thumb is to plant a bulb three times as deep as the bulb is tall, making sure the pointy part is facing upwards”.
Although the MSU article I found by Charles Schwartzkopf titled, The Power of Flowers—Maybe They’ve Got Something There is old, the helpful tips Schwarzkopf provides in his article still stand true. For instance, taking care to ensure the soil is not soggy, it “should be moist when the bulbs are planted or the roots may not initiate growth”. For fall planting, the best time is when the night temperature is between 40 and 50 degrees. No need to fertilize at the time of planting because the bulbs will go dormant in the winter. However, Schwartzkopf suggests you “fertilize in the spring when the leaves are growing”. The first sign of shoots appearing, indicates the roots are also growing and they need nutrients to thrive. Be sure to stop applying fertilizer once blooming begins because bulb growth will be inhibited otherwise. Once blooming begins, all that’s left to do is enjoy!