Flowering Bulbs
This is my site Written by Geoff on March 1, 2002 – 6:57 pm

This month we are taking a look at flowering bulbs. While this is usually a topic for the Fall, we decided, for several reasons, to discuss them this Spring season. First of all, site selection and preparation is much easier now than when your new bulbs and Winter is just around the corner. Spring is also a time when you can get a good overall look at all your garden plants and how they look together. 

If you are like us, we make our bulb selections in the Spring. When they arrive in the Fall, there is always a few varieties that we cannot remember where we planned on using them. So, we rush out and just stick them in the ground, not always to the best effect. We have even been known to start planting bulbs only to discover the space is already occupied. In the Spring you can also see where you already have bulbs growing. How much easier Fall planting is when you have the site selected, soil prepared, and the design laid out. 

While we are primarily talking about Spring bulbs, much also holds true for Summer flowering bulbs. These often overlooked bulbs that are planted in the Spring, have much the same cultural requirements as their Spring cousins. Unfortunately, many Summer flowering varieties must be dug up in the Fall. For our discussion, we are going to group bulbs, corm, rhizome, and tuber together. Thus, we will treat daffodils, a bulb, the same as crocuses although they actually are a corm. The most important decision you must make is where to plant your bulbs. You want a site with appropriate sunlight. Tulips and narcissi prefer full sunlight or filtered sunlight for optimum coloration and prolonged flowering periods. Since deciduous trees will not be leafed out in the spring when the bulbs are growing, it is usually all right to plant bulbs under them. 

Bulbs will not grow in an area with poor water drainage. You cannot add enough compost or other organic matter to your selected area. For clay soil, add sand or peat moss. For sandy soil, add peat moss or aged leaf compost. Since bulbs prefer neutral pH soil, go easy on the peat moss. While adding “hot” manure such as mushroom compost to your bulb beds in the Fall this is not recommended, it is not a problem for Spring prepared beds. Work the compost in as deep as possible remember many large bulbs such as daffodils and alliums are planted once and enjoyed for many years. 

Design your planting to get the most effect, try to group bulbs together, or planting in masses and groups, in curves and drifts, or clustered close together. At least avoid straight lines and skimpy placement. We never plant less then 12 of any one variety in a group. By all means put the bulbs where you and your neighbors can see them. Consider height and time of bloom. Bulbs are identified in all good catalogues by bloom-time, generally early, mid, and late bloomers. Plant some of each for a continuous color display. Also, match bulb bloom with the early flowering perennials such as pulmonarias, epimedium, and creeping phlox. Foliage plants such as hostas work well with bulbs and serve to fill in once the foliage start to go dormant. 

Naturalizing with bulbs is a popular planting technique used to achieve a natural, as if nature had planted them. Most of the small bulbs such as crocus and snowdrops naturalizing well. Even many larger bulbs like daffodils naturalize well in open areas, at the edge of woodlands, or on the slope of your lawn. Siberian squill, whose foliage matures fast, are the best for naturalizing in lawns. The simplest method of naturalizing is to scatter bulbs across the area and plant them where they fall. 

Bulb selection is important too. Some Spring flowering bulbs to consider are: 

Allium Anemone Arum Bellevalia
Brimeura Bulbocodium Calochortus Camassia
Chionodoxa Colchicum Corydalis Crocus-Fall
Crocus-Spring Dactylorhiza Dichelostemma Eremurus
Erythronium Freesia Fritillaria Galanthus
Geranium Gladiolus Hemerocallis Hermodactylus
Hippeastrum Hyacinthoides Hyacinthus Ipheion
Lachenalia Leucojum Lycoris Muscari
Narcissus Ornithogalum Oxalis Paeonia
Pancratium Puschkinia Rhodophiala Scilla
Sternbergia Triteleia Tulip  

While you might not be familiar with many of these, they all have their special garden uses and are well worth trying. 

Some Summer blooming bulbs worth looking at are: 

Achimenes Alocasia Amaryllis Anemone
Bletilla Bloomeria Caladium Canna
Chlidanthus Colocasia Commelina Convallaria
Crinum Crocosmia Cyrtanthus Dahlia
Eucomis Galtonia Gladiolus Globba
Gloriosa Habranthus Hedychium Hemerocallis
Hippeastrum Hymenocallis Incarvillea Ixia
Leucocoryne Liatris Lilium Lycoris
Nerine Oxalis Pleione Polianthes
Sandersonia Sauromatum Scadoxus Schizostylis
Sparaxis Sprekelia Sternbergia Tigridia
Triteleia Tritonia Tropaeolum Tulbaghia
Veltheimia Zantedeschia Zephyranthes  

An excellent source for heirloom or hard to find bulbs is Old House Gardens. While Odyssey Bulbs a new company in Berrien Springs, Michigan claims their mission is to “fill a void in America’s gardens by providing bulbs that have escaped the attention of mainstream horticulture businesses.” While we have not used either company yet, we plan to give them a try this year. 

Plant bulbs with the pointed end up, if you are not sure, plant the bulb on its side. Do not plant bulbs shallow, follow the instructions for planting that came with your bulbs. Generally, planting depth should be roughly three times the width of the bulb. If planting many bulbs, cover each grouping with a light layer compost and apply a bulb fertilizer such as Scott’s Bulb Food. Water in the bulbs thoroughly after planting. This will help you keep track of where you have already planted and get the bulbs off to a good start. Do not apply top mulch until after the ground freezes! Mulch should not be more than about two inches thick. 

Once planted, bulbs are very easy to care for, whether in beds or naturalized. You need only apply bulb fertilizer when the sprouts first poke through the soil, when the flower dies back, and in the fall before the soil freezes. The most critical point in caring for your bulbs is to allow the foliage to mature naturally. The leaves are the bulbs’ principle source of energy for the next year’s bloom, removing them literally starves the bulb. When daffodils become overcrowded, dig them up with a fork, divide them and replant. 

We recently read in McClure & Zimmerman Newsletter of January 9, 2002 an excerpt from the preface of “Bulbs and Tuberous Rooted Plants” written by C. L. Allen, published in 1899 that we would like to pass on to you: 

“The flowering of bulbs is a very simple matter. The bulb, when it comes from the hands of the grower, contains within itself the food for the future flower, and it does not require the gardeners’ skill to develop it. The growing of bulbs has advantages over that of any other class of flowering plants; among others, and a very great one, is that many of them produce their flowers in early spring, at a season when few other plants are in blossom, and yet when flowers are doubly valuable for their rarity. At this season, in a sheltered, sunny spot, a few clumps of Snowdrops, Crocus and Scillas will present a mass of color, in graceful forms, while the snow yet lingers in shaded places; before these are gone, Hyacinths refresh us with their grateful fragrance; these are soon followed by the Narcissus and showy tulips, and all before other vegetation is fairly started. In rapid succession follow the Crown-Imperials, the Iris, and, before these are gone, the Gladiolus and Lilies commence. Another advantage that bulbs possess is their long period of rest, which leaves the ground, half the year, free for other plants…..No other plants are so easy to manage, none more showy, and none succeed as well under all circumstances, as the different classes of bulbs and tuberous-rooted plants.”

How little has changed over the years and how much we continue to enjoy bulbs whether they are Spring or Summer blooming. In future issues of Yard Talk we will discuss in more detail Summer Flowering Bulbs and forcing of bulbs for Winter enjoyment.

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Modified: March 8, 2009 at 9:41 am GMT-0800

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