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Homegrown- October 15,2009

Planting Spring-Blooming Bulbs

by Carol Dunn

HUERFANO- Nearly all spring-flowering bulbs are planted in the fall, after the first frost has killed the summer vegetation, so October is the ideal planting time.  If you are planting into an established flower bed, you can still locate your perennials and avoid damaging them.  Bulbs can be planted until the soil freezes, but planting earlier gives them a head start for stronger flowering in the spring.  

    Bulbs prefer rich, loamy, well-drained soil.  Standing water during any season will cause bulbs to rot.  Most Huerfano County soils benefit from amending with compost.  Avoid manures and chemical fertilizers for bulbs.  They are high in nitrogen, resulting in lush foliage, but leaving less energy for flower development.  Mix a slow-decomposing fertilizer, like bonemeal, with the soil in the planting hole.  It will provide nutrients for years to come.  

    Each bulb has an ideal planting depth, about three times the height of the bulb.  The bottom of the bulb should sit at this depth.  The soil must be loosened several inches deeper than the bottom of the planting hole to allow the roots room to spread.  Planting at the proper depth is important so the bulb does not sprout too early or experience freeze-thaw, a problem most years in Huerfano County.  Use the planting instructions that come with each type of bulb to determine how far apart to plant bulbs.   After planting, firm the soil around the bulbs to eliminate large air pockets, then water thoroughly.  A deep watering will give your bulbs an extra boost to make it through winter.

    If you want to naturalize bulbs around your yard, just peel back a layer of sod, prepare the soil, plant the bulbs, and replace the sod.  To plant just one or two bulbs, cut through the sod and soil with a bulb planter, which looks similar to a tall biscuit cutter.  Place the bulb in the hole, sprinkle soil around it, and replace the core removed by the bulb planter.

    For a more formal look, with color combinations planned in advance, hyacinths and daffodils work well together.  Plant clumps of a single variety and make sure the colors you choose all bloom at the same time, otherwise the effect will be lost.  Local lore says deer love to eat tulips, so plant accordingly.  

    Most bulbs grow and produce food for next year’s flower crop after they bloom in the spring.  If the post-bloom season is dry, water your bulbs occasionally.  Allow the foliage to grow after flowering, and do not trim it back until it begins to turn yellow. 

    The time and energy are invested up-front for spring-flowering bulbs.  But when you see your cheerful spring flowers peeking through after a long winter, you’ll know it was all worth it.