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Adding color

October 11, 2012
By Stephanie Bethke-DeJaeghere , Marshall Independent

This fall we have planted about 100 early-to-late flowering tulip bulbs and some other hardy spring flowering bulbs in all of the gardens at my home. My daughter really loves her tulips, especially pink-colored ones.

She also loves deciding where and how many to plant around in the gardens.

Next spring, we should have a really great show. I can't wait to see her expression when they all start to flower. Hardy spring bulbs are certainly a welcome addition to the landscape. The choice of beautiful colors is endless as breeders strive for different shades and flower varieties each year. Crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, scilla and tulips are just a few which should not be overlooked in any garden setting. They are quite easy to work with, requiring minimal care once properly planted, and they'll reward you every spring with a wonderful show of color.

The collective term "bulb" includes different storage structures such as corms, tuberous roots, rhizomes and true bulbs.

The bulbs discussed here are in the hardy bulb classification, meaning their growth cycle requires a cold period (our winter) to break their dormancy and begin spring flower development. Therefore, these bulbs are planted in the fall. Once you have your bulbs, it is best to plant them as soon as possible. In our northern climate, planting time is usually from mid-September to mid-October in order for the bulb to grow roots before the ground freezes. (Tulips are one exception - you can plant these as late as you can get them into the soil.)

In addition to the cold treatment bulbs receive during the winter months, they need warmth and bright light to trigger proper growth in the spring. When choosing a site, keep in mind that soil near foundations, particularly on a southern or western exposure, will warm up faster than less-protected areas.

In turn, bulbs planted there will flower earlier than others. Therefore, these soils should be well mulched in order to help keep soil temperatures at a more constant level. It is not necessarily an advantage to have bulbs come up too early. Cold weather may then damage them.

Try to choose locations that are sheltered from damaging winds and avoid planting in low lying areas where frost usually collects; otherwise the tender plants may be damaged early on in the developmental stages when they are just poking through the soil. Once they are further along in the flowering process, the plants are usually not affected by light-to-moderate frosts.

Bulbs grow best in rich, well-drained soil. This is crucial for a successful planting and should not be underestimated. Avoid planting in areas that are notorious for standing water. Work in approximately 2-3 pounds of a 5-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet. For smaller areas or clump plantings, a handful of fertilizer for 10 to 12 bulbs should be adequate. Till this in deeply, mixing well with the existing soil and organic matter. Never simply throw a handful of fertilizer into the hole where the bulb is to sit, as it may harm the newly forming roots and encourage bulb rot.

Decide on a design. Bulbs are much more attractive if planted in odd numbered groups or mass plantings. They may be enjoyed more also if the planting can be seen from a favorite window in the house.

The planting depth and spacing depends on the individual bulb. For specific requirements on the more common bulbs, refer to the planting chart. Generally, they are planted two and a half times deeper than their diameter. This will vary with the type of soil. With light, sandy soils, plant 1 or 2 inches deeper and on heavier clay soils, set the bulbs an inch or two more shallow. With the pointed end facing up, firmly press the bulb into the prepared soil so that the base is resting at the appropriate depth. Once the bulbs are all placed, cover with half of the soil fill and thoroughly soak the area with water. Add the remaining soil and rake smooth to level the surface of the bed. Water the top in and mulch the surface with 3 to 5 inches of leaf material, grass clippings or straw. This will insulate the bulbs and help keep soil temperatures more constant during the late fall and early spring. The initial soaking should provide adequate moisture along with the normal fall rains we receive. If the precipitation is below normal during the fall season, one or two additional deep soakings may be necessary for bulbs to establish a good root system.

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