Bulbs are like instant flowers. Dig a hole, stick the bulb in, and a few months later, you have a beautiful flower, right? Well, not always. Here are some tips to helping ensure the bulbs you plant this autumn will metamorphose into colorful blossoms this coming spring.
What Bulbs Should I Plant in the Fall?
Fall-planted bulbs include snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, narcissi, hyacinths, tulips, grape hyacinths and Dutch irises. For best result, you’ll want to get your bulbs into the ground a full six weeks before the first hard frost hits. They’ll spend that time developing the healthy root systems that flowers depend upon for the soil nutrients they need.
Fall-planted bulbs actually rely upon cold temperatures to trigger the biochemical processes that produce their flowers. Even below-zero temperatures won’t harm cells within the bulbs because the starches inside the bulb break down into glucose, which acts like a kind of botanical antifreeze. Glucose molecules lower the temperature at which the water inside bulb cells freezes.
Snow on the ground will actually provide a layer of insulation that will keep soil temperatures warmer. However, if you’re concerned about extremely cold temperatures, putting a layer of mulch over your bulb bed should protect it. Don’t mulch until extreme temperatures start, however. If you lay your mulch too soon, your bulbs may get too warm and rot.
If you live in areas where winter climates are relatively mild, landscapers in Toronto recommend leaving your bulbs inside their wrapping and placing them in your refrigerator for six weeks before putting them in the ground. If you pre-chill your bulbs in this fashion, be sure to keep your bulbs away from any ripening fruit, particularly bananas and apples. Ripening fruit gives off ethylene gas, and ethylene gas can kill nescient bulb flowers.
What Part of My Garden Should I Plant Bulbs In?
Bulbs are hardy, and you can plant them in practically any part of your garden so long as their plot gets good water drainage. Soggy soil conditions can promote bulb rot. However, spring-blooming bulbs prefer fairly neutral soil between a pH of 6 and a pH of 7; so if you have a soil-testing kit available, by all means use it. Although bulbs will flower in shady areas, for best results, plant them in areas that will get between four and six hours of strong sunlight every day.
You’ll want to prepare your bulb bed to a depth of eight inches. Most bulbs are sold with wrappers that contain planting instructions, but the rule of thumb is that larger bulbs need to be planted eight inches deep while smaller bulbs only need to be planted six inches deep. Plant with the root side down. If you can’t figure out which end is the root side, then plant the bulb sideways. Many experienced gardeners swear by putting a teaspoon of bone meal in with the bulb when it’s first planted.
Crocuses can be planted three to four inches apart. Tulips do best when they’re planted four to six inches apart. Daffodils need more space, so don’t plant them any closer than six inches together.
Cover the bulb with soil, but be careful not to compress the soil so that it’s too dense. Watering bulbs after they’ve first been planted is advisable, but you won’t have to water them regularly once they’re planted unless you live in a location where it very seldom rains.
Do I Need to Fertilize My Bulbs?
If you’re going to fertilize your bulbs, do it in the springtime as soon as you see the first shoots emerge from the ground. This will allow your plants a sufficient amount of time to utilize the nutrients in the fertilizer for the blossoms they subsequently produce. A few inches of compost will also enrich the soil and provide your bulbs with the nutrients they need in order to produce their floral display.
Will My Bulbs Bloom Two Years in a Row?
While bulbs frequently bloom for several years in a row, you can’t absolutely count on it. Hybrid tulip bulbs, in particular, are best thought of as annuals. Daffodils will come up a second or third year if the bulb remains healthy after flowering is through. That’s why it’s important to plant your bulbs in an area of your garden where they won’t be prone to rot or other diseases.