The Q&A Archives: planting bulbs properly for the first tme

Question: I have purchased a phlox and another perennial bulb to plant. I am afraid I lack the gardening experience needed to ensure the safe and proper methods needed for these plants. I only know to plant he 1 inch under the soil in full or partial shade based on the type of bulb being planted. I assume that I dig the appropriate depth, place the bulb in the ground, and then cover it with soil, lastly water it. I am not sure if this is what I need to do. I have never planted bulbs or anything else. Your assistance is greatly appreciated. Kindest Regards, Mona

Answer: You're on the right track! In general, hardy bulbs provide some of the earliest bloom in spring gardens. Growing and using them successfully requires a knowledge of life cycle, cultural requirements, and use. "Hardy" refers to their ability to withstand low winter temperatures and bloom year after year.

A true bulb is defined as a modified, underground stem, usually surrounded by scalelike, modified leaves, and containing stored food for the shoots enclosed within. The scales are held together by a hardened stem tissue, known as the basal plate (at the base of the bulb). Tulip, daffodil, hyacinth, and lilies are examples of true bulbs. Crocus, thought by many to be a bulb, is actually a corm. This is a mass of fleshy tissue with a bud on the top surface. This tissue disintegrates as the stored food is used to produce roots and shoots. A new corm forms on top of the old one's remains. Bulbs and corms are living structures and require careful handling even while in a dormant state.

In general, hardy bulbs produce foliage and blooms in spring. They are in a dormant (resting) state over the summer months. Low temperatures are required to break dormancy so growth may resume in fall and early winter.

Good quality bulbs produce good bloom. Usually the larger the bulb, the better it will bloom. Beware of "bargain" bulbs that are often too small to bloom the first season. Bulbs should be firm, heavy, and in good condition. The tunic (skin) should be smooth, of good color, and free from injury. The basal plate must be intact.

Soil of a medium sandy-loam texture is ideal because it provides good aeration and drainage. Bulbs must not be planted in areas that do not drain well, or they will perform poorly or rot. If soil is a heavy clay, mix it with one-third to one-half organic material such as peat moss, compost, or aged bark. Raised beds also provide good drainage. Soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0.

Work soil 12 inches deep; loose soil below the bulb is important for good root development. Incorporate three pounds of a complete fertilizer (such as a 5-10-10) per 100 square feet as you are preparing the soil.

Recommended planting depths are given to the bottom of the bulb. For hyacinths, plant six inches deep; tulips, six inches or deeper; and daffodils, six to eight inches deep. Smaller bulbs in these groups and the minor bulbs are planted shallower. Large bulbs should be spaced four to six inches apart; small bulbs one to two inches. For a greater effect, plant in clumps or irregular masses rather than singly.

As bulbs finish blooming, remove faded blooms to eliminate seed set that reduces bulb growth. Maintain foliage for six weeks for good bulb growth and rebloom the following season. Do not cut or braid foliage, but allow it to die down naturally. Foliage can be removed when it has yellowed, fallen over, and comes loose when slightly tugged.

Over the years, flowers may become smaller or less abundant, indicating that bulbs may need to be divided. After foliage dies back completely, dig bulbs with a spading fork and separate them. Bulbs can be respaced and replanted right away or stored to replant in the fall. To store, remove all soil, air dry, place in a mesh bag (such as an onion bag), and hang in a cool (65 to 70 degrees F), dark, well-ventilated area.

The phlox roots can be planted in amended soil (as above), covered with soil and watered in well. You should see growth in 2-3 weeks.

Hope this answers all your questions!

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