Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
April, 2008
Regional Report

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Tulips spring to life even after a late planting.

The Magic of Spring Bulbs

Now that spring has sprung, life is awakening in my garden. Looking out the kitchen window I see signs of tulip buds emerging from a late planting in early January. Yes, like most gardeners who take advantage of bargains, I purchased the tulips last fall but forgot about them in my laundry room. Alas, they were discovered after the holiday, so I took advantage of a nice day to plant them after breaking through a frosty crust of ground.

That's the miracle of spring-flowering bulbs. They have all the stored food energy to grow and bloom if we just get out there and plant them, even if it's late in the season. If by chance you still have some of those bargain bulbs from last year, and they haven't dried up or rotted, you can still plant them. If they were stored in a cool spot, they will root and grow. Blooming may be sporadic, but in future years they will be back on schedule with an abundance of flowers.

Keeping Bulbs Productive
Now that bulbs are emerging and some, like the daffodils, are blooming, it's a good time to give them some attention. This extra effort will help to insure more prolific flower displays in succeeding years. Most spring-flowering bulbs have a relatively short growth period aboveground. They emerge with foliage, bloom, and then die back with the onset of heat. It is for this reason that the bulb beds receive good care while the green foliage is visible.

Established bulb beds benefit from an application of an organic or organic-based fertilizer, such as 5-10-5. A small planting of 5 to 15 bulbs should receive a couple tablespoons of fertilizer scattered uniformly around the bed. This can be lightly cultivated into the soil and watered in. For larger plantings of about 100 square feet of bed, apply 2 pounds of granular fertilizer.

Remove the flowers on daffodils and tulips as soon as they fade. This is done primarily to prevent seed and pod development, which takes energy from the bulbs and can reduce flower production in following years. Don't remove the foliage until it has naturally matured, turned brown, and died. The length of time it takes foliage to die back depends upon the plant species, growing conditions, and of course, the weather. It may not be until late June or early July for some bulbs. Premature cutting back of healthy green foliage reduces bulb growth and will often reduce the number of flowers next spring.

Moving Bulbs
If bulb beds in your landscape are getting more shade from maturing trees, you may need to move them to a sunnier spot. This can be done once the foliage has died back. Carefully dig up the bulbs with a spading fork and replant to the new area. Prepare the soil in the new bed in advance of the transplanting.

If you receive potted spring-blooming bulbs, you can transplant them into the garden in spring. However, it often takes a couple of years for these bulbs to rebloom after they have been forced for indoor blooms.

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