Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
November, 2008
Regional Report

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This lovely ornamental onion is only one of the many unique bulbs that can still be planted this fall.

There's Still Time to Plant Bulbs

Even though many of us had some interesting cold weather lately, there is still plenty of time to plant spring-blooming bulbs. The soil is still fairly warm, just right for developing the root systems the bulbs need for good bloom next spring. We also usually have regular fall rains which further stimulates root growth.

Choose a Site
The first step in planting bulbs is to choose your site. Although most bulbs perform best in full sun, you can plant early bulbs, such as grape hyacinth, small tulips, small daffodils, and winter snowflakes, under deciduous trees. They will get the sun they need to replenish the bulbs while the trees have no leaves, and by the time the trees leaf out, the bulbs will be on their way to dormancy.

Well-Drained Soil
One site requirement for bulbs is well-drained soil. If your soil is heavy and full of clay, you should consider amending it with compost or other organic matter to loosen it up and allow it to drain. Soggy soil means rotting bulbs.

Planting in a Bed
Once you have chosen your site and your bulbs, planting is the easy part. There are basically two methods. The first is the bed method, in which you remove a patch of soil to the right depth and then lay the bulbs in the open bed. You can simply put the soil in a wheelbarrow until you have the bulbs laid in the bed and then you replace the soil.

Planting Individually
The other method gives a more natural look. Use a bulb planter or narrow spade and simply remove a small portion of soil where you will put the bulb or bulbs. Drop the bulb in the hole and replace the soil. This planting method is best for a naturalized look, and can even be used in an existing lawn. Just keep in mind that if you plant in a lawn, you need to avoid mowing the foliage until it begins to yellow naturally.

Water and Mulch
Whichever method you choose, water the bulbs in thoroughly and mulch with an organic mulch. When we plant perennials, we wait until the ground freezes to apply mulch since we want the root systems to freeze and stay that way all winter. With bulbs, we want the roots to continue to grow until they naturally go dormant so we try to keep the soil warm as long as possible.

Don't Fertilize
Fertilization is not necessary at planting time. The roots need water to develop and fertilizer is not used until spring. Putting it down in winter means that some of it is lost. The best time to fertilize bulbs is early spring when shoots begin to push through the soil. After the bulbs bloom, allow the foliage to die back naturally. Removing it to early prevents bulbs from producing the energy they need to grow and bloom next year.

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