Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
September, 2009
Regional Report

Share |

Enjoy beautiful fall days planting bulbs for flowers next spring.

Success with Bulbs

In fall, as days shorten and leaves turn to autumn colors, gardeners everywhere are busy planting the tulips, daffodils, and other spring-blooming flower bulbs that will brighten the post-winter landscape. It's hard to believe these glorious flowers are, in fact, so easy to grow.

The following expert bulb planting tips provided by the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center in Danby, Vermont will ensure success.

Choose A Sunny Spot
Most bulbs like to be planted in full sun, though some will tolerate partial shade. When choosing a planting site, remember that when the bulbs bloom in spring, especially early-blooming bulbs, the leaves of deciduous trees won't yet have their full complement of leaves. You may have more choice planting sites than you think!

Plant Bulbs in Well-Drained Soil
Soggy soil can rot bulbs. Avoid planting bulbs in places where water collects, such as the base of hills or in hollows. When preparing the planting site, be sure to work the soil well and mix in organic matter, such as compost or peat moss. Large bulbs, such as tulips or daffodils, are planted about 8 inches deep. Small bulbs, such as crocuses or grape hyacinths, are planted 5 inches deep. Be sure to work the soil several inches deeper than you plant the bulbs, so the roots have plenty of room.

Plant Bulbs in Groups
The biggest mistake that novice gardeners make is planting bulbs as "single soldiers," either in a line along a walkway or border or just spottily throughout a bed. To get maximum color impact, cluster your bulbs. This is true whether you plant ten or ten thousand.

Here are two design tips. One, plant bulbs in a circular grouping to achieve a charming bouquet effect. Or, lay them out in a triangle pattern to fool the eye into seeing more flowers than you have actually planted! To do this, position tulips or other bulbs in a triangle pattern, with the narrow point facing your favorite viewing position and the broad expanse positioned toward the back. When the flowers bloom, the visual result is an enhanced mass of color.

Add Fertilizer
Bulbs already come with all the food inside that they need to bloom the first season. That's what a bulb is, really, a storehouse of food and moisture. This would seem to indicate that fertilizing the first season is an overly generous act. And, indeed, that is true for many of the tulip varieties that bloom only once in most American gardens. For other bulbs that have a good chance of naturalizing (multiply and bloom year after year), it is a good idea to fertilize at planting. A good choice is to use a balanced, controlled-release bulb food in fall so that it's in place to kick in next spring to fortify bulbs during their post-bloom "recharging phase." This is when the leaves use photosynthesis to store up food for the following year's bloom. This is why you let bulb leaves grow for at least six weeks after bloom before cutting them off. Gardeners should top-dress their naturalized bulbs in the fall, beginning their second season, with compost or well-rotted cow manure.

What About Bone Meal?
These days, there are several reasons to hesitate about using bone meal, once the standard. Bone meal is simply not the best source of phosphorus for the garden, not because it doesn't contain a lot of phosphorus but because it delivers it into the soil inefficiently. This is especially true of bone meal that has been processed by methods such as chipping or microwaving, instead of the old-fashioned steam treatment. Secondly, putting bone meal in your bulb bed is often an invitation for dogs, squirrels, voles, moles, and other critters to sniff it out and dig up your garden.

Know Your Bulb Enemies
Some bulbs, including tulips and crocus, make favorite foods for pests such as deer or squirrels. Others, such as daffodils, fritillaries, alliums, and many of the minor bulbs (scilla, chionodoxa, leucojum, galanthus, etc.) are not appealing to animal pests. If deer are a problem in your area, planting pest-resistant varieties makes good sense. If squirrels are the issue, it's a good idea to put chicken wire over the bed or place a few expandable window screens over bulb beds or pots after planting while the ground settles, removing them once the weather turns cold. Chicken wire can be left in place all winter -- the bulbs will bloom right through it in spring. In all cases, it's a good idea to clean up after planting. Supplies and bits of the bulbs' papery tunics left on the ground just send bulb-sniffing critters a signal that there is buried treasure nearby.

So now you're ready to grow all manner of spring-flowering bulbs. Buy and plant with abandon as there is no sweeter sight that those beautiful flowers heralding the spring.

Care to share your gardening thoughts, insights, triumphs, or disappointments with your fellow gardening enthusiasts? Join the lively discussions on our FaceBook page and receive free daily tips!


Today's site banner is by Marilyn and is called "Salvia regla 'Royal'"