Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
March, 2012
Regional Report

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Colorful crocuses brighten the awakening landscape.

Keep Spring Bulbs Growing and Blooming

The garden is awakening and it is a joy to see the crocuses as they herald the arrival of spring. I plant crocuses as edging around my perennial beds, sometimes massed together for effect, and they are easy to naturalize in a woodland garden and lawns.

I've seen lots of potted spring-flowering bulbs in garden departments to add a spot of color indoors before the outdoor bulbs come into full glory. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, crocuses, grape hyacinths, lilies and primroses are typically sold now. Many folks have asked me if these can be planted outdoors to bloom again this year. Though these forced bulbs will not flower again this year, they can in subsequent years, but it may take a year or so for the bulbs to grow and store enough energy for the blooming process in the outdoor garden.

Potted bulbs should be maintained indoors until it is safe to plant them in the outdoor garden. Keep these potted plants in a cool , very sunny location to promote healthy foliage growth. Be careful not to overwater the potting mixture as this can rot the bulbs. Water the mix as it begins to feel dry to the touch. If you like, fertilize with a water soluble houseplant fertilizer mixed at half strength. The longer you can keep the leaves green and healthy, the larger the bulbs will become. This increases the chances for blooming in following years.
Eventually the leaves of potted bulbs will ripen or begin to die back. This is the signal that it's time to reduce watering and place in cool storage or plant directly outdoors if weather permits.

Whether you plant bulbs in fall or recycle forced potted bulbs, these plants are an investment in the future and will return year after year. To ensure that your bulbs will flower every spring, it is important to site them properly. Crocuses, tulips, and alliums do best in full sun and tolerate heat. Since daffodils prefer a bit more shade and can take more moisture, I like to plant them in a woodland setting under the dappled shade of small ornamental trees.

Like other perennials, spring-flowering bulbs do best in fertile soils with good drainage. If your bulbs are not blooming prolifically after a couple of years, this may indicate they need more nutrients. My preference is to apply a slow-release granular plant food in mid to late spring after the blooming cycle.

When bulbs get overcrowded, they may lose their ability to flower abundantly. These bulbs are good candidates for division. I like to get this chore done once the bulbs have finished blooming, transplanting while the foliage is still green. This reduces the chances of slicing the bulbs as can often happen when you dig the leafless bulbs in the fall. With the leaves intact the transplant shock is minimal. Within in a year the bulbs will be back on track and blooming prolifically.

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