PUBLISHED IN THE RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
Article by Lindsey Panton, sidebar by Ashley Andrews
Plant them now and they will quietly grow below ground until one chilly day in early spring, they will pop through the cold soil in a welcome burst of color. Spring-blooming bulbs are some of the easiest plants to grow and some of the most rewarding.
October is the perfect time to plant bulbs in our area, and local garden centers are full of tempting choices. As you browse, think about where you will plant. Small bulbs should be planted where you will walk by them in early spring, perhaps by your door. They are also the earliest bulbs to bloom.
Snowdrops with their delicate white flowers and crocuses in a bright abundance of yellow, purple and white, will bloom as early as February. These small bulbs are inexpensive and look best when planted in groups of 25 or more. At the edge of borders, in rock gardens or in groups under shrubs, most small bulbs will naturalize well, provided the soil is well-drained in the summer.
Grape hyacinth, in a pretty range of blues and white, will multiply into large drifts in just a few seasons. For a natural look, prepare a large planting hole and sprinkle the bulbs onto the soil. Leave the bulbs where they land but make sure that the root side of the bulb, the blunter end, points downwards. Cover with the depth of soil specified in the instructions and water well. Relax and wait for spring.
Larger bulbs such as daffodils and tulips bloom after the smaller bulbs. Daffodils will bloom in March and April. Brightly-colored tulips and richly-scented hyacinths bloom in April and May. These bulbs require a larger, deeper planting hole and are excellently-grown among existing perennial flowers and where they will be seen from a window.
Daffodils planted in groups of five or more near the back of a perennial bed will bloom while the leaves of the other plants are low and then, the growing perennial plants will cover the daffodil leaves as they die down. Tulips, especially those labeled as late-blooming, may bloom at the same time as early summer flowers such as columbine, or even when you plan to plant annuals next year, so place them accordingly.
Bulbs require almost no care, except a little water to keep the soil moist after planting and allow the roots to grow. Winter rain and snow generally take care of watering until spring. Compost or bulb fertilizer blended into the soil when planting and top-dressed when the plants first break the soil in spring will encourage strong growth.
While no bulbs are completely resistant to hungry animals, some are less likely to be eaten by rodents and deer. Daffodils and snowdrops are good pest-resistant choices. Crocus, tulips and hyacinths are very tempting to rodents, but it is possible to protect bulbs by planting in large pots and covering the top with chicken wire.
No matter which spring-blooming bulbs you decide to plant, fall is the time to do it. What better way to spend a glorious fall afternoon than planting spring miracles?
Tips for Turning Bulbs to Blooms
There are many spring-blooming bulbs to choose from. The most popular are tulips, narcissus, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses. Whether you plant these bulbs or others, here are a few tips for success.
- Go big. When picking out bulbs, look for the ones of the bunch that seem bigger than the others. Bulbs small for their type may not produce stems as strong or blooms as numerous come spring as their larger counterparts.
- Be picky. Give your spring garden a head start in the fall with careful selection. Take your time and inspect each bulb for blemishes, discoloration, mold or rot.
- Location, location, location. In general, bulbs love sun; make sure their new home receives at least five hours of sunlight per day. Not possible? Try daffodils, fritillaries or wood hyacinths. They can tolerate some shade.
- Feed your soil. Before planting, make sure the soil in your selected spot is porous and well-drained. Then, incorporate bulb fertilizer or organic matter like compost into the soil. If you do not have well-drained soils, you can try to improve your chances for success by planting the bulbs higher in the soil to stave off rot.
- Dig it. You have options when planting bulbs. You can dig a hole for each bulb, or you can take a different approach. For a natural look, dig an area large enough to hold many bulbs. Plant them in irregular patters and in blocks of colors.
- Mix it up. Bulbs play well with others. You can plant them in with ground covers and other flowers. Short on space? Bulbs are okay with double duty. Some space-conscious Nevada gardeners plant bulbs that bloom in early spring in beds that will house vegetables come mid-May.
- Follow directions. In general, small bulbs should be planted one to two inches deep and apart. Large bulbs should be planted four to six inches deep and apart. However, to maximize your blooms, follow the directions that come with your bulbs.
- Tuck in. Press the bulbs gently into the holes you dug for them, and cover the bulbs with soil. Tuck the bulbs into their new home by firmly tamping down the soil around them. This will eliminate pockets of air that prevent good root development.
- Water and relax. Give your bulbs a good soaking at planting. They may need a bit of water each week in the fall and each month in the winter, depending on our weather. Other than this, bulbs are mostly hands off. Now that you have planted, it is time to relax and wait for spring.
Lindsey Panton is a Certified Master Gardener Volunteer and Ashley Andrews is the Horticulture Assistant with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. For questions about your plants, contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.