Garden Views: Plant quality bulbs now for spring color

Are you dreaming of the lovely bursts of color in the spring? There is still enough time to plant spring flowering bulbs. Usually the best planting time is September to mid-October, but the warm weather is allowing a little more time. Most bulbs need about six weeks before freezing to develop root systems. Tulips can be planted up to the ground freezing.

Choose bulbs that are as large as possible. Avoid small “bargain” bulbs as they may not have enough bloom strength stored in them. Bulbs should be dry and firm with crisp papery skins. Avoid moldy bulbs. Catalog purchases should be from reputable companies.

Bulbs grow well in any good garden soil and prefer a sunny location. They can be planted in shady areas where the trees do not leaf out until after the flowers bloom. As a rule of thumb, the planting depth should be about two to three times the circumference of the bulb. For example, a bulb with a circumference of about three inches should be planted six to eight inches deep. The pointed end is facing up. Any fertilizer that is used should be average nitrogen, high in phosphate and low or no potassium (potash). Bone meal with a formula of 6-12-0 is perfect. Mix it into the soil in the hole before you insert the bulb. Once the bulbs are planted, water the bed thoroughly to help establish the plants.

Bulbs are often grouped by their bloom time: from late winter to early spring, to spring, to late spring and early summer. Choosing bulbs by their bloom time can prolong the early spring color. For impressive bursts of color, plant the bulbs in clusters of the same color. Grouping colors together will make a bigger impression than a row of color. Plant low growing bulbs in front of taller growing bulbs if both bloom at the same time. If the low growing bulbs bloom before the taller ones, the system can be reversed. Bulbs can be planted near perennials and are especially effective if those perennials are slow to emerge from dormancy.

Unfortunately, for some wildlife (especially squirrels and mice or voles) bulbs are gourmet treats. It is important to clean up any debris (those papery skins) left after planting. Cover the planted area with wire mesh, hardware cloth or boards until the smell of the bulbs has dissipated. Daffodils are least loved bulb by most animal pests while crocus and tulips are most vulnerable to squirrels. Deer and rabbits tend to do their damage after the plants emerge in the spring.

There are so many varieties and color combinations of tulips, daffodils and crocus to choose from. In addition to planting these, try some lesser known bulbs. Here are just a few to get started: snowdrops (single) (Galanthus nivalis), summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), Siberian squill (Scilla) grape hyacinth, (Muscari) wood hyacinth (Hyancinthoides), checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris), and winter aconite (Eranthis cilicica).  Happy dreaming of beautiful spring flowers.

Mary Heie is an Anoka County Master Gardener.

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