Want May flowers? Fall’s the time to get started

Do you remember those beautiful first flowers of spring you saw this spring? I hope you made notes of the ones you liked. Chances are that the first flowers blooming in early spring were bulbs that had been planted the previous fall or before.

According to the West Virginia University Garden calendar, you should order spring-flowering bulbs in September. Plant hyacinth in late September/early October and plant spring bulbs around Oct. 11.

Remember to make notes about flowers you see that you would like to have in your garden and find out more about them by asking other gardeners or Master Gardeners or checking online.

Most gardeners are more than happy to talk to others about their gardens. They may even be willing to share their rewards from the garden with you. I know we’ve shared our vegetables with many of our neighbors this year. Nothing tastes better than produce fresh out of the garden that you grew yourself.

Some bulbs flower at different times of the year. Dig bulbs like canna, dahlia, glads, begonias and tender bulbs out of the ground in early October, before putting in the spring bulbs.

Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocus are some of the earliest flowers to appear in gardens each year, some start to bloom as early as January. Many will bloom and multiply for years with minimal care, while others are best planted for one season’s show of color. Bulbs can be planted in flower beds, in lawns, around trees, or grown in pots or window boxes.

The term “bulb” commonly refers to true bulbs and other bulb-like structures such as corms, tubers, tuberous roots and stems, and rhizomes. Bulb-like structures store food to ensure the plant’s survival during unfavorably cold or droughty weather.

Spring bulbs flower from late winter to early summer, depending on species. After bloom is finished, they continue to grow and store food for a period of time before dying back to ground level and becoming dormant through the summer and into fall. Spring-flowering bulbs start to grow roots again in the fall and winter to prepare for the following spring bloom. They are planted in the fall or early winter in this area.

Planting bulbs

Bulbs grow best in full sun or part shade, but flowers will last longer if they do not receive midday sun. Most early flowering bulbs can be planted under deciduous trees since the bulbs will be going dormant by the time the trees provide heavy shade.

Good drainage is essential for spring-flowering bulbs. If drainage is a problem you can improve it by mixing 2 to 3 inches of organic matter such as shredded pine bark or compost into the beds 10 to 12 inches deep. Raised beds or drainage tiles can also help solve drainage problems. It is best to apply fertilizer and lime according to the results of a soil test. The soil pH for most bulbs should be between 6 and 7.

Purchase bulbs in early fall while supplies are good, but wait to plant until cooler weather. Choose firm bulbs without mold or bruising. Store bulbs in a cool area below 60 degrees F until planting. Plant daffodils in October or November, but wait to plant other spring-flowering bulbs until the soil temperature at planting depth stays below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Most bulbs require a 12- to 16-week chilling period to produce flowers. Gardeners can ensure spring blooms by refrigerating bulbs in ventilated packages until planting in the fall. Avoid storing fruit near the bulbs, since fruit-produced ethylene gas can prevent blooming. When bulbs do not receive enough chilling, they bloom close to the ground, on very short stems.

Most bulbs are planted three to four times as deep as the width of the bulb. Space bulbs in bed according to size. Large bulbs should be 3 to 6 inches apart, small bulbs 1 to 2 inches. For best appearance, plant bulbs in masses.

Cover the bed with 2 to 3 inches of mulch after planting. Mulches insulate the soil, maintain even soil moisture and prevent mud from spattering the flowers. Normal rainfall usually provides enough moisture for spring-flowering bulbs, but in a hot or dry spring, additional water will help to prolong blooming.

Problems

Bulbs may rot in soils that stay wet for a long time. Good drainage is essential. Bulbs may stop blooming if they become overcrowded or shaded too heavily. Sparse blooms on daffodils can be caused by planting too shallowly. If leaves are cut off too soon in spring, the bulb may not store enough food to bloom the following year.

Animals often dig and eat tulip and crocus bulbs during the winter. They rarely eat daffodil bulbs. The only sure way to protect bulbs from animals is to enclose the bulbs in wire mesh when planting. Another trick is to plant bulbs in plastic containers like strawberries come in or in wire baskets that the leaves can come up through.

– Mary Beth Bennett, a Ph.D. WVU Extension agent and associate professor, may be reached at 304-264-1936 or MBBennett@mail.wvu.edu

 

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