My mailbox has been chock-full of fall gardening catalogs, including brightly colored photos of all sorts of spring flowering bulbs: daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, snowdrops, and crocus...the first harbingers of spring that we plant in the fall. How do you know what to plant and when?
Your local garden center starts stocking bulbs in late August, but is this the best time to plant? Generally, no. The best time to plant bulbs is when soil temperatures fall below 60 degrees, in mid-September to mid-October. When selecting bulbs, make sure they are large, firm and free of brown spots. Check the hardiness zone for bulbs you choose, making sure the bulbs are hardy in our zone, 4a or lower. Many bulbs prefer partial shade and grow best in rich, well drained soil. Remember that early bulbs bloom prior to trees leafing out. Dig your hole to the recommended depth and lightly sprinkle with fertilizer. Plant bulbs pointy side up. If the bulb doesn't have a pointy end, identify the bottom from old root growth. When in doubt, plant sideways. Water bulbs after planting and make sure they are well watered before the ground is frozen. For added insulation, mulch with 3-5 inches of leaves, grass clipping or straw. As temperatures rise in the spring, gently peel back the mulch cover. Your bulbs will sprout and be the first color in an otherwise drab garden.
Spring bulbs are very resistant against disease and insect infestation. (But I have definitely had problems with moles eating my tulip bulbs, and squirrels removing them to plant acorns in their place!) Some common mistakes that will lead to poor bloom include: planting at the wrong depth (too deep or too shallow), choosing bulbs that are not hardy in our zone (beware the beautiful catalogs, they include bulbs from all zones), and rotten bulbs resulting from too much water/poor drainage.
The earliest flowering bulbs include: Glory of Snow (Chionodoxa), Snow Drops (galanthus), Hyacinth, Crocus, Grape Hyacinth (muscari), early tulips, and Squill (Puschkinia). Mid-spring bloomers include: Daffodils and tulips. There are also late blooming varieties of tulips, which extend your spring bulb blooming season.
For general information on planting hardy bulbs in the fall, check Spring Flowering Bulbs at the address www.extension.umn.edu/projects/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/h120bulbs-spring.html
Here's wishing you success in your fall bulb planting! Until next time, happy gardening!
The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size.
- Gertrude S. Wister