At Home: Plant bulbs in fall for colorful spring display

Size, variety determine depth of planting

Late September through October is an excellent time to plant your favorite spring-flowering bulbs. Crocuses, tulips and daffodils need to develop their roots in the fall, and must meet a chilling requirement (12 weeks below 40 degrees) over the winter in order to bloom in the spring.

 

To ensure a good start for your spring bulbs, you’ll need an appropriate planting site, good soil, nutrients and appropriate watering.

Planting guide

To begin, choose a planting site with partial shade to full sun. An ideal soil is a sandy loam, but even poor soils can be used if organic matter (peat moss, compost or aged bark) is mixed in. If you have a heavy clay soil, you can amend it by mixing one-third to one-half organic material into the soil.

Bulbs require good drainage and soil aeration for proper development. Your soil’s pH should be between 6.0-7.0 and you should fertilize according to a soil test.

Planting depth is the distance from the bottom of the bulb to the top of the soil. To determine how deep you need to plant your bulbs, variety and size are the factors to consider. Tulips and hyacinths should be planted about 6 inches deep, while daffodils are 6 to 8 inches deep. Bulbs should be planted two to three times as deep as their width. Larger bulbs should be spaced 4 to 6 inches apart, while smaller bulbs should be spaced 1 to 2 inches apart.

Once your bulbs are placed in their holes, replace half the soil and add water. This will settle the soil around the bulbs and provide good bulb to soil contact. After that, add the remaining soil and water again.

This fall you won’t see any top growth, but the bulb’s roots are developing to put out spring flowers. This means it is important to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. After the first frost, it’s a good idea to add mulch to prevent smaller bulbs from being worked out of the soil by temperature fluctuations.

Looking good

For the design aspect of planting bulbs, they tend to look best in groups. Clumping or massing bulbs formally, geometrically or in a naturalistic way all have a stunning visual impact.

The varieties to choose from are virtually endless, but there are a few that stand out.

— Crocus is a cup-shaped flower in bright purple, yellow and lavender.

— Grape hyacinths appear as small, purple grape-like clusters on small plants, which look great in large numbers.

— Galanthus, or snowdrops, have a dainty, drooping white flower with green tips.

— Anemone is a low-growing, star-shaped flower that makes a perfect ground cover or can be forced to bloom in small pots.

— Scilla, also known as wood squill, are blue and white with a delicate scent. They spread quickly.

— Tulips, the most familiar spring bulb, are classified by height and bloom times. Botanical tulips are the first to bloom in the spring. They are valued for their varied shapes, unusual foliage and gorgeous colors. Emperor, or fosteriana, is a mid-sized tulip with large flowers, and kaufmanniana is low-growing and resembles a water lily.

Hybrid tulips are single-early and double-early tulips that bloom in mid-April. Giant Darwin hybrids are among the most popular tulips blooming April through May, with vibrant colors on strong stems. Peony flowering tulips are double, long-lasting late-bloomers that resemble a peony flower. Another May bloomer is the parrot tulip, with exotic large flowers and fringed edges.

— Another popular bulb noted for its profusion of color and shape is the narcissus, commonly called daffodil. These bloom in April, make great cut flowers and are used in the garden for early color. The most popular daffodil is the King Alfred.

Bulbs offer the perfect opportunity to create vibrant designs amid the brown and grays of early spring.

Although patience is required to tend to a plant you can’t see for many months, the results will make the effort worth it.

Don’t forget to mix and match colors and bloom times for a spring bed your neighbors are sure to envy.

Ariel Whitely is the horticulture agent for Shawnee County Research and Extension.

 

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