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Spring Bulbs 101

Spring flowering bulbs are always a garden favorite but carry with them one major flaw. In the spring when they are blooming, everyone wants them, but you can’t go out and buy them like annuals. The most common way to purchase these flowers is in the dormant or bulb form. In this form they must be planted in the fall so that the root system has a chance to develop during the fall and winter months. This established root system is essential to support the plants and flowers as they emerge and maintains the foliage for the growing season.

Don’t cut foliage

The period after flowering is crucial for all perennial bulbs. Once the flowers are gone we tend to lose interest, but there is a very important job left. The foliage that grows after blooming is solely responsible for producing the cells that will develop into the flowers and foliage for next year, storing food in a bulb form that will be used by the root system as it develops for the impending spring. It is our job as gardeners to make sure this happens.

After flowering, the foliage should be left in its natural state to allow it to grow and produce food naturally. A few common mistakes I often see are braiding or tying up the foliage, which reduces its ability for photosynthesis, or simply removing the foliage once the flowers are gone. It is important to let the foliage grow naturally and go dormant on its own.

When to fertilize

Fertilizing spring flowering bulbs is a great way to help ensure healthy growth. Fertilizer should be applied just as the foliage emerges from the ground, prior to blooming, for best results. An application of fertilizer can also be applied when planting in the fall. Fertilizers specifically formulated for bulbs are now commonly available but can prove to be quite expensive if you have lots of bulbs. In this case the economical and readily available granular 10-10-10 works just as well. Always handle and apply fertilizers according to package directions.

New bulb trend

If you have spring fever and just won’t be satisfied with waiting, there is exciting news. Many growers are now producing spring flowering bulbs in 6- or 8-inch pots ready for planting in our spring gardens. The cost will prohibit you from planting all your bulbs this way: it’s much more economical to purchase the bulbs in the dormant state.

Pesky bulb eaters

Squirrels like to dig up and consume bulbs, as do those pesky voles and shrews. They live in almost everyone’s gardens, like it or not. There is an increasing selection of safe and effective animal repellents that are now available to help us in the war to protect our bulbs.

Sketch a plan

Spring is the best time to scout out the perfect spots to plant bulbs. Make a sketch of your garden space and note the locations you have in mind. On the border of your drawing make notes on colors and heights that would be suitable for each spot. This fall take this sketch with you to your local garden center to assist you in selecting the right bulbs for the right spots. It is easy to over-buy without a plan because of the color photography used on the bulb boxes.

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