Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Spring Bulbs

The weather is certainly getting cooler, but there are still some nice days to get out into the garden and now is the time to plant spring bulbs!
Here are some general guidelines for planting bulbs.
  • Bulbs don’t typically like heavy soil. If you are dealing with clay, definitely amend with compost or peat to loosen the soil and improve the drainage.
  • Bulbs should be planted at a depth of 2-3 times their height. For example, from base to top Crocus corms are about 1″ tall and should be planted 3″ deep. Daffodils are 2-3″ tall and should be planted about 6″ deep.
  • Bulb-tone is a great fertilizer that has all of the nutrients that bulbs need to look amazing. Apply at planting time according to label directions.
  • Bulbs should be watered in after planting to settle the soil, don’t compact the soil using your hands, feet, shovel etc! Bulbs like a loose soil and compacted soil can impede their growth in spring.
  • In general bulbs are frost tolerant when they emerge in spring, you shouldn’t need to protect them unless we are going to have a hard freeze.
  • After blooming, leave the foliage to grow until it turns yellow and the bulbs start to go dormant. The bulbs need energy for the next season, and the foliage produces important nutrients and carbohydrates that the bulb stores until the next year.

There are a number of handy tools for planting bulbs that can make your job a whole lot easier as well. My favorite is the Protech 24″ bulb planter drill bit. It’s a 2 3/4″ auger bit that works on corded or cordless drills that is great for planting large single bulbs or 2-3 smaller bulbs very quickly. 

An indispensable tool is a Hori Hori.  This is a Japanese garden knife and it's an indispensable tool that no gardener should be without!  It is great for digging, dividing, weeding, root-pruning and a huge list of other chores- including bulb planting.

I also like this great trowel/transplanter made by Green Thumb. It has a narrow blade with inch and centimeter markings and is serrated on one side. It works great for planting bulbs and perennials. It’s sturdy cast aluminum with a rubberized handle and has a 5 year warranty.

And what about the bulbs themselves? What should you plant? Besides the myriad of Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinths, & Crocuses in a wide range of colors there is a huge number of lesser known bulbs.

One of my favorite bulbs is Surprise Lily or Resurrection Lily, Lycoris squamigera. I've posted about them before.

I'm also a big fan of pretty much all of the Fritillaria species.  The one most people are familiar with is F. imperialis, which is the large flowered yellow, orange, or red species.  2 others that I grow are F. persica with 24" tall spikes of clustered black flowers (or the very rare ivory flowered variety) and F. asyriaca which features nodding black bells with a golden-yellow rim on 12" stems.

There are a number of great ornamental onion plants (or Allium), many are familiar with the giant globe onions like ‘Globemaster’ or ‘Gladiator’, but there are some great small varieties as well.  Most of the ornamental onions start to bloom in late May to early June.

Blue onion, Allium azureum, is a great azure blue flowered species that reaches about 22″ tall. This is one of the most striking onions due to its flower color. It is however a notorious self-seeder, but it pulls easily. It is also great for naturalizing in a wildflower garden.

Allium moly is a unique small yellow-flowered onion that grows up to 15" tall.  This one can also be a little bit of a self-seeder so deadhead, pull unwanted seedlings, or let it naturalize.

Allium siculum is a neat onion that reaches 24-34" in height and features pendulous, creamy blooms with a reddish center. 

Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, are one of the first bulbs to bloom. They have small, white, nodding flowers that often emerge in March and April when there is still snow on the ground.

Camassia quamash 'Blue Melody' is a late spring to early summer flowering bulb that tolerates moist soil and clay. Beautiful variegated grass-like foliage is followed by starry blue flowers. ‘Blue Melody’ is a fairly good grower that offsets freely, but takes some time to start blooming well.

Nearly everybody is familiar with tulips, but there are some smaller tulips that look little like the flower you’ve seen in gardens. Tulip ‘Lilac Wonder’ is a great species tulip that makes a great addition to rock gardens and the front of flower borders. Mine usually top out at 6-8″.

This is just a small sampling of the amazing diversity of spring bulbs.  I highly recommend seeking out some different bulbs this fall and giving them a try.