Still feeling a wee bit defeated by that surprise frost last month? It was a tough being caught off guard, and many of us aren’t ready to let go of gardening yet. The good news is that there is still good gardening to be done!
Fall is THE time to plant bulbs! Tulips, daffodils, narcissi (that’s the plural form of narcissus for word geeks,) crocuses, hyacinths, and garlic! This is also a great time to divide irises and replant them, although they can wait for spring. Planting anytime from now until the third week of October is prime planting time- all the better since we’ve had some good rain recently.
It’s a bit sloppy to call refer to all of those plants as bulbs, as technically some are corms and some are rhizomes. I like to keep things at a “Fisher-Price®” level of simplicity, so if you’re someone who wants more information then click on the definition of a bulb, corm, or rhizome and satiate your thirst for knowledge. If you’d like more technical information on planting bulbs, the good folks at CSU can explain a whole lot more.
Simply put, bulbs are the underground parts of plants that store nutrients to grow new plants the following year. Planting them in the fall gives them time to do some root development, and transition into dormancy for the winter. Next spring when the snow melts and the ground begins to warm, their growth continues underground and then bursts through the soil surface to delight us with colorful blossoms. Many bulbs are cold hardy, so they can tolerate a light frost or snow, which means we can enjoy flowers before woody perennials shift into gear.
Bulbs are versatile and can be planted in a variety of spots. Some gardeners plant crocuses spread out in their lawn- the flowers bloom and the plant dies back long before lawn care becomes an issue. Bulbs can also be strategically planted in a perennial bed to add early season color, and then have growing perennials hide the dying top growth. This works well for tulips, since the life cycle lasts longer than small bulbs like crocuses and narcissi.
Beware that as much as we are keen for spring color, the local deer population is just as keen for yummy snacks after a winter of browsing. According to deer in my neighborhood, tender bulbs are candy and not to be missed! Plant your bulbs where the deer can’t get to them or be a fanatic about applying liquid fence® or other deer deterrent.
Planting bulbs is fairly straightforward. Charlie likes to joke (we think he’s joking….) that plants should be planted “green side up.” Bulbs can be a little harder to determine how to plant, since they are dormant. Without obvious roots and green growth to guide you, the shape is your guide. Typically there is a pointier end and a flatter end of the bulb, and as you might guess, the pointy end goes up.
As for how deep to plant them, the rule of thumb is “read the directions” on the package. It’s also advised to use a real measuring device rather than guess the planting depth. If you have heavy clay soil, ease up on the depth guidelines and plant them a little less deep. Even better is to amend your clay soil in the process.
Regardless of your soil type, apply triple-super-phosphate to the soil when planting bulbs. Phosphate will help the plant make a robust bulb for next winter and the following spring. If your bulbs haven’t flowered well in successive years, a lack of phosphate might be the culprit. If your bulbs have become crowded, that also affects ability to bloom. We’ll address fall division of perennials and bulbs next week.
Above we’ve talked primarily about flower bulbs, but remember that garlic is also a bulb! If you enjoy cooking with garlic, or making salsa, consider growing your own garlic. It’s fairly simple and follows the guidelines above, except don’t treat your garlic shoots with a deer deterrent. Garlic planted in the fall should be a “hard neck” variety and yes, we’ve got both flower bulbs and garlic available for you in the store.