Plan and plant now for spring-flow­er­ing bulbs

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - By Lee Re­ich

It’s nearly that time of year when gar­den­ers think of spring — of plant­ing bulbs that are go­ing to bloom then.

Bulbs are “pre-pack­aged” flow­ers, so a green thumb isn’t nec­es­sary to get those first sea­son’s blos­soms. Still, a few tips for buy­ing and plant­ing bulbs can make for a bet­ter show next spring and beyond.


The big­ger the bulbs, the big­ger next spring’s flow­ers.

Bulbs are usu­ally sold as small, medium or top size, the mea­sure­ment taken around the cir­cum­fer­ence where the bulb is fat­test. Which mea­sure­ments go with which size de­pends on the kind of bulb. Small tulips are 10 to 11 cen­time­ters around, medium ones 11 to 12 cen­time­ters, and any­thing larger is top size.

Nat­u­rally smaller bulbs in­clude cer­tain tulips, such as the charm­ing wa­terlily tulip, as well as grape hy­acinth, cro­cus and snow drop.


Over time, with good care, smaller bulbs will grow into larger ones, whose show will match that of the ini­tially fat­ter bulbs. One way to com­pen­sate for smaller flow­ers would be to plant more of them, putting your money into buy­ing more rather than fat­ter bulbs. Which brings us to ...

More is bet­ter, for any kind of bulb. For­get about plant­ing tulips in a sin­gle file ready to march like sol­diers down the edge of your front path. In­stead, plan for big dol­lops of color, mass­ing bulbs in cir­cu­lar groups or, for bolder vis­ual ef­fect from fewer bulbs, tri­an­gu­lar group­ings with an apex di­rected to your van­tage point.


Even though this com­ing spring’s flow­ers are al­ready pack­aged inside bulbs, the more sun­light the plants bask in, the bet-

ter will be the show they put on in years to come. The spot where you plant bulbs doesn’t have to be bathed in sun­light all sea­son — only un­til the bulbs’ leaves dis­ap­pear. Those leaves dis­ap­pear, for­tu­itously, at about the same time that emerg­ing leaves of de­cid­u­ous trees fi­nally knit to­gether to cre­ate cool shade.

An­other con­sid­er­a­tion in sit­ing spring bulbs is soil drainage; most ab­hor wet feet. The orig­i­nal home of tulips, nar­cis­sus, cro­cuses, and many other pop­u­lar spring bulbs are the moun­tain­sides of west­ern Asia, on ground that is parched all sum­mer. Hol­land is a good place to raise bulbs com­mer­cially be­cause the long, cool, moist springs de­lay dor­mancy. In the long time be­fore the bulbs’ leaves fi­nally die back, the green­ery has plenty of time to fuel the fol­low­ing sea­son’s flower buds.

What about fer­til­izer? The tra­di­tional rec­om­men­da­tion is to put bone

meal into the bot­tom of the plant­ing hole. Ac­tu­ally, a bulb does not need fer­til­izer to flower well its first sea­son, only to flower well in sub­se­quent sea­sons. What these bulbs re­ally need is any bal­anced fer­til­izer — in­clud­ing com­post, the Cadil­lac of fer­til­iz­ers — spread on the ground right af­ter plant­ing this fall or even in spring. Bone meal is not a par­tic­u­larly well bal­anced fer­til­izer.

Good grow­ing con­di­tions will get these bulbs mul­ti­ply­ing, with younger bulbs bud­ding off the mother bulb. Over­crowded bulbs won’t flower well, so they’ll even­tu­ally need to be dug up; a good time is when the fo­liage is dy­ing down. They can then be re­planted with suf­fi­cient el­bow room.

And un­less your yard is free of deer, plant types of bulbs that deer gen­er­ally don’t like, such as or­na­men­tal onions, glory-ofthe-snow, win­ter aconite, frit­il­laria, snow­drop, hy­acinth, snowflake, squill and nar­cis­sus.

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This un­dated photo shows flow­er­ing bulbs in New Paltz, N.Y. Over time, spring flow­er­ing bulbs, es­pe­cially nar­cis­suses like the ones shown here, can mul­ti­ply to the point of be­com­ing over­crowded, at which time they need to be dug up, separated, and

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