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Gazette Premium Content YEAR ROUND GARDENING: Purchasing and planting tips for spring flowering bulbs

by KITTY WEST Colorado Master Gardener - Published: September 24, 2013

It's time to plan, purchase and plant spring flowering bulbs.

Why

By March of each year, I am anxious for the gardening season to begin. The spring flowers produced by bulbs are a great way to brighten the garden and signal the imminent arrival of another growing season. Gardening catalogs are already announcing the availability of bulbs for spring bloom. Local garden centers are receiving supplies of bulbs. If you want early color, begin now to plan which bulbs you will plant to enhance your landscape.

The good news: Bulbs are easy to grow. Crocus, grape hyacinth, daffodils and tulips are some of the most popular bulbs. If deer and squirrels are an issue, daffodils are a recommended choice over tulips. Daffodils also naturalize well, meaning they endure and proliferate, creating more plants.

When

Plan now and shop soon. You will find the best selection of bulbs beginning in early September.

How

- Determine where you will plant the bulbs. Consider visibility, soil type and microclimate. Because most bulbs bloom early, they can be seen in parts of the garden that will later be hidden as perennials and annuals grow. Bulbs require good drainage: Avoid heavy, wet soils. Sandy soils with southern exposure will warm early, yielding the first leaves. In Colorado, late frosts can nip leaves that emerge too soon. To avoid this, consider planting in shaded soils on the north.

- After determining a location, select which bulbs and how many to purchase. Groupings of 20 to 30 or more bulbs will provide a spectacular display. I recommend you do some Internet research on bulb varieties and bulb design before you make a final plan. The University of Illinois Extension provides bulb design basics at http://urbanext. illinois.edu/bulbs/landscaping.cfm.

Lastly, plant bulbs that flower at different times to ensure you have color for a longer period of time. You might use different species or different varieties of the same species.

- There is a direct correlation between the size of the bulb and the size of the flower: The larger bulbs will produce larger flowers. Do not purchase bulbs that have been cut or bruised or have soft spots. Damaged bulbs can rot once they are planted.

- September and October are the best months for planting bulbs. Consult a bulb planting chart to determine the correct depth for planting. Purdue University provides an easy-to-read chart at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/ho-86.pdf. The bulb is planted with the growing tip facing upward and the root plate facing downward.

- Phosphorus fertilizer may be incorporated at the time of planting and will promote rooting and larger blooms in subsequent years. Typical Colorado soils are sufficiently high in phosphorus, making application at planting not a necessity.

- After planting the bulbs, lightly tamp the soil and water thoroughly. When the ground freezes, cover the area with several inches of mulch. This will help to eliminate alternate freezing and thawing of the soil, which can damage the bulbs. The mulch may be removed in early spring or when the shoots start to emerge.

- Do not leave any remnants of the bulb material (e.g., the papery husk) in and around the planting area. Squirrels will readily find the material and start digging your newly planted bulbs.

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What's needed

- Your finalized bulb selections and design plan.

- Good quality bulbs.

- A bulb planter, shovel or sturdy, long trowel..

- Organic matter for amending the soil.

- Phosphorus fertilizer if you wish to fertilize when planting the bulbs.

- Mulch.

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Get answers to you horticultural questions by calling a master gardener volunteer at 520-7684 or emailing CSUmg2@elpasoco.com. Volunteers are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.

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