Planning now can replace the despair of drifting snow banks with eager anticipation of early bursts of color in your garden beds in late winter/early spring.
Spring-flowering bulbs offer a tremendous range of flower colors, shapes, sizes and plant heights. And with a variety of bulbs, you can have blooms from late January with snowdrops to late May with ornamental onions. However, they must be planted now.
The word “bulb” is often used for any plant that can store food underground. This includes true bulbs (tulips and daffodils), corms (crocus), tubers (anemone), rhizomes (lily-of-the-valley) and tuberous roots (ranunculus). This ability to store food is what makes gardening with bulbs relatively easy. With planning, proper planting and water, the bulb will take care of the rest.
At most elevations, the best time to plant bulbs is mid-September to late October, so bulbs can establish roots before the soil freezes. When purchasing bulbs, choose firm ones without mold or bruising. Bulbs grow best in full sun or part shade, and good drainage is essential to prevent bulbs from rotting in soil that stays wet for a long time.
In general, bulbs are planted three to four times as deep (measured from the base of the bulb) as the width of the bulb. Space bulbs in beds according to size. Large bulbs should be 3 to 6 inches apart, small bulbs 1 to 2 inches. For best appearance, plant bulbs in masses. Cover with 2 to 3 inches of mulch after planting to insulate the soil.
At planting time, fertilize bulbs in one of two methods: 1) mix a slow-release complete fertilizer according to label recommendations into the rooting area, or 2) mix bone meal in the rooting area with an application of quick-release fertilizer at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet in the fall.
After plants bloom in the spring, remove the flowers after they fade to prevent seed formation. Let the foliage die down naturally as this provides energy to the bulb for next season’s bloom. Because fading bulb foliage is often unattractive, consider these landscape design elements to divert attention from yellowing bulb foliage:
• Interplant spring-blooming bulbs with cold-tolerant annuals, such as pansies.
• Use groundcovers such as periwinkle or pachysandra.
• Interplant with herbaceous perennials such as hostas, daylilies, and ferns.
• Plant the bulbs behind taller growing herbaceous perennials or shrubs.
• Under-plant with low-growing groundcover shrubs such as junipers, cotoneasters, and roses.
Animals often dig up and eat tulip and crocus bulbs during the winter, but rarely eat daffodil bulbs. The only sure way to protect bulbs from animals is to enclose the bulbs in wire mesh when planting.
Submit gardening questions to email@example.com or call 719-520-7684. The in-person help desk is open 9 a.m. — noon and 1 — 4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays at 17 N. Spruce St. Find on Facebook at Colorado Master Gardeners — El Paso County.