Gardeners are optimists. We know that planting hardy bulbs now will bring us flowers in spring — tulips, daffodils, crocus, squills, hyacinths, fritillaria and alliums, to name a few.
Bulbs should be in the ground four to six weeks before the ground freezes. In Colorado Springs, that means plant them from mid-September through mid-October.
Bulbs can be purchased at garden centers and many other stores. And size matters. Bbigger bulbs cost more but produce bigger flowers. Do not buy bulbs with blemishes or soft spots.
Bulbs are best planted in drifts or clumps. Be sure to include some small very early species, such as crocus or squill. These wonderful harbingers of spring will pop up late in winter, often surrounded by melting snow. Later in the season, tulips and daffodils will brighten your garden as your perennials just begin to emerge, long before you can plant annuals.
When planting bulbs, remember that the foliage will persist for weeks after the bloom fades. Try to place drifts among perennials that will disguise the fading foliage later in spring. In other words, plant your bulbs behind, not in front of perennial plants and shrubs. Use long colorful golf tees to mark your bulb locations. This is an inexpensive way to avoid inadvertently digging those bulbs up.
Most of the bulbs listed above will act like perennials, lasting many years with good care. You might need to lift and divide the bulbs every three to five years to maintain vigor. Tulips are an exception. Many are planted as annuals. Tulips lose vigor, being reduced after a few years to one leaf with no bloom. Some tulips can be maintained over several years with proper care. Choose Darwin hybrids or species tulips if you want longer-lasting ones.
Most bulbs should be planted in a sunny, well-drained site. A few species adapt well to shadier woodland planting. Snake’s Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) is a novel example. Water if needed until the ground freezes. Be careful not to overwater. Once cold weather sets in, you may mulch the planting area to mitigate potentially damaging freeze-thaw cycles.
Bulbs should be planted at a depth four times the height of the bulb. Apply a high phosphorous fertilizer (such as 0-46-0) when planting. Plant the bulbs tip side up.
Critters can be a problem for the bulbs and plants. Some rules of thumb:
• Nothing bothers daffodil bulbs or plants.
• Deer love to eat tulips, but they usually leave fritillaria and alliums alone.
• Deer generally don’t bother crocus, but rabbits might.
• If you have a lot of squirrel or vole activity, consider using chicken wire to create a “bulb cage” when planting to discourage theft.
Plant some bulbs now. You’ll be glad later.
Colorado State University Extension is conducting a “Plant Fall Bulbs for Spring Bloom” class Sept. 25. Visit elpaso.extension.colostate.edu/ for more information and registration.
When you have questions, Colorado State University Extension has research-based answers. Get answers to your horticulture questions by visiting ask.extension.org or by calling a Colorado Master Gardener Volunteer at 520-7684, 9:00 to 12:00 Mondays and Wednesdays.